The Hindu American Foundation, an advocacy organization for Hindus in the U.S. and around the world, urged U.S. lawmakers to further ease the way for priests to come to America, and directed their attention to alleged human rights violations against Hindus in Bangladesh, and the plight of some Bhutanese refugees in this country.
Several members of Congress met HAF representatives to discuss these three issues at the 12th annual Capitol Hill reception June 10. The delegation which made the rounds of Capitol Hill consisted of some Hindu American leaders as well as representatives of the Bhutanese Hindu American community seeking to change regulations pertaining to financial support for elderly and disabled refugees.
The evening reception, which drew over 200 guests, included two Senators, ten Representatives, ambassadors, and agency officials, a release from HAF said. The keynote address was given by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who spoke on his connection to his Hindu faith and the inspiration he drew from the life of Swami Vivekananda. At the reception Murthy received HAF’s Pride of the Community award. Dr. Anantanand Rambachan, professor of religion at St. Olaf College was awarded HAF’s Dharma Seva award; Harpreet Singh Mokha of the Department of Justice, got the Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Pluralism; and Senator Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, and Rep. Joe Crowley, D-NY, received Friend of the Community awards.
“With each year we’re seeing more an more receptiveness on the Hill to issues we are raising,” Suhag Shukla, co-founder, executive director and legal counsel of HAF told News India Times. “Especially when all the elected leaders who come to our reception respect our viewpoints and the research we provide. We are a reliable source for them,” Shukla said.
The HAF is seeking to overturn the sunset clause on the visa for priests as the renewal process every three years is a burden on Hindu temples around the country that need to bring over qualified pundits to conduct various small and big ceremonies and festivals. “The expiry creates a bureaucratic nightmare for our temples, when for instance some grand pratishthan has to be held and a priest’s visa is about to expire or another priest has to be brought in.” According to Shukla, Catholics use the visa for priests more than Hindus.
The second issue related to the 1971 massacre of many Hindus and secularists during the Bangladesh war and Tulsi Gabbard, the only Hindu in Congress, is introducing a resolution to recognize the alleged genocide, Shukla told News India Times. Advocates of HAF also drew lawmakers’ attention to the recent killings of secular and atheist activists in Bangladesh by extremist forces. “Those same elements (who massacred Hindus 45 years ago) are threatening Bangladesh’s democracy today,” Shukla contended.
The Hindu organization is also joining Bhutanese Hindu groups, to exert pressure on Congress to extend by two years the Supplemental Security Income from the state that currently is paid for 7 years to elderly and disabled Bhutanese refugees. “Ninety percent of the approximately 100,000 Nepalese people who were kicked out of their country were Hindus” Shukla says. Many of those who ended up in the U.S., are illiterate and first have to learn Nepalese before they can be taught English. In order to continue receiving SSI, one has to become a citizen after the 7 years, a period that Bhutanese activists say is not long enough for them to learn both Nepalese and English.