HAF Announces Four Winners of 2009 NextGen Essay Contest

Washington, D.C. (August 14, 2009) - "As I don my body armor, grab my weapon, and prepare to lead my platoon of 32 soldiers into Afghanistan, I hesitate. I turn to the portrait of Krishna in my office and demand of him, 'What is the worth of this fight? Is it worth our limbs, our lives, or the heartbreak of our parents? What cause is so important as to merit the coming violence?' And so begins my war within: the quest for an identity."
And so too began the moving entry by Rajiv Sriram Srinivasan, one of the winning essays in the Hindu American Foundations's first NextGen Essay Contest: The Importance of a Hindu-American Identity. 
This summer, HAF heard from an often silent constituency within its membership--Hindu Americans from 17-28 years of age.  The NextGen essay contest garnered dozens of entries from across the nation and was judged by a panel of HAF staff and Executive Council members.  The contestants, divided into two categories based on the age groups, 17-22 and 23-28 years, were asked to submit an original essay on the topic, "Beyond Indian American: Why is having a Hindu American identity important? How can you advocate for this identity in public policy and your private life?  How can Hindu American advocacy be beneficial to our American society?" 
Srinivasan, 23, a lieutenant in the United States Army who's currently leading a platoon during a year-long deployment in Afghanistan, was the overall winner in the senior category receiving $500.
"Lt. Srinivasan captivated us from his first sentence -- in an exposition rarely, if ever, previously seen from a Hindu American," said Sheetal Shah, HAF's Director of Development.  "His writing style inspired us and fueled our imaginations.  His descriptions of his experiences as a Hindu American in the battlefields, and his parallel comparisons to the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred scripture of Hinduism, were a pleasure to read."
Purnita Howlader, a 27-year-old Hindu American currently studying law at the University of Wisconsin, received $250 for what judges described as a well constructed, clearly written essay with "enthralling personal accounts of her feelings as a Hindu child growing up in the US."
In the 17-22 year category, the panel awarded first place, along with $300, to Hamsika Chandrasekar, 18, a graduate of Clement High School, and a resident of Sugarland, Texas. The judges were particularly impressed by the clarity of her essay. 
"Hamsika's essay entitled 'Of Cows and Football' impressed us with its clean flow of ideas, mix of historical facts and the exploration about fusing Hindu and American identities," said Pooja Deopura, a member of the HAF Executive Council.
The second prize of $200 in the same category was awarded to Shivi Chandra, a 20-year-old undergraduate student at Johns Hopkins University. Judges felt that she projected a very creative approach in reconciling the Hindu American identity while engaging the reader in her experiences and opinions.
HAF congratulated these young Hindu Americans for their outstanding work.  Please click on the name of the winner below to read his/her respective essay: