The SAWC report represents a thinly veiled attack on the wider Hindu American community and their right and ability to engage in a range of legitimate activities, including youth participation in cultural and religious camps, college student groups, support for academic studies of Hinduism, charitable work in India, and advocacy on civil and human rights issues. In the process, SACW disparages transparent and well-reputed organizations such as HAF, among several others.
The report fails to intellectually engage HAF on the substantive merits of its positions on various issues, and instead makes dubious allegations against HAF as an entity and its diverse leadership group. In the rare instance where the report endeavors to address a particular issue, such as the California textbook case, it grossly misrepresents events and glosses over critical facts. The credibility of such a report and the motives of the organization behind it must seriously be called into question.
The following sections, therefore, focus on SACW’s baseless claims against HAF, and systematically deconstructs them one by one.
Allegation (pg. 29): In 2005-2006, many of these groups or their members were part of a campaign to insert Hindu nationalist histories into California textbooks, including the downplaying of certain gender and caste oppressions (more on the California textbook campaign see Visweswaran et al 2009, Maira and Swamy 2006 and Taneja 2006).
Fact: HAF, in addition to academicians of religious studies and Hindu parent/community organizations submitted reports and participated in the public comment period in California’s textbook adoption process in 2005. Just as representatives from the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities did, HAF and other Hindu community groups sought to correct blatant errors present in California’s 6th-grade history-social science textbooks, and ensure that their religion was portrayed accurately, equitably, and in a balanced manner. For example, textbooks, while discussing other religions, did not present the historic misuses of religion to perpetuate social evils such as the subjugation of women, slavery, crusades, anti-Semitism, or holy wars, all of which are part of the history of other world religions. In contrast, social practices like untouchability and caste discrimination were presented as central tenets of Hinduism. The textbooks failed to distinguish social customs also prevalent in non-Hindu communities throughout South Asia. They also failed to mention that many Hindu sacred texts were authored by “lower castes” and women.
One textbook stated, “Hinduism also taught that women are inferior to men.” While this statement may reflect certain social norms in Indian society across all religious communities at given points in history, it contradicts actual Hindu teachings. Furthermore, it neglected to note the concept of Shakti, or female divinity, in Hinduism and the fact that women were saints and composers of the Vedas.
Allegation (pg. 29): After South Asia scholars, South Asian community groups, Dalit and tribal groups raised objections, the State Board of Education refused to accept most of the Sangh’s proposed edits in California textbooks (see Thapar and Witzel 2006 and Visweswaran et al 2009). At this time, the Hindu American Foundation retained the law firm Olson, Hagel and Fishburn to sue the California Board of Education at the state level…
Fact: After receiving significant comments and submissions during the public comment period in California’s textbook adoption process in 2005, the California Department of Education (CDE) formed an Ad Hoc Committee (AHC) with a CDE appointed Content Review Panel Expert (CRPE) to review the proposed edits and corrections submitted by HAF and other Hindu community groups on Hinduism and Ancient India in 6th grade textbooks. Most of these recommended edits were accepted.
Fact: South Asia scholars lacking any expertise on Hinduism and with a stated interest in opposing any edits to the textbooks then intervened in the process. The CDE and State Board of Education (SBE) subsequently held several closed door meetings with these scholars without informing HAF or other Hindu parent groups. A new memorandum of recommendations was then released based on these illegal closed door meetings.
Fact: After the SBE and CDE continued to refuse to openly communicate with Hindu groups, HAF sent several letters (individually and through its counsel, Olson, Hagel and Fishburn, LLP) to the SBE and CDE highlighting the lack of due process afforded Hindu groups and urging a fair and open process. No similar closed door meetings were utilized to consider edits proposed by Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups, and their recommendations were approved.
Fact: HAF garnered letters supporting the proposed corrections and edits and original recommendations of the AHC and CRPE from well-reputed educators of Hinduism studies; Hindu spiritual leaders; temple boards; practicing Hindus; groups that promote human rights and pluralism and fight racism, hate and bigotry; anti-defamation groups; and elected officials.
Fact: Only after several attempts were made to urge the SBE and CDE to follow due process, HAF filed suit against the California State Board of Education (SBE) in California Superior Court in Sacramento. The suit was filed on the basis that a fair and open process was not followed in adopting textbooks that introduce Hinduism to sixth grade students. The complaint further alleged that as a result of procedural flaws and violation of the Open Meeting Act, the textbooks did not meet the standards required by the California Education Code and the Standards of Evaluation of Instructional Materials with respect to Social Content.
Fact: Ultimately, an estimated 75% of edits suggested by Hindu groups were accepted.
Allegation (pg. 29): The HAF case ended in September 2006, with the court “dismiss[ing] Hindus’ claim of bias” (Burress 2006c).
Fact: The court found that the SBE utilized illegal procedures in adopting instructional materials and in shutting out Hindu parents and community groups from the process. The opinion specifically stated that, “The Court therefore finds that respondent [California State Board of Education] has failed to comply with a specific statutory mandate that it formally enact its policies and procedures for the adoption of instructional materials pursuant to the APA [Administrative Procedures Act], and thus at all times relevant to this matter has been conducting its textbook approval process under invalid “underground regulations”. The court also ordered the SBE to pay HAF’s legal fees, as is customary practice for the losing party.
Allegation (pg. 29): With the HAF and CAPEEM cases fading from widespread attention after 2006 and both failing to establish bias against Hindus, the Sangh seems to be backing away from public legal strategies and investing more energy into building a public relations infrastructure — networks of information and resources to bolster the Sangh’s versions of culture and identity and its legitimacy to speak on behalf of Hindus to US audiences. The HAF continues to serve in such a role (see Table 6).
Fact: The Foundation’s 11-year track record as an established civil and human rights organization is manifest in the respect and trust it has earned from leaders in public policy, the media, academia, and within the realm of interfaith circles. It has routinely been quoted by the US 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. HAF has also 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 US through CA Assembly Bill 1964, speaking out against the unconstitutional surveillance of mosques in New York, pushing for immigration reform and gun control, and advocating for the inclusion of hate crime reporting against Sikhs, Arabs, and Hindus.
HAF has consistently taken a stand against caste-based discrimination and on the importance of ending violence and discrimination against women, and released a policy brief on Hinduism and Homosexuality. Recently, HAF made international headlines when it expressed disappointment with the Indian Supreme Court’s decision not to uphold the decriminalization of homosexual conduct.
Finally, HAF’s Board, staff, Executive Council, local chapters, and membership represent Hindus of every race, nationality, ethnicity, race, caste, gender, and sexual orientation.
Allegation (pg. 31): 2001 — HAF co-founder Mihir Meghani was on the VHP of America Governing Council and a member of the HSS (VHPA 2001; Rao et al 2003).
Fact: This regurgitation of a more than decade old connection between one of HAF’s co-founders and board members, Mihir Meghani, in his individual capacity, and other religio-cultural non-profit organizations, has no bearing on HAF’s organizational status as an independent non-profit advocacy group that is unaffiliated with any other religious or political organizations.
Allegation (pg. 31): 2005 — HAF supported the HSS’s educational wing Hindu Education Foundation and Vedic Foundation in the California textbooks controversy and brought a lawsuit against the California State Board of Education (Visweswaran et al 2009: 108).
Fact: As noted above, HAF, in addition to academics and Hindu parent/community organizations, submitted comments, and participated in the public comment period in California’s textbook adoption process in 2005. Just as representatives from the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities did, HAF and other Hindu community groups sought to correct blatant errors present in California’s 6th-grade history-social science textbooks, and ensure that their religion was portrayed accurately and equitably. HAF also received support letters from well-reputed educators of Hinduism studies; Hindu spiritual leaders; temple boards; practicing Hindus; groups that promote human rights and pluralism and fight racism, hate and bigotry; anti-defamation groups; and elected officials. HAF only filed suit after that the State Board of Education refused to afford due process to Hindu groups and utilized closed door meetings and “underground regulations.”
Allegation (pgs. 24 & 31): 2006- 2012 — According to Vivek Welfare and Educational Foundation’s tax records, HAF leaders have served on the VWEF board: Suhag Shukla from 2006-2008 and Nikhil Joshi from 2009-2012. During these years the VWEF contributed funds to Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation, HSS, Hindu University, Param Shakti Peeth, Sewa Bharti Bhopal, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad [of America].
Fact: Suhag Shukla and Nikhil Joshi are listed for brief terms on the Board of Directors of the Vivek Welfare and Educational Foundation, as were other prominent members of the Hindu American community then residing in Florida. Both of these HAF leaders limited their interactions exclusively to the management of the Hindu University of America, an institution of unique importance to the Hindu American community. Neither Shukla nor Joshi provided any input in disbursements of funds to other tax-exempt organizations listed by the Vivek Foundation.
Allegation (pg. 31): November 2009 — Sheetal Shah, Development and Outreach Director of HAF, attended and spoke at the “Hindu Dharma Sabha” in New Jersey, organized by Forum for Hindu Awakening and self-identified Hindu nationalist group Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (News India-Times 2009).
Fact: HAF leaders have attended and spoken at a number of events and conferences over the past 11 years on a range of topics. Sheetal Shah’s talk at the Hindu Dharma Sabha event in New Jersey in 2009 on the challenges facing Hindu Americans and the importance of advocacy was no different. To personally malign her for speaking on legitimate issues that face the Hindu American community is another attempt by Hinduphobic groups, such as SACW, to censure Hindu American voices.
Allegation (pg. 31): 2012 — HAF and the VHPA’s Hindu Mandir Executive Council collaborated on a Hindu Chaplaincy Program (VHPA 2012).
Fact: HAF is proud to play a role in developing a chaplaincy program with the Hindu Mandir Executive Council (HMEC), the largest network of Hindu temple executives in the country and one of the most respected fora of Hindu temple leaders from throughout the nation addressing urgent issues concerning these institutions. The chaplaincy program aims to train and accredit Hindu American chaplains who seek to serve the spiritual needs of Hindu Americans in hospitals, universities, and the military. Unlike other religious communities in the US, Hindu Americans currently have no formal training and accreditation programs for chaplains. To attack HAF’s involvement in such a program is tantamount to attacking the ability and right of Hindu Americans to have certified chaplains to serve the broader community’s spiritual and religious needs.
Allegation (pg. 31): December 2012 — HAF co-founder Aseem Shukla wrote an opinion piece, “Absurd to deny Modi a US visa” in India Abroad (Shukla 2012).
Fact: The opinion piece in question written by HAF co-founder, Aseem Shukla, made legitimate arguments in its criticism of a 2012 Congressional letter to Secretary Clinton requesting that the U.S. government continue to deny Mr. Narendra Modi entry into the country for his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. The article merely pointed out that Mr. Modi was absolved of any complicity in the riots by an Indian Supreme Court appointed Special Investigative Team, questioned the ideological motivations of the four main legislators behind the letter, and noted the hypocrisy of US policy towards Mr. Modi, while protecting other foreign leaders accused of egregious human rights violations. The position taken by Shukla in that article had little to do with “Hindu nationalism” and has been echoed by many well-respected foreign policy analysts in recent months. Fareed Zakaria, an Indian Muslim, for example, criticized US policy towards Mr. Modi, calling the denial of a visa “utterly arbitrary.”
Allegation (pg. 31): February 2013 — HAF was among the groups lobbying US Representative Mike Honda to stop his support of the continued visa denial of Narendra Modi (Jha 2013).
Fact: On November 29, 2012, 25 Members of Congress, including Representative Mike Honda (D-CA), sent a letter to former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, requesting that the US government continue to deny Mr. Narendra Modi, the erstwhile Chief Minister of India’s western Gujarat state, entry into the country for his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. The campaign behind the letter was spearheaded by the fringe umbrella organization, Coalition Against Genocide (CAG).
Indian and Hindu American constituents and leaders from Congressman Honda’s district, including local members of HAF, met with him to provide an alternative perspective to the one presented by CAG and requested him to reconsider his position on the letter. The group provided Congressman Honda with accurate information and facts about the riots, pointed out that the letter attempted to influence events in India and undermined US-India relations, and noted that Mr. Modi’s visa denial was selective and arbitrary. No other foreign leader, including from countries where religious freedom remains highly problematic, such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, had ever been denied entry into the United States under Section 212(a)(2)(G) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Allegation (pg. 31): December 2013-2014 — HAF made public statements against House Resolution 417 (Sohrabji 2013; HAF 2014b).
Fact: HAF, along with a coalition of over 130 Indian and Hindu organizations from the US and across the globe spoke out against House Resolution 417 (H.Res. 417), a highly flawed and inaccurate anti-India and anti-Hindu resolution, aimed at interfering with the election process in India and undermining its secular democracy. The biased and one-sided resolution selectively highlighted certain incidents of violence in India to portray Hindus as the only perpetrators of religious riots, while ignoring violence committed by other groups and the complex nature of inter-religious dynamics in India. It also provocatively called for the creation of separate extra-judicial religious minority courts to conduct trials and hear appeals (unheard of in the US), and failed to mention India’s unprecedented religious accommodations for minorities.
Fact: HAF’s position on H.Res. 417 is consistent with a number of well-respected Congressional leaders and members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), including Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), and Ranking Member, Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa), who all spoke out openly against H. Res. 417 for undermining US-India relations. Two Congressman, Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Scott Perry (R-PA) even withdrew their co-sponsorship from the resolution. Despite a systematic campaign by groups such as CAG and Indian American Muslim Council, and the use of a lobbying firm, Fidelis Government Relations, to push House Resolution 417, the vast majority of Members of Congress refused to co-sponsor House Resolution 417 (the resolution only garnered 53 co-sponsors out of a total 435 members in the House).
Allegation (pg. 31): 2014 — VHPA leaders Kavita Pallod and Rishi Bhutada are on the HAF Executive Council and Board of Directors, respectively (HAF 2014a). Both have served as directors of a VHPA youth camp in Texas (Chugh 2012; Giri 2005).
Fact: Neither Kavita Pallod or Rishi Bhutada have ever held a leadership position in VHPA or any other VHP organization. This particular youth camp in Texas is primarily run by second generation Hindu young professionals and college students. Previous directors of the camp select the director of that year’s camp, and they control the camp’s curriculum. VHPA’s Houston Chapter only provides logistical and financial support to the camp, and the national VHPA has no role in the camp.
Allegation (pg. 24): Infinity Foundation (identification number 22-3339826) supports Hindutva by distributing its monies in a more diffuse manner: through offering book grants and concentrating funding on university departments and other academic institutions. The Foundation has not claimed to be part of the Sangh Parivar, though the Foundation’s tax returns indicate that the organization has donated to US Sangh affiliates Hindu American Foundation (2007)…
Fact: HAF is only one among numerous organizations, universities, and individuals that have received donations or grants from the Infinity Foundation. Others include the American Red Cross, Asia Society, Tibet House, Southern Poverty Law Center, Rutgers University, Harvard University, and Miami University, just to name a few. In the same year that HAF received a donation from the Infinity Foundation for its work in education, the American Economic Association, American Red Cross, and Rutgers University also received donations. To claim that such donations support “Hindutva” is both inaccurate and illogical.
Allegation (pg. 28): The Hindu American Foundation (HAF, identification number 68-0551525), among other groups, protested Narendra Modi’s ban in a public demonstration (Joseph 2005).
Fact: HAF never participated in any “public demonstration” against the denial of a visa to former Gujarat Chief Minister and current Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. HAF did, however, condemn House Resolution 160, a resolution introduced by Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) in 2005, for selectively presenting violence in India to imply that all violence was perpetrated by Hindus and terror against Hindus was somehow justified because of the 2002 Gujarat Riots.
Fact: HAF has consistently condemned all violence committed during the 2002 Gujarat Riots, and only began criticizing the denial of Mr. Modi’s visa as selective and arbitrary, in light of his exoneration by India’s judicial system and the ability of leaders from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh with atrocious human rights records to enter the US freely. As noted above, this position is now shared by many in the foreign policy establishment.
Allegation (pg. 30, footnote 23): Despite the claim that the ‘Hindu American Foundation is not affiliated with any religious or political organizations or entities’ on its website, HAF president Mihir Meghani was identified on the VHPA website as a former VHPA National Governing Council member and as a member of the HSS by the defenders of the IDRF (HAF 2014c; Rao et al 2003; VHPA 2001).
Fact: This footnote doesn’t make any evidentiary link between HAF as an organization and any other political or religious organization. It merely rehashes a more than decade old connection between one of HAF’s co-founder and board member, Mihir Meghani, in his individual capacity, and other religio-cultural organizations.
Allegation (pg. 34, appendix A): Leadership overlaps between Hindu nationalist affiliated organizations: Mihir Meghani VHPA- Governing Council Member (VHPA 2001); HSS Member (Rao et al 2003); HAF Co-founder and on the Board of Directors (HAF 2010); Wrote public letter in support of IDRF (Meghani 2003)
Fact: As noted above, Mihir Meghani’s past affiliation with other religio-cultural organizations in his individual capacity (2001 and 2003) prior to HAF coming into existence has no bearing on HAF’s status as an independent organization. In addition, Meghani’s letter to the editor in response to a smear campaign against India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) merely expresses his opinion that the attack IDRF was part of a larger politically motivated campaign by Marxist groups against Hindus, that there are many prominent Muslims associated with IDRF, and that the organization “serve[s] the poor and needy marginalized communities in India, irrespective of religion, caste, language, or political view.”
Subjected to deeper scrutiny into its background, SACW, similar to CAG, stands exposed in this report as nothing more than an ostensibly anonymous, opaque internet based portal with links to primarily defunct, non-incorporated or shell groups whose purpose is to promote Marxist ideology and openly advocate Hinduphobic, anti-American and anti-Indian views.
Despite SACW espousing “dissent”, it is nearly absent from any of the crucial civil rights or constitutional debates ongoing in the United States. While HAF has an established track record in taking prominent progressive positions and constructively working towards promoting human/civil rights, immigration reform, gun control and even LGBT rights, SACW seems more intent on importing ideological agendas and cultural wars from India into the American context.