Leaders of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) have congratulated India, the world’s largest democracy, on electing its fourteenth President, Ram Nath Kovind.

Originally from Uttar Pradesh, Kovind is a former lawyer of the Supreme Court of India and Governor of the state of Bihar. The son of farmers from a Dalit community, who are amongst the most socially marginalized and impoverished in the country, Kovind was nominated by the ruling BJP, and was quickly endorsed by its National Democratic Alliance partners, as well as other regional parties across India.

Swaminathan Venkataraman, a member of HAF’s National Leadership Council and author of HAF’s seminal report Hinduism: Not Cast in Caste – Seeking an End to Caste-based Discrimination, offered this statement:

“We at HAF congratulate Shri Ram Nath Kovind on becoming India’s fourteenth President. Shri Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (a member of the Other Backward Castes category) are both from socially marginalized communities, thus reinforcing the idea that birth-based hierarchies have no place in a democratic society. Much reform is still needed to ensure that caste-based discrimination and prejudice is not just eliminated in practice, but is also removed from the hearts and minds of all Indians. With both candidates from the Dalit community, this Presidential election sends a powerful symbolic message.”

Although, Kocheril Raman Narayanan was the first Dalit to become President (holding the position from 1997-2002), this is the first election where both candidates were from the Dalit community. Meira Kumar, a former cabinet minister under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, conceded victory on Thursday.

Although the Indian President does not carry executive powers like the American President, it is a position of great symbolic significance as the titular Head of State and the commander in chief of the Indian armed forces. Presidents also represent the ethos of India’s constitution, guaranteeing all citizens religious freedom and freedom from caste-based discrimination.

Upon being declared President, Kovind told reporters, quoting an ancient Sanskrit verse from the Upanishads (one of Hinduism’s most important scriptures), “I’ll serve the nation in the spirit of ‘Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah’ (May all be happy).”

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