Last week HAF sent the following letter to the editor of Caravan Magazine (New Delhi) expressing our grave concerns about an upcoming article on the political activity of Hindu Americans, including at least one of our co-founders. Three days later we have yet to receive any reply to our concerns expressed below.
Dear Editor, Mr. Anant Nath and Grievance Officer, Mr. Pawan Gupta:
We write to you to express concern regarding several individuals, ostensibly representing Caravan Magazine, who have reached out to one of our board members, our offices, Hindu American Foundation (HAF) supporters, and partner organizations misrepresenting themselves as well as the purpose of their respective inquiries.
Prior to any HAF representatives responding to the questions provided, the Foundation seeks clarification as to whether these aforementioned individuals are working on the same purported news story, as well as the scope of said subject matter.
Is the proposed story about “political activism of Indian Americans” as represented by one of your representatives? Or is it about “contributions made by the Indian Diaspora towards Narendra Modi’s win” as represented by two other of your representatives? Both are very different stories, governed by the election laws and norms of two different nations. Both entail a responsibility and commitment to publishing only verified facts and abstaining from any and all false allegations, and thus we seek your assurance to this end as well.
The following chain of events compel us to ask the above questions:
- On July 11, Dr. Mihir Meghani, co-founder and Board Member of HAF received the following voicemail from a private or blocked number: “Hi, I’m calling for Dr. Meghani. My name is Peter. I’m a journalist with Caravan Magazine. We’re doing a story on the political activism of Indian-Americans. I would love to have a chance to speak with you. I will give you a call back again soon. I hope to connect. Thank you.” No call back number or contact email was provided.
- Dr. Meghani received a second call yesterday, Wednesday, July 24, again, also from a blocked or private number, and when questioned, the caller claimed he does not have a phone number. Dr. Meghani asked him to send any questions by email on Dr. Meghani’s personal Gmail, in order to better understand the scope of the interview and possibly set up a time to speak. The questions sent pertained to Dr. Meghani’s support of U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and Congressman Ro Khanna. There are also questions about Dr. Meghani’s alleged association to several Hindu American organizations, including Hindu Swayam Sevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America.
- Also on Wednesday, July 24, one of our staff members and a partner organization, Hindus of Greater Houston, received a request for photographs of Dr. Meghani and three other individuals from a Tanvi Mishra and Shahid Tantray, both stating they were working on a story about “contributions made by the Indian diaspora towards Narendra Modi’s win as Prime Minister.”
- When Dr. Meghani received the emailed questions we learned that the “Peter” was in fact Pieter Friedrich — a known US based activist who also identifies under other aliases and social media handles including Pieter Singh and Singh of Judah. Friedrich has blocked a number of the Hindu American Foundation’s leadership on Twitter, despite never having any previous engagements on social media. Many followers of HAF have shared critical tweets with HAF that Friedrich posted denigrating HAF leaders subsequent to many of them being blocked. When Friedrich intentionally sought to obviate conversations on social media by blocking, HAF leaders are obviously concerned as to why he seeks to initiate a conversation now.
Even beyond the conflicting representations made by three individuals claiming to be journalists for Caravan, we seek to better understand the basis or expertise upon which Caravan has retained Pieter Friedrich. We have numerous concerns about Friedrich’s objectivity and subject matter expertise.
Friedrich has publicly stated on a variety of fora, including his website, that he is a “South Asia analyst.” But he provides not a single credential to corroborate what appears to be a self-appointed qualification. No university degrees earned or attempted, fellowships completed or associations with think tanks or policy-making institutions are offered. No employment in a governmental body or media entity is provided. A comprehensive search for any of these qualifications for Friedrich in fact yield nothing. Instead, one finds two self-published books, with no history of peer review, and a litany of argumentative, biased, and slandering posts on online portals, along with apparently homemade videos uploaded to social media sites.
Moreover, what is amply available as to Friedrich’s antecedents is a long track record of activism with a group called Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI).
Advocacy journalism has a long tradition, but Friedrich’s involvement with OFMI seriously blurs the line between writing a story and being the story — and that too without disclosing his dual role as activist and author.
OFMI was founded by Bhajan Singh Bhinder, who was the subject of an undercover United States Customs Service investigation for trying to purchase C-4 plastic explosives, M-16s, AK-47s, grenade and rocket launchers, and Stinger missiles in support of the Khalistan terrorist movement in India. The two individuals who are most frequently quoted as speaking on behalf of OFMI are a Bhajan Singh Bhinder and Pieter Friedrich. Bhinder has also reportedly served as a spokesperson for Sikh Youth of America, a radical organization that glorifies Sikh terrorists and has alleged ties with the International Sikh Youth Federation, a US Department of State designated terrorist organization under E.O. 13224.
Friedrich himself has been documented verbally harassing Hindu American children and their parents peacefully waiting in line to testify at the California State Board of Education. He also testified several times at the California State Board Education between 2015-2017 denigrating the Hindu religion, Hindu American activism, and promoting the inclusion of negative stereotypes on Hinduism in California textbooks.
There is also evidence of misleading and counterfactual presentations he has made purportedly on Hinduism, though they are more about Indian politics and his effort to conflate the two.
Any scholar of Hinduism or Hindu layperson would attest to the inaccuracies presented by Friedrich as well as his complete lack of competency in presenting about Hinduism, especially to audiences unfamiliar with the traditions. His presentations about Hinduism to American audiences are laden with precisely the kind of misinformation and stereotypes that have led to relentless bullying of Hindu American children, and discrimination and violent hate against Hindu Americans.
Friedrich has attended OFMI-hosted protests promoting hate speech against Hinduism and Hindu symbols, including denigrating the Hindu respect for cows through slogans and signs such as:
“Don’t throw a fit but cow culture is bullshit.”
“We don’t drink pee in the land of the free.”