HAF Promotes Pluralism and Religious Freedom at Ninth Annual D.C. Advocacy Days

Washington, D.C. (September 21, 2012) – The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) marked its ninth annual Washington, D.C. Advocacy Days and Capitol Hill Reception earlier this week by promoting a message of pluralism, human rights, and religious freedom. A delegation of HAF leaders, supporters, and congressional interns from across the country joined together to advocate on behalf of the Hindu American community and participated in intense meetings with over 40 congressional offices and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
The Foundation’s agenda this year focused on the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan, the ongoing human rights plight of Kashmiri Hindus embodied in U.S. House Resolution 387, and obtaining congressional support for an official United States Postal Service Diwali stamp. In addition to congressional meetings, HAF delegates held a series of strategic dialogues with leading think tanks and South Asia policy experts, the U.S. Department of State’s Ambassador at-large for International Religious Freedom, and the Indian and Canadian Embassies.
Wednesday's events also coincided with a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing on “Hate Crimes and the Threat of Domestic Extremism,” organized in the aftermath of the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin. HAF previously joined a number of other faith-based advocacy and civil rights organizations in formally requesting the Hearing, and the Foundation also submitted, for the record, written testimony upon the request of Senator Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) office. HAF’s substantive testimony provided historical and demographic background on the Hindu American community and highlighted specific incidents of hate crimes, including both hate speech and bias or hate crimes against Hindu Americans. HAF’s testimony also pointed to limitations in FBI data collection, which currently does not account for anti-Hindu crimes as a separate category. A number of HAF leaders attended the Hearing as well, demonstrating their support for Sikh Americans and all communities affected by hate crimes.
"As a society, we need to systematically address the root causes of intolerance and violence that lead to tragic events such as the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin,” said Suhag Shukla, HAF’s Executive Director and Legal Counsel. “Unfortunately, this horrific incident was only one of thousands of hate crimes that impact Americans of all backgrounds annually, including members of the Hindu community.”
Following the Hearing and the day’s meetings, the Foundation hosted a gala reception honoring Members of Congress, other government officials, and community leaders for their commitment to promoting understanding of Hindu American issues, tolerance, and pluralism. The reception also celebrated the auspicious day of Ganesh Chaturthi, a day honoring Lord Ganesha, the Remover of Obstacles, with a mesmerizing prayer recited by two artists with the South Asian Performing Arts Network.
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Rep. Robert Dold (R-IL) were among the evening’s first award recipients, both receiving HAF’s Friend of the Community Award.
Senator Menendez introduced S. Res 291 in October 2011, recognizing the cultural and spiritual significance of Diwali for Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs throughout the world. The resolution was unanimously passed in the Senate. Moreover, this past summer, the Senator hosted an intern in his office in conjunction with HAF’s Congressional Internship Program. And within the last few weeks, Sen. Menendez embarked on a bipartisan initiative in writing to Pakistani President, Asif Ali Zardari, urging his government to do more to prevent violence and discrimination against the country’s minorities.
Similarly, Rep. Dold has been known as a vocal proponent of human rights and made remarks on the floor of the House of Representatives last year condemning the daily persecution against Bangladesh’s Hindu minority. Congressman Dold, along with Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), was instrumental in spearheading a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressing her to address the issue of religious persecution of minorities in Pakistan.
"The Hindu American community is very appreciative of the efforts of Representatives Dold and Sherman and Senator Menendez in working on issues of concern to Hindu Americans,” said Jay Kansara, HAF’s Washington, D.C. based Associate Director. “Their leadership has been particularly significant in raising awareness of Hindu human rights issues around the world.”
Other honorees during the gala included the President of Interfaith Alliance, Reverend Welton C. Gaddy, who received HAF’s Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism. Additionally, Dr. Vinod Prakash of India Development and Relief Fund and Dr. Animesh Sinha, a U.S. based General Practitioner won the Dharma Seva and Pride of the Community Awards, respectively.
Finally, towards of the end of the program, Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) and Majority Leader in the Maryland House of Delegates, Kumar Barve (D-MD), addressed the audience. Rep. Garamendi acknowledged the importance of HAF’s efforts in both educating elected leaders and the public at large about Hinduism, as well as its work in ensuring transparency and accuracy in state-level adoption of school textbooks. As a Hindu American himself, Barve expressed his appreciation for the advocacy work of HAF and reminded the audience of the importance of speaking up to ensure its voice is heard in this vibrant democracy.