L-R: Bharath Gopalaswamy, Rukhsana Hasib, Farahnaz Ispahani, and Samir Kalra (moderator)
L-R: Bharath Gopalaswamy, Rukhsana Hasib, Farahnaz Ispahani, and Samir Kalra (moderator)

WASHINGTON (Diya TV) — The Hindu American Foundation last week hosted a three-day summit in the nation’s capital, its first-ever policy conference was merged with the 13th annual D.C. Advocacy Day, and celebrations were held for the second annual International Day of Yoga.

The events brought together Washington power players such as Vanita Gupta, the U.S. Department of Justice’s top civil rights prosecutor, Ambassador-at-Large Rabbi David Saperstein, and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI).

On June 20, the first day of the event, the HAF hosted a panel of 15 experts at the Reserve Officers Association, where discussions surrounding the Hindu American community’s most pressing foreign and domestic policy concerns took place. Samir Kalra, the HAF’s senior director, hosted discussions in the morning about U.S.-Bangladesh foreign relations and the alarming growth of intolerance toward minority communities in Bangladesh.

Farahnaz Ispahani was on hand to discuss the challenges non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan face as well.

“Officially mandated textbooks reject pluralism and represent minorities, especially Hindus, in an extremely negative light,” Ispahani said of the situation. “In recent years Pakistan has witnessed some of the worst organized violence against religious minorities since Partition. From January 2012 until now, at least 450 incidents of sectarian violence have been reported. These incidents led to 3755 casualties, including 1551 deaths.”

Rukhsana Hasib offered her suggestions on how the nation can bring a stop to the targeted killings of religious minorities, atheists and members of the LGBT community.

“The solution has to come from within Bangladesh, with pressure from the United States,” she said. “The United States should immediately insist that the Government of Bangladesh provide non-partisan security throughout the country. Effective reforms should be put in place and enforced, with pressure from the United States.”

Vanita Gupta, U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney, delivered the day's keynote address.
Vanita Gupta, U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney, delivered the day’s keynote address.

Vanita Gupta delivered the day’s keynote address, “I want to commend all of you for organizing, launching and participating in this inaugural policy conference as we discuss some of the most pressing civil rights issues of our time,” she said. “The Hindu American Foundation’s motto – ‘promoting dignity, mutual respect and pluralism’ – represents the very best traditions of people from many different faiths, beliefs and backgrounds around the country.”

The afternoon’s session, moderated by HAF’s Executive Director, Suhag Shukla, Esq., focused on U.S. civil rights concerns and the Do No Harm Act, bringing together Caroline Darmody, legislative assistant for Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA), Maggie Garrett from Americans United for Separation of Church & State, the Anti-Defamation League’s Michael Lieberman, and the Acting Director of the U.S. Dept. of Justice’s Community Relations Service, Paul Monteiro. The Act’s intention is to amend the original Religious Freedom Restoration Act and promote a diverse and pluralistic society in which individual religious freedoms are preserved while avoiding infringement on the lives of others.

A diplomatic reception was held in the evening, with the ceremonies being christened by the aforementioned Rabbi David Saperstein, who characterized the gathering as “historic,” and was “deeply appreciative” of the HAF’s “collective efforts to advocate for the promotion of dignity, mutual respect, and pluralism. Not only to the benefit of more than one billion Hindus across the globe, but also for members of other religious and ethnic communities.” Among the honorees were the Bhumi Project’s Gopal Patel, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), and the State Department’s Nisha Desai Biswal.

This year’s events were also underscored by the celebration of the second International Day of Yoga, a milestone for the Hindu American community. HAF Senior Director Sheetal Shah told the audience, “We’d like to bring light a lesser known face of yoga, one not rooted in physical postures, but one rooted in selfless service. Karma yoga is the practice of selflessly performing our righteous duty, or dharma, without expectation of a reward. Expounded upon in the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most well known Hindu texts, karma yoga can and should be practiced throughout our day as we become more conscious not only of our actions, but also the motivations behind them, and the impact they have on our surroundings.”