Hindu American Foundation
|Motto||Promoting dignity, mutual respect, and pluralism in order to ensure the well-being of Hindus and for all people and the planet to thrive.|
|Formation||September 3, 2003|
|Legal status||501(c)(3) non-profit|
|Purpose||Hindu American advocacy|
The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) is a Hindu American advocacy group founded on September 3, 2003 and headquartered on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.. HAF is involved in the areas of human rights, civil rights and education among others.
The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) was founded in September 2003 by Mihir Meghani, an emergency care physician, Aseem Shukla, an associate professor in urologic surgery, Suhag Shukla, an attorney, Nikhil Joshi, a labor law attorney,and Adeeti Joshi, a speech therapist.  The organization describes itself as a human rights and advocacy group, providing "a voice for the 2 million strong Hindu American community", that aims to educate the government and the public about Hinduism and the issues concerning the Hindus globally. It emphasizes the "Hindu and American ideals of understanding, tolerance and pluralism." According to Harvard professor Diana L. Eck, the foundation has emerged as "the first major national advocacy group looking at Hindu identity." Scholar Vinay Lal has noted that the organization draws on the claims of Hinduism being unique in its tolerance and religious pluralism as well as the enormous goodwill created by Gandhi in the West.
During 2004-05, the organization held events to educate legislators about issues of concern to Hindu Americans. These included the abuse of Hindus in the Muslim majority regions of South Asia, including Kashmir, Bangladesh and Pakistan. During the visit of Pervez Musharraf to the US in 2006, the organization issued a press release holding the Musharraf regime complicit in the "forced religious conversions, temple destructions and intimidation of Hindus" in Pakistan.
In 2004, HAF challenged the public display of the Ten Commandments in Texas, where it appeared as amici curiae (friend of the Court) in Van Orden v. Perry in the United States Supreme Court. It argued that the display represented an "inherent government preference" for Judeo-Christian religions over others and the state must be reminded of its obligation to maintain religious neutrality. In 2005, HAF, along with the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, the Association on American Indian Affairs and the Interfaith Alliance, was involved in the Simpson v. Chesterfield County case regarding legislative prayer. In 2008, HAF along with a coalition of other religious groups, filed suit and blocked the issuance of Christian themed license plates in South Carolina.
The organization supports strong ties between India, Israel and the US to create an axis of countries aiming to fight Islamic terrorism. In 2005, it joined the American Jewish Committee (AJC) to jointly sponsor a program at Stanford University on "countering biases against Hindus and Jews on the College campus."
In 2010, the Foundation launched a Take Yoga Back campaign as a reaction to the cultural appropriation and secularization of yoga. It contended that Raja Yoga is an integral part of Hinduism and cannot not be practiced independently, inviting criticism from Deepak Chopra and Meera Nanda.
In 2013, HAF joined a coalition of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim organizations urging the Justice Department investigate the New York City Police Department for discriminatory surveillance of American Muslims. The organization also joined the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in expressing concern over the existence of and hunger strikes by detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and the torture of suspected Muslim terrorists. In 2014, HAF held joint protests for the genocide of Yazidis under the Islamic State in Iraq. In 2015, as a part of the Hate Crimes Coalition, HAF participated in the drafting and submission of the edits to an FBI manual to specifically track hate crimes against Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims.
In 2018, the organization launched the Shakti Initiative, a website highlighting Hindu teachings about and by women, the contributions of Hindu women throughout history, and how Hindu women can address critical contemporary issues.
In 2019, the HAF along with the American Civil Liberties Union and various Jewish religious and civil rights organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the United States Supreme Court in support of a constitutional challenge to a government-sponsored 40-foot cross as a war memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland in the American Legion v. American Humanist Association case. HAF also joined a coalition of interfaith and civil rights groups opposing Project Blitz, a coordinated national effort to enshrine Christian nationalism in state laws in the United States, which could undermine civil rights protections and healthcare access for women, LGBTQ people, those of minority faiths, and the nonreligious. On May 12 2019, HAF along with the AJC, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and other interfaith groups held a solidarity vigil for the 2019 Easter Sunday terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka.
In September 2019, the HAF published a letter, co-signed by what was described as "a record number of 230 Indian-American organisations in the US", asking congressman Ro Khanna to withdraw from the Congressional Caucus on Pakistan and criticizing him for a tweet where he had stated that "it is the duty of every American politician of Hindu faith to stand for pluralism, reject Hindutva, and speak for equal rights for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhist and Christians."
Since 2005, the Hindu American Foundation has published annual reports entitled Hindus in South Asia & The Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights on the status of human rights of Hindus worldwide. Past reports have covered the status of Hindus living in Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Fiji, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as expatriated refugees from those regions. The reports provide detailed accounts of human rights violations such as violence against women, murder, ethnic cleansing, temple destruction, socio-political ostracization, disenfranchisement, discrimination, and forced conversions perpetrated against Hindus because of their religious identity. The incidents are documented, sourced from first hand accounts, media reports, and international and regional human rights agencies. The reports have received endorsements and praise from various U.S. elected officials, religious leaders, human rights groups, and academics.
In 2010, the organization issued a report on the caste system, asking Hindus to acknowledge that caste is not an intrinsic part of Hinduism even though it is a feature of the Hindu society and labeling caste-based discrimination as a major human rights problem. The report declares that only Hindus, through reform movements and education, can rid Hindu society of caste-based discrimination. It also castigates organizations like Dalit Freedom Network for arguing that Dalits are not Hindus. The Hindu activist scholar Rajiv Malhotra has called the report flawed and pointed out that the jatis (birth groups) that have been relabeled "castes" in modern times are an integral part of the Indian social structure and that jatis have enabled collective bargaining of rights.
HAF has spoken at or hosted congressional briefings related to human rights of Hindus in South Asia in 2007, human rights of Kashmiri Hindus in 2009and 2011, minorities in Malaysia in 2008 and 2011, the persecution of minority women in Pakistan in 2013, Pakistani Hindu refugees in India in 2013, religious violence in Bangladesh in 2015, and India’s diversity and democracy in 2018. The organization also briefed the UK House of Lords on the human rights of Malaysian Hindus in 2008.
HAF has organized film screenings and talks related to the human rights of Hindus including Refugees of Shangri-La: The Untold Story of Bhutanese Refugees, The Human Boundaries, A Day in the Life of a Pakistani Hindu by activists from the Pakistan Hindu Seva Welfare Trust, Thrust into Heaven, and Plight of Hindus in Malaysia by Malaysian HINDRAF activist Waytha Moorthy.
HAF also provides direct assistance to Hindu refugees such funds for the resettlement of Bhutanese Hindus in America, medical care for Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, and physical and mental care and aid for Pakistani Hindu refugees in India.
In 2006, HAF was actively involved in the Californian Hindu textbook controversy. On March 16, 2006, it filed a lawsuit contesting the California's Curriculum Commission's decision to reject many of the Vedic Foundation and Hindu Education Foundation's suggested edits to California's textbook curriculum on Hinduism and India. The proposed changes had been publicly opposed by Indologists organized by Michael Witzel, who renounced them as "politically and religiously motivated", as well as by various Hindu groups. The court ruled to retain the textbooks, noting the significant expense associated with reissuing the textbooks.
In 2014, the Texas State Board of Education voted to adopt new textbooks that incorporated over 100 corrections submitted by HAF working in conjunction with scholars and historians. Some of the changes in the textbooks include coverage of Hinduism and Hindus in contemporary world history and geography, greater context in the explanation of caste, and the first-ever K-12 textbook mention of Hindu saint Adi Shankara.
In 2016, the Foundation released a report on the representation of Hinduism in classrooms and the bullying of Hindu American students. Among other findings, the report said that one in three Hindu American students had been bullied for their religious beliefs, and that one in eight students reported that their teachers made sarcastic remarks about Hinduism in front of a class.
In 2016, the HAF lobbied against the replacement of the word “Indian” with “South Asian” in middle school history textbooks in California, arguing that the change was essentially an erasure of India itself. These efforts were protested by South Asian academics and activists belonging to India’s minority groups, who said that those on the side of the HAF sought to whitewash California’s history textbooks to present a nativist, blemish-free view of how the Hindu caste system was enforced in India. They also argued that the term “South Asia” correctly represents India’s collective history with countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. A letter to the California State Board of Education about this issue, which garnered thousands of signatures, was spearheaded by the HAF. 
The Coalition Against Genocide (CAG) and others have alleged that the organization has links to Hindu nationalist organizations, namely the Vishva Hindu Parishad America (VHPA) and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), the overseas wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Specifically, these critics cited that one of the organization’s founders, Mihir Meghani, also founded the University of Michigan's chapter of the Hindu Students Council (HSC), a nationwide network of student societies affiliated with the VHPA, in 1991. He is also known to have been a member of the HSS. CAG also alleged that he and several other members of the HAF were previously affiliated with other organizations associated with the Sangh Parivar.[note 1] CAG also alleges that while the HAF aims to expose maltreatment of Hindu minorities in countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan in its annual report “Hindus in South Asia & The Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights”, it also systematically downplays the maltreatment of non-Hindu minorities in India, and further labels such concerns about Indian religious minorities as “anti-Hindu bias.”
HAF has denied these allegations terming them as defamatory and blatantly false. In response to the allegations, the HAF labeled the Coalition Against Genocide as an “extreme Leftist” organization with a “radical, violent and confrontational agenda built on a revolutionary, Marxist paradigm” and published a report claiming that their research revealed that CAG is an "unregistered group primarily composed of defunct or unregistered entities, many sharing the same leadership and IP addresses for their websites, whose focus is to malign Hindu advocacy groups while promoting radical revolution in India along narrow ideological grounds."
Nikhil Joshi, a former board member of the foundation, stated that, "HAF has absolutely no links to any Hindu nationalist social, political or religious groups in the United States or India. HAF does not advocate for Hindutva, Maoism, Communism or any other political ideology. None of HAF’s founders or leaders is a member of any nationalist organization."  Nicholas O’Connell, a member of HAF's Executive Council, defended the group saying that a few of its leaders had participated in VHPA-affiliated student groups in high school and college along with “thousands of teens” in the 1970s and 1980s when the vast majority of Hindu student groups were organized by the VHPA. In 2018, Suhag Shukla, the Executive Director, denounced these and similar allegations stating that, "Ascribing a sinister agenda or affiliations when Hindus enter the public square, advocate for their rights, support charitable causes in India, or host conferences to gather and celebrate among faithful, must be called out as anti-Hindu and repudiated."
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) credited Meghani as the author of an essay on their website titled Hindutva: The Great Nationalist Ideology, which claims that Hindus and Hinduism were denigrated by the Indian National Congress and that Hindus rose up to demand a "true secularism." The essay drew a parallel between the Hindu experience and that of Jews, African Americans and colonized groups, and defended the demolition of the Babri Masjid, terming it as the release of "thousands of years of anger and shame." In 2006, in a letter printed in India Abroad, Meghani denied authoring the essay on the BJP website, though he did author similar essay as a teenager in the early 1990s and stated that he does “not stand by what is written.” As of 2006, the BJP removed Meghani’s name from the essay upon his request, and subsequently removed the essay from the website altogether.
- Coalition Against Genocide (2013): "Thus Rishi Bhutada came out of the HSC at University of Pennsylvania, Sheetal Shah served as the Southeast Regional Coordinator for the HSC, Suhag Shukla was active with organizing HSC's regional conferences in the same region, Kavitha Pallod out of the VHP-A’s American Hindu Youth Camp, Padma Kuppa with the VHP-A's Hindu Temple Executive Council, and Ramesh Rao with the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), a fund-raising arm of the VHP-A."
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