The HAF Team
Rishi Bhutada is the Vice President of Finance at Star Pipe Products in Houston, TX and holds an MBA from Rice University and a Bachelor's of Science in Economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. His efforts focus on textbook reform and Hindu political awareness, as well as strategic planning for the Foundation. He also coordinates HAF's Houston chapter. He won the India House Houston's Young Leader of the Year Award in 2013, and the Hindus of Greater Houston's Akhil Chopra Memorial Award in 2014.
Pawan Deshpande, CEO of Curata, Inc., holds a Bachelor’s in Computer Science and a Master’s of Engineering from MIT. His role at HAF currently focuses on human rights and caste-based discrimination. Formerly one of the senior most Executive Council members, Mr. Deshpande has been involved in launching the Foundation’s internship program and was the Foundation’s key technology advisory.
Mihir Meghani, M.D., an Emergency Physician, is a co-founder of HAF. He has provided medical care in India after the 2001 earthquake, in NY after 9/11, and in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami with The Permanente Medical Group. A former member of the US Department of Homeland Security's Disaster Medical Assistance Team and former member of the East Bay Regional Parks Advisory Committee, Dr. Meghani has received numerous awards for his community service. He also serves on the Boards of the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council and Carry The Vision.
Rajiv Pandit, M.D. is a board-certified head and neck surgeon, who serves as Clinical Instructor in the Dept. of Surgery at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, while practicing full-time at Dallas ENT – Head & Neck Surgery Center. He is also the director of the Dallas Sinus Institute. A native of Kashmir, Dr. Pandit has been active in the leadership of various organizations that advocate for Hindus, and specifically the Hindus of Kashmir. He is the co-founder of HAF’s Dallas chapter, and his current focus is empowerment through education, specifically textbook reform and interfaith dialogue.
Aseem Shukla, M.D. is the Director of Minimally Invasive Surgery in the Department of Urology at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, PA and is an Associate Professor of Surgery (Urology) at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Shukla is co-founder of HAF and focuses on developing an articulate voice for Hinduism in the media. His contributions to the On Faith section of the Washington Post/Newsweek can be found by clicking here. Dr. Shukla is active in developing pediatric urology as a discipline globally and has volunteered frequently teaching surgical and medical workshops as a project of Hindu American Physicians in Seva.
Suhag Shukla, Esq., Executive Director, is a co-founder of HAF. She holds a BA in Religion and JD from the University of Florida. Ms. Shukla has helped steer the Foundation to being recognized as a leading voice for civil rights, human rights, and religious freedom. She's been instrumental in the development of a broad range of educational materials and position papers and blogs for a variety of platforms. Ms. Shukla has served on the Boards of the Nirvana Center, Main Line Indian Association, and YWCA of Minneapolis. She was also a member of the Department of Homeland Security Faith-Based Security and Communications Subcommittee. Ms. Shukla is actively involved with Chinmaya Mission, serves on the board of the Bhutanese American Organization of Philadelphia, and is a thought partner for the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia's Paths to Understanding Public Art Initiative. Shukla is a member of the board for the National Museum of American Religion and serves on religious advisory committees for the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Humane Society of the United States, and is a member of the First Amendment Center's Committee on Religious Liberty and the United Nations Women's Gender Equality and Religion platform. Shukla was named one of twelve “faith leaders to watch in 2017” by the Center for American Progress.
Sheetal Shah, Managing Director and CFO based in New York City, holds a Masters degree from the London School of Economics and a Bachelors in Computer Science from Georgia Tech. She focuses on HAF's internal operations, accounting and finances, and communications and marketing. She was instrumental in formulating the Foundation's Take Back Yoga campaign and oversees the Hindu American Summer Internship Program. A former member of the Foundation’s Executive Council, Ms. Shah is well-experienced in HAF’s human rights campaign and community outreach efforts. She practices Ashtanga yoga at Ashtanga Yoga New York and serves on the Board of the Broome Street Ganesha Temple.
Samir Kalra, Esq., Managing Director based in the Bay Area, CA, holds a JD from Santa Clara University School of Law. Mr. Kalra leads the Foundation's human rights advocacy efforts and has served as a panelist at the National Press Club and multiple Congressional briefings on human rights and religious freedom in South Asia. In January 2013, Mr. Kalra conducted a one week human rights fact finding mission at refugee camps in Jodhpur, India that house Pakistani Hindu refugees. He authored the Foreword for a book on Bangladesh entitled A Quiet Case of Ethnic Cleansing: The Murder of Bangladesh's Hindus. Mr. Kalra authored formal comments to the FBI's Advisory Policy Board to support the addition of an anti-Hindu hate crime category to the FBI's data collection program, and he submitted on the record testimony to a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing in 2012 on "Hate Crimes and the Threat of Domestic Extremism." He serves as a member of Rep. Eric Swalwell's (D-CA) Immigration Advisory Committee and is a member of the American Society of International Law and the South Asian Bar Association. He is also an Advisor/Contributor at The Interfaith Observer Journal and is involved with the Indian Subcontinent Partition Documentation Project.
Seetha Aiyar, Senior Director of Philanthropic Partnerships, is based in Philadelphia, PA. She holds a Bachelor of Science from Case Western Reserve University and a Master's in Business Administration from Weatherhead School of Management. Seetha has broad experience in community outreach, charitable development in the non-profit and for-profit sectors, and directing nationally-ranked hospital and physician groups. Classically trained in Carnatic vocal, western music, opera, piano and clarinet, Seetha has appeared singing the National Anthem at Cleveland Cavaliers NBA and WNBA games. She has released a CD to benefit Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital. She enjoys playing tennis, volunteering for Berwyn-Paoli Little League, supporting the Conestoga High School baseball team, and performing as a Soprano volunteer for Vox Ama Deus.
Shereen Bhalla is HAF’s Director of Education based in Washington, DC. Dr. Bhalla holds a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from Drake University, an M.A. in International Relations from St. Mary’s University, and a PhD in Culture, Literacy, and Language from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). Prior to joining HAF, she was the Online Manager and Research Associate for the Center for Applied Linguistics. An advocate for culturally and linguistically diverse students, Dr. Bhalla has over ten years of experience teaching both English learners as well as pre-and in-service educators on how to best meet the needs of their students. Dr. Bhalla has taught for UTSA, George Washington University, the Inter-Development Bank and Johns Hopkins University.
Jay Kansara, Director of Government Relations based in Washington, DC, holds a BA in Government and Asian Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. He develops and maintains strategic relationship with leaders in public policy and in various fora, including congressional briefings, interfaith and human rights roundtable meetings, and official government functions. He also serves as the Foundation's liaison to the Hindu community in the greater D.C. area. Mr. Kansara is an active volunteer at his local Hindu temple and is a student of Indian classical and folk music traditions.
Easan Katir, California Advocacy Director, is responsible for the education, policy implementation and community building in the region. He has been instrumental in founding Hindu temples and teaching dharma and yoga. Mr. Katir is a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Registered Investment Advisor and a graduate of the USC Financial Planning Program. He serves as a kulapati (family head) of Saiva Siddhanta Church, whose sampradaya’s projects include Hinduism Today magazine, the San Marga Iraivan Temple in Hawai'i, and the Hindu Heritage Endowment. For three years, he chaired the Business Development Committee of International House, and served as a Finance Commissioner for the city of Davis, California. He is a director of the Elder William Brewster Society.
Mat McDermott, Director of Communications, is based in New York City. He has a M.S. in Global Affairs, with a concentration in energy and environmental policy, from New York University and a B.A. in Writing & Literature from Burlington College. Mat is a former editor at TreeHugger, as well as a regular contributor to Hinduism Today and numerous other online publications. He is the lead author of the 2015 Hindu Declaration on Climate Change, a joint project of HAF and The Bhumi Project.
Aesha Mehta, Associate Director of Programs, is based in Washington, D.C. She holds a Masters in Nonprofit Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania, an MBA from DeSales University, and Bachelors degrees in Finance and Economics from Drexel University. Ms. Mehta manages and implements HAF's broad range of community and education programs. She is active with Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in Pennsylvania and serves as Communications Chair for the UPenn Nonprofit Leadership Alumni Association.
Krishna Parmar, Associate Director of Development, is based in Dallas, TX. She has a B.A. in Advertising from Southern Methodist University. Krishna works closely with HAF members and volunteers to help coordinate and plan community events across the country. She is also responsible for member communication and development of HAF’s membership base. Krishna is active in Chinmaya Mission and teaches yoga.
Tejus Shah is HAF’s Creative Director based out of northeast Pennsylvania. A seasoned creative professional, Tejus specializes in creative strategy, branding and communications, visual identity, and photography. Prior to joining the team full-time, Tejus freelanced for HAF for 10 years, actively working with the team to rebrand the foundation's visual identity. Tejus has also worked with a wide variety of organizations including Pfizer, Zoetis, Sudler & Hennessey, Audible.com, and Rutgers Business School as a graphic designer, art director and client relationship manager. Tejus holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design and Associate of Applied Science in Industrial Design (Rochester Institute of Technology, 2002), and Master of Business Administration in Marketing & Management (Rutgers Business School, 2011).
Taniel S. Koushakjian is HAF’s Director of Public Policy, based in Washington, D.C. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from Florida Atlantic University, a M.A. in Political Management from The George Washington University, and a Graduate Certificate in PACs & Political Management from The George Washington University. Prior to joining HAF, Taniel worked as a political consultant and was a candidate for the Palm Beach County Commission. He previously worked as the Grassroots Director and Communications Director of the Armenian Assembly of America where he successfully advocated on a wide array of human rights, international religious freedom, U.S. foreign policy, and appropriations issues. Taniel was selected as a 2018-2019 Fellow with the Anti-Defamation League Glass Leadership Institute, as well as a 2019 Fellow with the James Madison Institute.
Deidra Prather, Office Manager based in Washington, D.C., is an Administrative Professional with over ten years of experience, in both for profit and non-profit sectors. Deidra’s role involves managing the day to day operations, bookkeeping, developing and maintaining vendor relationships, and directing all inquiries to appropriate personnel. Prior to joining HAF, Deidra served as Portfolio Associate at a small, minority and woman owned fixed income investment firm. For several years prior to working in the financial industry, Deidra served as an Account Manager at Year Up, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering young adults to jump start their IT careers at Fortune 500 companies and local businesses. Deidra holds an Associates of Applied Science Degree in Electronics, Telecommunications and Computer Technology.
Rachita Chandak, Esq., is Director of Research with a tax software and services firm. She holds a JD from UIUC and LLM from NYU. Rachita serves on her town’s Economic Development Committee and on the regional Girl Scouts Gold Award Advisory Board. Based in New Jersey, Rachita supports HAF's local outreach efforts.
Arvind Chandrakantan, M.D. is a pediatric anesthesiologist based in Houston, TX. He is currently Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology and Pediatrics at Texas Children's Hospital at the Baylor College of Medicine. Arvind has an MBA from the Wharton School, and is involved with a number of social and entrepreneurial initiatives.
Nikhil Joshi, Esq., a labor and employment attorney and partner at a Florida based law firm, is a co-founder of HAF and holds a JD from the University of Florida. His efforts for the Foundation have largely centered on administrative, legal, and operational matters.
Raman Khanna, M.D., is a hospitalist and assistant professor of clinical medicine at UCSF, where he studies Health Information Technology. He studied religion as an undergraduate at Northwestern University, where he also completed his medical degree and residency training. He has been an active member of HAF's Northern CA Working Group and is currently focused on academic outreach and data analysis.
Kavita Pallod is a doctoral candidate at Rutgers University, studying clinical psychology. She holds a dual degree from the University of Texas at Austin in Psychology and Education. She is active in the Hindu community of Houston and serves on the steering committee for the Hindu Heritage Youth Camp. She is also the 2011 winner of the Hindus of Greater Houston's Youth Leader award. Kavita's work at HAF is focused on K-12 curricular issues.
Fred Stella is a professional actor with extensive experience in TV, independent film, commercials, web media, and audiobooks. He began his spiritual search within the Hindu Dharma at the age of 15 and was initiated into his specific tradition almost 30 years ago. He is the Pracharak for the West Michigan Hindu Temple. Sponsored by Seed the World and under the direction of Vivekananda Kendra, in 2005, Mr. Stella completed a 30 city lecture tour in India, joining the effort to promote indigenous culture and religion in areas facing the encroachment of Western influence. Fred is a regular speaker at the annual Hindu Mandir Executive Conference. He is president of Interfaith Dialogue Association and hosts its weekly radio program on Religion and Spirituality, Common Threads on local NPR affiliate, WGVU-FM. In 2012, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell presented Fred with the city's "Champion of Diversity Award" for his work in interfaith relations.
Swaminathan Venkataraman, based in Princeton, NJ, is Senior Vice President, Global Project and Infrastructure Finance at Moody's Investors Service. Formerly a Director at Standard Chartered Bank, Swami was born and raised in India, earning a Bachelors in Technology from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Calcutta. He is the lead author of HAF’s reports on the caste system and LGBT rights in Hinduism, and he is a regular columnist for India’s Swarajya Magazine. Swami is currently focused on developing HAF’s chapter in New Jersey.