The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) was made aware today that the internet portal calling itself the Coalition Against Genocide (CAG), released a report to various media outlets ostensibly attacking HAF. More of a personal attack on certainleaders of HAF, the report repeats nearly decade old accusations that organizations now affiliating under the umbrella of CAG leveled against HAF during the Foundation’s extensive involvement in the California textbook adoption process in 2005. Most of the allegations come from a nexus of Indian American radical Marxist and pro-Islamist organizations claiming that HAF enjoys existential links to socio-political organizations based in India. This same CAG nexus was comprehensively exposed in a report released at the HAF offices here today.
“As a progressive Hindu American organization leading from the front in issues as diverse as religious liberty and human rights, to gun control, immigration and LGBT rights, HAF closely works with a broad coalition of organizations with aligned goals,” said Padma Kuppa, a member of the HAF Board of Directors and prominent interfaith advocate in Michigan. “We are simply stunned that CAG leaders who like to claim the mantle of South Asian progressivism are absent from the battles that we fight to promote pluralism every day, and seem more intent on importing their personal ideological cultural wars from India to polarize the Indian American community in the United States.”
Several of HAF’s leaders reviewed the CAG report and offered responses in their own words. A selection of quotes are appended below:
Mihir Meghani, M.D., Co-founder and Board Member: I am proud to have joined my fellow HAF leaders and partners in the interfaith, peace-building, and activist community, as the Hindu American Foundation clearly has a strong track record of taking independent positions – leftist and radicals throw the label Hindutva at HAF, and right wing Hindus call HAF knee jerk liberals! Yet the reality is that HAF is neither. The team at HAF thinks through positions that have nothing to do with the usual left-right paradigm present in India or the U.S., and therefore HAF rejects any labels.
For this “expose’” by CAG to focus so centrally on me is flattering, but sadly misplaced — I am but one person at HAF. CAG and its Hinduphobic agenda attack me personally clearly as a means to divert attention from the real issues facing the community today.
Suhag Shukla, Esq., Co-Founder and Executive Director: The leadership at HAF is saddened that our organization, with its decade long history of human rights and religious freedom advocacy, civil rights leadership, and espousal of such progressive causes as stopping caste-based discrimination, ending violence and discrimination against women, and decriminalization of homosexuality, must sustain a smear campaign from fringe groups. The Hindu American community in the United States is already a minority, and such factional attacks vitiate an already limited ecosystem. The defamatory litany comprising the CAG report is truly nothing but a personal attack on one of HAF’s co-founders and HAF’s extensive, and widely covered involvement in the California textbook adoption process in 2005. HAF is proud of its work in California, and rather than relying on the CAG document’s retelling, we invite readers to examine the actual changes proposed by HAF by accessing all of the material on its website http://www.hafsite.org/issues/academia?q=archived_academia
Sheetal Shah, Senior Director (who was never involved in HSC. The CAG has misidentified HAF’s Ms. Sheetal D. Shah with another Sheetal Shah): HAF is not a one-person show, but a professionally staffed organization with a diverse volunteer Board and Executive Council, and membership from around the U.S. representing Hindus of all nationalities, ethnicities, races, and castes. No less that Diana Eck, head of the Pluralism Project at Harvard said as much in this New York Times front page article covering HAF’s Take Back Yoga campaign: “The debate has secured the standing of the Hindu America Foundation as the pre-eminent voice for the country’s two million Hindus…and the Foundation has emerged as “the first major national advocacy group looking at Hindu identity.””
Samir Kalra, Director and Senior Fellow for Human Rights: HAF’s track record as an established human rights organization is manifest in its profound credibility in its interactions with government, media, academia and several interfaith fora. HAF has been routinely quoted by the U.S. Commission on International Freedom (USCIRF) in its annual reports, and has spearheaded as well as supported religious freedom initiatives through the International Religious Freedom Roundtable in Washington, D.C. In addition, HAF has been a leading voice on international and domestic civil rights issues, including advocating on behalf of minority women’s rights in countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, supporting Muslim and Sikh employment rights in the U.S. through CA Assembly Bill 1964, speaking out against theunconstitutional surveillance of mosques in New York, pushing for immigration reform and gun control, and pushing for the inclusion of hate crime reporting against Sikhs, Arabs, and Hindus.
Rishi Bhutada, Board Member: These attacks against HAF are nothing more than a replay of decades old allegations, innuendo, clumsy associations, and ideological vitriol. We have scarce seen a more overt example of a Hindu witch hunt and conspiracy theorization that culminates in ludicrous allegations. CAG is trying to indict, in the most tangential ways, prominent Hindus for their service to the Hindu American community, America, India, and a broader community of service and interfaith organizations spanning decades.
Raman Khanna, M.D., Executive Council,: HAF dismisses these laughable “guilt by associations” insinuated by CAG as the worst kind of Hinduphobic McCarthyism. Instead of engaging with the substance of our positions, CAG seeks to paint our organization as a pariah whose very arguments in favor of human rights, interfaith, and indeed progressivism itself are apparently beyond the pale. It was unacceptable when the Senator from Wisconsin did this, and it is unacceptable now. When CAG is ready to engage in dialogue rather than truth-challenged vitriol, we are here.
Pawan Deshpande, member of the Executive Council: Indeed, if this entity calling itself CAG desires to go public with its attacks against HAF, it is equally incumbent upon all interested parties to better understand CAG itself. The Coalition Against Genocide (CAG), is a loose knit coalition of approximately fifty groups, most of which are non-existent entities seemingly created for the purposes of exaggerating the coalition’s size and diversity. CAG is comprised primarily of prominent Indian American radical activists with a history of Hinduphobic and pro-Islamist activism.
Aseem Shukla, M.D., Co-Founder and Board Member: Many Hindu Americans growing up in the United States in the 1970′s and 1980′s were active in various India based social organizations that had American chapters. There were simply no other options for socio-religious engagement in that era. For CAG to affix dark affiliations to any teenagers’ activities organizing summer camps, college Bhagvad Gita reading groups or pre-exam Saraswati pooja’s is shameful as much as it is laughable. And yes, we Indian American teenagers were asked to address all elders as “uncle” or “auntie,” contrary to the report that cites those monikers as evidence of organizational affiliation!
Harsh Voruganti, Esq., Associate Director of Public Policy: No one who is familiar with HAF’s long history of progressive activism, and advocacy for pluralistic dialogue will be persuaded by CAG’s allegations. Over the last ten years, HAF has worked with members of both parties and interfaith groups to advance understanding of Hinduism and dialogue with Hindu Americans. Like members of every faith group in the United States, Hindus desire to be treated with respect and dignity. CAG’s attacks on a respected organization such as HAF suggests that no organization that is proud of its Hindu heritage will ever pass muster with them. As a self-proclaimed “liberal” who has spent his entire adult life supporting the civil rights of all individuals, I am proud to be a member of HAF.
Swaminathan Venkataraman – Executive Council and ex-Board Member: As perhaps the only one among HAF’s senior leadership team to be both born and raised in India and to have come of age during the Ram janmabhoomi movement, I am the most likely recipient of the Hindutva tag among all of us. But I have always called myself a proud non-Hindutva Hindu and yet could not be more delighted to be a part of HAF. Only a few days ago, I was quoted by the Times of India as part of HAF’s reponse to the Indian Supreme Court’s decision on homosexual relationships in India, taking a diametrically opposite position to that of the Sangh Parivar. One senses that CAG’s real problem is simply HAF’s emergence as an articulate, credible, and professional Hindu voice that is bringing authentic, apolitical Hindu perspectives into the public sphere.
Padma Kuppa – Board Member: As a leading advocate for interfaith and intercultural understanding, I am appalled that HAF is subject to such outrageous allegations by CAG. HAF supported me in my struggle to create a pluralistic and inclusive National Day of Prayer in my own hometown and has been part of my activism to ensure that Hindus also have a seat at the American table. Our collective and individual relationships with those of other faiths and respected interfaith organizations are a testament to the Hindu concept we at HAF believe in: The Truth is One, the wise call it by many names. CAG and those who support this coalition are spreading untruths that are obviously spurred by Hinduphobia.
Jay Kansara, Associate Director of Government Affairs: HAF is not affiliated with any particular religious tradition or school of thought within the Hindu pantheon however it is currently the only advocacy organization that is capable of broadly representing Hindu philosophy across the spectrum. Our simple and concise educational materials, vetted by lay and spiritual scholars alike, condense vast amounts of information for the public at large to understand complex Hindu concepts. This service has proven to be invaluable given the previous dearth of credible voices to articulate Hindu tenets as well as issues affecting Hindu society in the United States and globally to the public at large.