Capitol Hill Meetings Capped with Reception Honoring Members of Congress and Hindu American Soldiers
Washington, D.C. (September 22, 2011) - The human rights of the nearly 400,000 original inhabitants of the Kashmir Valley, the Hindu Pandits, forced from their homes in 1989, was the focus of two days of meetings on Capitol Hill this week, as nearly fifty leaders and major supporters of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) met with many key congressional offices. The meetings culminated with a Capitol Hill reception in the Rayburn House Office Building where two Hindu American soldiers and five congressmen were honored with HAF’s service awards.
The HAF delegates inaugurated the Foundation’s Eighth Annual Washington, D.C. Advocacy Days on September 19, 2011 with a two-hour congressional briefing attended by delegates and a large number of congressional staffers and human rights organizations. The briefing, hosted by the Foundation with the assistance of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, surveyed the contemporary history of unrest in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, largely fueled by neighboring Pakistan that claims the state as its own.
"The briefing [hosted by the Foundation Monday] appropriately called attention to the fact that the Kashmiri Pandits have become, as one scholar notes, ‘victims of one of the most successful, though little-known, campaigns of ethnic cleansing in the world’,” said Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, at the Foundation’s evening reception. “The Hindu American Foundation is a valuable resource for Congress as well as powerful voice for freedom, mutual understanding and tolerance.”
The next day, the delegates swarmed the Hill in several small groups for intensive meetings throughout the House and Senate. House Resolution 387, introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and strongly supported by HAF, formed the basis of discussions as delegates urged members of the Foreign Relations Committees in both chambers to support the resolution. The human rights of Hindus, Christians, and Buddhists in Malaysia were also discussed in the wake of the recent HAF-sponsored visit by exiled Malaysian human rights leader, Waytha Moorthy. The Foundation is working toward a Capitol Hill briefing later this year focused on the systematic discrimination of minority religious groups in Malaysia.
In the evening, the HAF delegates gathered with a hundred community leaders and congressional staffers for a Capitol Hill reception honoring Captain Rajiv Srinivasan, a West Point Military Academy graduate who returned to the U.S. this year after several active combat missions in Afghanistan as a platoon leader, and Lieutenant Colonel Ravi Chaudhary, an Air Force Academy trained fighter pilot now serving as a squadron commander, for his role in establishing the first Hindu chaplaincy in the Armed Forces. The reception, glittering with military brass, began with a Hindu invocation offered by Captain Pratima Dharm, the first Hindu chaplain.
"With the introduction of a resolution, a briefing, and an entire day of active advocacy highlighting the plight of Kashmir’s Pandits, we firmly believe that a broader perspective on the Kashmir situation is taking hold,” said Suhag Shukla, Esq., Managing Director of HAF. “The arrest of Ghulam Nabi Fai of the Kashmir American Council makes clear that those of us who have sought a balanced understanding of Kashmir that includes the aspirations of the Valley’s Hindus have been confronting Pakistan-sponsored propaganda. We hope to look anew at Pakistan’s role in the region’s instability.”
Members of Congress Donna Edwards (D-MD), Donald Manzullo (R-IL), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Ed Royce (R-CA) were awarded HAF’s Friend of the Community Awards for their mentorship of HAF’s first class of congressional interns. Congressmen Joe Wilson (R-SC), Joe Crowley (D-NY), and Steve Chabot (R-OH) were among the legislators that spoke of pluralism and the human rights report that HAF publishes annually. After paying tribute to the Hindu Americans serving the country in uniform, the congressmen also congratulated many of the HAF-sponsored congressional interns that worked in their offices and looked forward to additional interns from the Hindu American Foundation.
"Our interns had such a tremendous experience this past summer, learning the inner-workings of congress,” said Sheetal Shah, HAF’s Senior Director and lead on HAF’s internship program. “They worked hard and clearly set a positive impression on the offices and have helped pave the way for expanding the program in the years to come.”
Top - Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen [center] with HAF Board members and staff
Bottom - Lt. Col. Chaudhary and Cpt. Rajiv Srinivasan