HAF Congratulates 2013 NextGen Essay Contest Winners

Washington, D.C. (October 9, 2013) - "Selfless service, noble ideals and the galvanization of a generation- these are all good things that stem from Sanatana Dharma. But simply doing Sandhyavandanam or following Ekadasi is meaningless if we do not understand the benefits of these practices," wrote Sandhya Devaraj, 23, one of the three first prize winners of the Hindu American Foundation's fifth annual NextGen Essay Contest.
"The intensive love that humanity has ever known has come from religion, and the most diabolical hatred that humanity has known has also come from religion...Nothing makes us so cruel as religion, and nothing makes us so tender as religion." - Swami Vivekananda
Young writers were asked how this quote inspired them to be Hindu American advocates. Contestants, in three categories based upon their age -- 14-17, 18-22, and 23-27 years -- were judged on their creativity, style, and focus by a six person panel consisting of HAF Executive Council members and staff. First and second prize winners were selected in each of the categories and awarded a prized gift check from HAF.
Devaraj, a 2011 HAF Congressional Intern, won the first prize of $500 in the age 23-27 category.
"The underlying beauty and purity of Hinduism comes from teachings such as Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (We are all one family) and Ekam sat vipraha bahudha vadanti (Truth is one, the wise call it by many names)," expressed Sadhna Gupta. "We are incredibly lucky to be part of a faith that is so fundamentally accepting and progressive. Yet, in practice, religious tolerance and pluralism can only thrive when complemented by strong faith and advocacy."
Gupta, 22, a resident of Washington, D.C., was awarded the first prize in the 18-22 age category and was a 2012 HAF Congressional Intern. Gupta has also served as a Kenan Institute of Ethics Research Fellow, where she explored the intersection of religion and refugee resettlement.
Preethi Bhat, a sophomore at Davis Senior High School in Davis, CA, received $150 and the first prize in the 14-17 age category. She thoughtfully reflected on her upbringing:
"Studying my faith with passion to understand my heritage; it is now more than ever that I have valued acquiring Hinduism's morals through my unique opportunity by visiting India every other year. My parents' commitment to their values has allowed me to experience India's rich culture, and it is these life lessons that my elders have lovingly given me that I bring back home to the United States of America."
"Religion kindles passion, which in turn evokes intense emotions and corresponding actions, whether for good or for bad," wrote Sohini Sircar, 24, and second prize winner of the 23-27 age category. Sircar is completing her Masters in Public Health at Yale University in New Haven, CT.
Hamsika Chandrasekhar, 22, a medical school at Stanford University, was awarded the second prize in the 18-22 age category, and has been a regular participant in the NextGen Essay Contest. Chandrasekar won the first prize in 2009 and again in 2010.
Antara Dattagupta, a junior at A&M Consolidated High School, was awarded the second prize in the 14-17 age category.
Dattagupta highlighted, "I have seen throughout my lifetime how religion has changed people, broken friendships and ultimately made others feel insecure of their lifestyle. My childhood friends who I used to see at Shloka class now call themselves atheists in order to 'fit in' at our High school."
Please click on the name of the winner to read his/her respective essay in its entirety.