Hindu Americans Discuss Human Rights and Religious Liberty Concerns with Members of Congress and Justice Department

Date: October 30, 2005

Washington, D.C.: The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) ended its two-day second annual Government Outreach and Leadership Conference on October 27, 2005. The conference included meetings with several members of Congress, the Justice Department and a dinner reception on Capitol Hill on the evening of October 26.

The morning prior to legislative meetings, attendees of the conference caucused at a breakfast meeting to discuss a "Hindu Agenda" that encompassed issues of concern to Hindu Americans. This agenda included violations of Hindu human rights in South Asia, religious liberty and pluralism in the United States, and promotion of closer relations between the United States and India, and served as the basis for discussion for the many meetings with members of Congress and the Department of Justice. On October 27, HAF became the first Hindu organization to hold a Round Table Conference where members of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans were invited to discuss these issues in greater depth.

Hindu American Foundation Board Member, Nikhil Joshi, presents Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) recognizing her support for HAF's Hindu human rights report of 2004.

"Once again, Hindu Americans descended on the Capitol to represent the Hindu perspective on issues of national importance," said Nikhil Joshi, Esq., Chairman of the conference and member of the HAF Board of Directors. "With these meetings becoming an annual event, we are pleased that our impact, influence and recognition continue to increase."

Recognizing their support for HAF's previously released Hindu human rights report of 2004, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Gary Ackerman (D-NY) were presented awards for service to the Hindu American community at the HAF dinner reception. Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) also addressed the reception, explaining his long-standing ties to Indian Americans and Hindus in his district.

Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, who hosted HAF's reception and the Round Table Conference, spoke of her support for Hindus in the United States and for human rights in South Asia during an address at the HAF reception.

"I am proud to be associated with such a dynamic organization as the Hindu American Foundation," she said. Ros-Lehtinen drew cheers from the audience as she announced her plans to introduce two resolutions in the House of Representatives. "One of these resolutions will recognize the religious and historical significance of the Hindu holiday of Diwali. The second resolution would condemn ongoing violations of the human rights of Hindu citizens of Bangladesh, Pakistan and India," she said.

HAF leaders also focused efforts on countering allegations made during recent hearings on discrimination faced by underprivileged castes, or Dalits, in India, held by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ). Caste-based discrimination is a social evil that must not be conflated with Hinduism, HAF members held during their meetings. They specifically raised concerns that the witnesses that spoke at the hearings were affiliated with radical left-wing groups and the Communist Party of India.

"We explained to Members of Congress that we as Hindu-Americans are united in supporting efforts to rid all forms of discrimination, including caste-based discrimination in South Asia," said Rajan Patel, coordinator of the HAF conference and member of the HAF Executive Council. "But when hearings are held under the auspices of the U.S. government, it is of critical importance that witnesses have credibility and legitimacy. We cannot allow individuals with virulent anti-American and anti-Hindu agendas to discredit these important hearings."