A Hindu monk offered the opening prayer for the House of Representatives and the birth sesquicentennial of Swami Vivekananda, considered Hinduism’s first ambassador to the West, was marked in the Congressional record Tuesday morning. These two historical firsts led up to a gala celebration attended by over 300 as the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) marked its tenth year of advocacy on Capitol Hill. A parade of Senate and House leaders took turns at the podium of the ornate Caucus Room of the House Cannon Building and lauded the Foundation’s accomplishments over the years.
“The dividends of a decade of investments in education, advocacy, and tireless interactions with every level of our nation’s government were on display throughout HAF’s full day of events,” said Mihir Meghani, M.D., Co-Founder and member of the HAF Board of Directors. “A Hindu prayer given on the floor of the House, and the words of Swami Vivekananda offered by Congressman Ami Bera (D-CA) inspired a remarkable day and will carry us into the next decade of tireless work.”
For the tenth consecutive year, over fifty delegates representing HAF fanned out in teams visiting dozens of congressional offices on the Senate and House sides of the U.S. Capitol on June 4. Delegates asked legislative leaders in direct meetings to begin a congressional letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, calling on the incoming Nawaz Sharif government of Pakistan to take concrete steps to ease the continuing tragedy of religious persecution and violence faced by Hindus, Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims, and Christians there. They also called for the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees to host congressional hearings on the retaliatory violence faced by Hindus and Buddhists in Bangladesh in the wake of recent verdicts against Islamist leaders implicated for their roles in the 1971 genocide during Pakistan’s partition. Delegates covered domestic issues as well, articulating uniquely Hindu perspectives on the pending immigration legislation.
At noon, HAF delegates gathered in the gallery of the House of Representatives within the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. On a joint invitation of Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, spiritual head of Kauai’s Hindu Monastery and Publisher of the Hinduism Today magazine, offered a Hindu invocation to open the day’s House proceedings.
“The tragic Boston marathon bombings, still vivid in all our minds, implore us to advocate the humanity of a nonviolent approach in all of life’s dimensions. Hindu scripture declares, without equivocation, that the highest of high ideals is to never knowingly harm anyone,” said Bodhinatha, becoming the first Hindu sannyasin, or monk, to offer the opening prayer for Congress. Chairman Royce, of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, took to the House floor after the invocation to thank Bodhinatha, while acknowledging HAF’s decade of advocacy and work on the Hill.
As the gala reception got under way, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) accepted HAF’s Friend of the Community award while affirming his commitment to ensuring that the FBI mandate a separate category for the tracking of data for hate crimes committed against Hindus – a position long advocated by HAF. Congressman Joe Crowley (D-NY), Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, similarly was awarded for his work on pushing for the anti-Hindu hate crime data category on the House side. Congressman Ami Bera (D-CA) accepted the third HAF Friend of the Community Award for his commitment to promoting promoting pluralism and inter-religious dialogue, and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), the first Hindu American elected to Congress, was recognized for her history-making win.
“Our government leaders are hearing from Hindu Americans in a sustained, consistent way for the last decade, and the results are showing,” said Suhag Shukla, Esq., HAF’s Executive Director and Legal Counsel. “Our commitment to the community is to continue these efforts, expand them, and usher in a new generation of Hindu American leaders making a difference in political engagement.”
Among the evening’s other awardees were Professor Sachi Dastidar from State University of New York Old Westbury, who received HAF’s Dharma Seva Award, Professor Ved Nanda from the University of Denver, the Pride of the Community, and Professor Arvind Sharma from McGill University with HAF’s Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Pluralism. Finally, HAF’s inaugural Award for the Advancement of Dharmic Arts and Humanities went to Kanniks Kannikeswaran for his pioneering work in the Indian American choral movement and whose locally-based choir performed sacred Hindu songs throughout the evening’s celebration.