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.
Padma Kuppa, holds a bachelors degree in engineering and is an experienced IT analyst. She is a co-founder of Troy-area Interfaith Group and the Outreach Committee at the Bharatiya Temple of Metropolitan Detroit, and is a Planning Commissioner for Troy, MI. She has been involved with other Hindu initiatives, such as the Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference, Hindu American Seva Charities and the Hindu American Chaplaincy Initiative. She is a Board member of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, an Advisory Board member of the women’s interfaith organization, WISDOM, and blogs at patheos.com. She has received multiple awards and congressional recognition for her community leadership, including induction into the MI-India Hall of Fame (2015). Her focus at the Foundation is on the Michigan HAF Chapter and inter-religious cooperation.
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 and Legal Counsel, 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's 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. She 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 named one of twelve “faith leaders to watch in 2017” by the Center for American Progress.
Sheetal Shah, Senior Director 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 developing HAF's public policy strategy, communicating with and expanding HAF’s membership base, fundraising and finances, and building the HAF brand through various means including development of the Foundation’s website. She was instrumental in formulating the Foundation's Take Back Yoga campaign and manages the Hindu American Congressional Internship. 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., Senior Director and Senior Human Rights Fellow 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, Director of Philanthropic Partnerships, is based in Philadelphia, PA. She holds a BS in Accounting from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) and an MBA from the CWRU Weatherhead School of Management. Seetha has broad experience in community outreach, directing nationally-ranked hospital operations and charitable development in the non-profit and for-profit sectors. Singing since the age of 5, she currently volunteers as a Soprano with Vox Ama Deus. Seetha is classically trained in Carnatic, Western Music, Opera, Piano and Clarinet. Seetha has performed the national anthem at NBA games and released a CD to benefit Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital. She enjoys tennis, yoga and volunteering for Berwyn-Paoli Little League and the Gurukul Academy King of Prussia.
Murali Balaji, Ph.D. is HAF's Director of Education and Curriculum Reform. A Fulbright Specialist and former journalist, he has taught at Temple University, Penn State University, and Lincoln University, where he served as Chair of the Department of Mass Communications, overseeing assessment and curriculum building efforts. A longtime advocate of minority issues, Mr. Balaji is the author of several books and the co-editor of the seminal anthologies Desi Rap (2008) and Global Masculinities and Manhood (2011). A native of the Philadelphia area, Mr. Balaji earned his B.A. in journalism from the University of Minnesota and his doctorate in Mass Communication from Penn State.
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.
Padmavathy Mana, Associate Director of West Coast, is based in the Bay Area, CA. She has a B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and an M.A. in Humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas. Ms. Mana focuses on the Foundation’s advocacy and programmatic initiatives in California as well as for building and leveraging local relations along the West Coast. She provides support remotely for Dallas-based firm Color Me Safe and serves on the Chinmaya Yuva Kendra West Steering Committee.
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 Membership, is based in Dallas, Texas. 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.
Deidra Prather, Office Administrator 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 at Hindu American Foundation 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.
SriVani Ganti is HAF's former Director of Member and Chapter Relations. She holds a Masters in Health Communications from Boston University and a Bachelors of Science in Biology from Northeastern University. At HAF, her primary focus is on building and strengthening member relations as well as developing local HAF chapters across the country. Ms. Ganti is active within her Hindu community as a member of Chinmaya Yuva Kendras and a committee member of the annual Swami Vivekananda Family Camp, held in Massachusetts. Ms. Ganti is a student of Carnatic classical music, playing the Veena since the age of 9.
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.
Nicholas O'Connell is a Masters student at the South Asia Institute at Columbia University and blogs regularly at Videshi Sutra. His research interests center around Bengali folk Hinduism, and the Bengal Renaissance. His efforts for the Foundation have centered on research for curriculum reform.
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 commercial 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.