Hindu American Foundation
The Hindu American Foundation (HAF, founded September 3, 2003) is a Hindu advocacy group operating in the United States. It presents itself as a human rights organization, providing a voice for the Hindu American community. It publishes annual surveys of human rights of Hindus in South Asia and overseas. The organisation has links to the Hindu nationalist organisations Vishva Hindu Parishad and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh. It backed the Hindu groups in the California textbook controversy over Hindu history.
The Hindu American Foundation was founded in 2004 in Fremont, California. The organisation describes itself as a "human rights group" and provides "a voice for the 2 million strong Hindu American community." It also describes itself as an advocacy group that aims to educate the government and the public about Hinduism and the issues concerning the Hindus globally. It emphasises 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 organisation 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.
The founding members of the organisation were Mihir Meghani, an emergency care physician, Aseem Shukla, an associate professor in urologic surgery at the University of Minnesota medical school, Suhag Shukla, a legal expert and three others. Meghani is the former founder of the Hindu Students Council (HSC) at the University of Michigan in 1991, a nationwide network of student societies affiliated to the Vishva Hindu Parishad America (VHPA). He also authored an essay titled "Hindutva: The Great Nationalist Ideology," on the web site of the Bharatiya Janata Party, where he claimed that Hindus and Hinduism were denigrated by the Indian National Congress and that Hindus rose up to demand a "true secularism." He drew a parallel between the Hindu experience and that of Jews, African Americans and colonized groups. He defended the demolition of the Babri Masjid, which he called the release of "thousands of years of anger and shame." According to the Coalition Against Genocide, Meghani served on the Governing Council of the VHP America. He is also known to have been a member of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, the overseas wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Several other leaders of the HAF are known to have had backgrounds in the other organisations associated with the Sangh Parivar.[note 1]
The HAF board member Shetal Shah, however, defended the group saying that a few of its leaders had participated in VHPA-affiliated student groups during their high school and college days. But the board membership was drawn from a wide spectrum and they shared a firm commitment to uphold pluralism.
During 2004-05, the organisation held events to educate the legislators about the issues of concern to Hindu Americans. These included the abuse to 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 organisation issued a press release holding the Musharraf regime complicit in the "forced religious conversions, temple destructions and intimidation of Hindus" in Pakistan.
The organisation took part in a court case challenging the public display of the Ten Commandments in Texas, where it has appeared as amici curiae (friend of the 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.
The organisation 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 to jointly sponsor a program at Stanford on "countering biases against Hindus and Jews on the College campus." In a meeting with the American Jewish Committee, Mihir Meghani drew parallels between the supposed endangerment of Hindus in India and that of Jews in Israel, and "the shared risks they face from neighbors with long histories of terrorism."
In 2010, the organisation has 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 labelling 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 organisations 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 relabelled "castes" in modern times are an integral part of the Indian social structure and that jatis have enabled collective bargaining of rights.
In another controversial move, the Foundation launched a Take Yoga Back campaign as a reaction to the secularisation of Yoga. They contended that Raja Yoga was an integral part of Hinduism and it could not be practised independently, inviting criticism from Deepak Chopra and Meera Nanda. The supporters have clarified that the campaign is meant to emphasize that Yoga is very much a part of Hinduism.
Human rights report
The Hindu American Foundation, released a report in 2005 on the status of the human rights of Hindus, mainly in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and the Kashmir valley. The report attempts to increase awareness of anti-Hindu views that they say are used to justify violations of the human rights of many Hindus in the region. The report introduces as
Human rights are by definition universal. Hence, in an ideal world there would be no need to write a separate report on the human rights of Hindus, or for that matter any other group. In the real world, unfortunately, there is a gaping hole when it comes to the awareness of human rights for Hindus, mainly in Bangladesh, Pakistan and in the Kashmir valley.
The 71-page report compiles media coverage and firsthand accounts of human rights violations perpetrated against Hindus because of their religious identity. The incidents are documented, often quoting from well-known international human rights organizations. The Hindu American Foundation presented the report to the co-chairs of the US Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans, Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, and Gary Ackerman, a Democrat. Both of these members of Congress endorsed it. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean and co-founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, praised the HAF for the report.
|“||The Simon Wiesenthal Center welcomes this report which will help the international community and non-governmental Organizations to have a broader understanding of the human rights situation in that important region of the world.[dead link]||”|
Several academics on campuses around the U.S. also reviewed this year’s report. Florida International University Professor of religious Studies, Nathan Katz, remarked on the promulgation of various anti-Hindu sentiments recorded in the report:
|“||“This report by the Hindu American Foundation…is a real eye-opener”.“As a minority in Islamic societies that consider them to be ‘idolaters,’ Hindus in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan face unimaginable persecution routinely.[dead link]||”|
Since then, the Foundation has expanded the scope of its human rights report and continues to release an annual report entitled Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora. The report covers Hindu human rights in eight countries plus India's state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The report documents the long history of anti-Hindu atrocities in Bangladesh, a topic that many Indians and Indian governments over the years have preferred not to acknowledge. Such atrocities, including targeted attacks against temples, open theft of Hindu property, and rape of young Hindu women and enticements to convert to Islam, have increased sharply in recent years after the Jamat-e-Islami joined the coalition government led by the Bangladesh National Party.
The report concludes with:
|“||Some Indians may feel uncomfortable with this report because they do not want to be reminded about the problems of Hindus outside their milieu. And for some in the Indian intelligentsia, it is a badge of honour to distance themselves from these pogroms as a mark of their supposed enlightenment, oddly trashing their own ethos in the process. Many more Indians are reluctant to speak out against atrocities committed against Hindus for fear of being labeled "communal". Merely speaking about human rights for Hindus is for them a form of communalism||”|
The people whose persecution is amply documented in this report are being persecuted because they are Hindu, not because they are poor or because of their political views. Human rights activists in Bangladesh and Pakistan, many of whom are not Hindus, have painstakingly documented the violations of basic human rights of Hindus in their country.
California textbook dispute
The 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, including organizations of Dalits.
As of September 1, 2006, the HAF case has been resolved. The HAF won the case as the judge ruled that the CA State Board of Education violated its textbook approval process. But, the court ruled to retain the textbooks, noting the significant expense associated with reissuing the textbooks. HAF has launched a circular confirming the decision by the courts and expressing a certain measure of satisfaction at the recognition of the illegality of the proceedings. The brief published by HAF says that the judge ruled in favor of retaining the edits on the grounds that he did not wish to disrupt the process of disseminating the revised editions at this stage. The legal team of HAF has posted an assessment of the result.
Mihir Meghani, President of the Hindu American Foundation, described the judgment as a "mixed victory". He says:
"This ruling now forces the California Board of Education to comply with the law — to have a fair and open public process to benefit all California students."
as well as:
"The (foundation) is disappointed that ... (the judge) has not ordered the textbooks on hand to be modified to be more accurate ... and a flawed and illegal procedure leads to flawed textbooks"
- 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."
- Vinay Lal, The Other Indians (2012).
- Prema Kurien, Place at the Multicultural Table (2007), p. 159.
- Prema Kurien, Place at the Multicultural Table (2007), p. 204.
- Panel promotes understanding,Stanford Daily
- "Hindu Group Stirs a Debate Over Yoga’s Soul". New York Times. 27 November 2010.
- Vinay Lal, The Other Indians (2012), p. 123.
- Lavina Melwani (April 2009). "Meet the Young Hindu American Foundation". Hinduism Today.
- HAF Gala: Miss America Reveals Childhood of Isolation, India West, 24 September 2014.
- Prema Kurien, Place at the Multicultural Table (2007), pp. 145-146.
- Affiliations of Faith: Hindu American Foundation and the Global Sangh (PDF), Coalition Against Genocide, 2013, retrieved 2015-10-25
- Ramesh N. Rao; et al. (2003), A Factual Response to the Hate Attack on the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) (PDF), Friends of India, Acknowledgements
- Sheetal Shah, Coalition Against Reality: Deconstructing an Attack on the Hindu American Foundation, Belief Net, January 2014
- Kurien, Prema A. (2007), "Who speaks for Indian Americans? Religion, ethnicity, and political formation", American Quarterly 59 (3): 759–783, JSTOR 40068449
- Prema Kurien, Place at the Multicultural Table (2007), p. 1.
- Vinay Lal, The Other Indians (2012), pp. 122-123.
- Vinay Lal, The Other Indians (2012), p. 122.
- Ramesh Rao, Recasting Hinduism for the 21st Century, Guardian, 21 December 2010, retrieved 2015-10-21.
- Rajiv Malhotra, Critique of Hindu American Foundation's Report on 'Caste', Medha Journal, 10 December 2013.
- Sandip Roy (8 April 2015). "Taking back what's yours? Here's why Indians can't claim sole ownership over Yoga". Firstpost.
- Nanda, Meera (12 February 2011), "Not as Old as You Think", OPEN Magazine
- "It is wrong to deny yoga's Hindu origins | Ramesh Rao". the Guardian. Retrieved 2015-10-24.
- "A Brief History Of Yoga". Medical Daily. Retrieved 2015-10-24.
- Human Rights Report from HAF
-  Second Annual Report On Hindu Human Rights Released, Pacific Magazine[dead link]
- Bose, Purnima (2008). "Hindutva Abroad: The California Textbook Controversy". The Global South 2 (1).
- New Battleground In Textbook Wars: Religion in History Hindu, Islamic, Jewish Groups Fault Portrayals of Events And Often Win Changes, The Wall Street Journal (January 25, 2006)
- "US text row resolved by Indian - The Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 2015-10-24.
- HAF Staff. "California Lawsuit Decision (Press Release)". HAF. HAF. Retrieved Oct 2006.
- HAF Staff. "California FOSA (Press Release)". HAF. HAF. Retrieved Oct 2006.
- Economides, Eleni (2 September 2006). "Judge: Process flawed, textbooks will remain". InsideBayArea. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
- Kurien, Prema (2007), A Place at the Multicultural Table: The Development of an American Hinduism, Rutgers University Press, ISBN 978-0-8135-4161-7
- Prashad, Vijay (2012). Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today. The New Press. ISBN 1595588019.
- Lal, Vinay (2012), The Other Indians, HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN 978-93-5029-261-7
- Min, Pyong Gap (2010), Preserving Ethnicity Through Religion in America: Korean Protestants and Indian Hindus Across Generations, NYU Press, ISBN 978-0-8147-9586-6
- White, David Gordon (2012), "Yoga, Brief History of an Idea", Yoga in practice (PDF), Princeton University Press, pp. 1–23, ISBN 9780691140865