The Hindu American Foundation[i] (HAF) Board of Directors notes an anonymous[ii] posting on this blog site on September 16, 2015, ostensibly representing over one hundred scholars with expertise in South Asia that co-signed a statement[iii] also previously posted here. After publicly calling for a debate and spirited conversation over the upcoming visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the posting reports emails to various signatories characterized as “harassment.” While we have not yet seen the nature of the emails, with discernible irony, the statement targets an unnamed board member of HAF reporting that, “Several letter signatories have also been targeted by a board even member of the Hindu American Foundation, another Hindu nationalist organization.”
We, as leaders of HAF, denounce the publication of this ad hominem attack on the Foundation, its board of directors and false affiliations to Indian nationalist organizations. Neither HAF as an entity, nor any member of the HAF board, staff, or executive council has sought to contact any signatory of the South Asian faculty statement posted on August 27, 2015, in person, by email or otherwise.
As a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization led by mostly American born Hindus, HAF consistently and categorically rejects the counterfactual insinuation that HAF is an affiliate or ideological bedfellow of any organization with existential ties to the political landscape in India, nationalist or otherwise. While no advocacy organization can claim to represent the entirety of an inherently diverse American Hindu diaspora that numbers close to 2.5 million in the United States alone, HAF was the first grassroots advocacy organization representing Hindu Americans to create a professionalized model and gain recognition[iv] as the “first major national advocacy group looking at Hindu identity.”
After HAF’s founding in 2003, with the support of a national membership, HAF opened a permanent office in Washington, DC, and supports a full-time professional staff. Its Board, staff, Executive Council, local chapters, and membership represent Hindus of every race, nationality, ethnicity, race, caste, gender, and sexual orientation. HAF’s advocacy efforts are guided by the following stated objectives: 1) promote pluralism and mutual respect amongst peoples; 2) ensure an accurate understanding of Hinduism as a living tradition, including academia[v]; 3) highlight and secure the human rights through a widely acclaimed and cited human rights report[vi]; 4) represent the Hindu American community’s needs and interests to institutions influencing and making policy; 5) solve contemporary problems by applying Hindu philosophy; and 6) build a sustainable institution that will remain a pre-eminent advocate for Dharma communities for future generations.
HAF did join[vii] over three hundred professional, civic, cultural, as well as, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, and Jain organizations as “welcome partners” to facilitate distribution of tickets to the 45,000 Americans vying to attend a community reception for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi later this month. And for Mr. Modi’s previous visit to New York City, HAF liaised with community leaders and other major Indian American organizations to enable an unprecedented 33 Members of Congress and South Carolina’s Governor of Indian origin, Nikki Randhawa Haley, to attend the reception and meet with Mr. Modi.
All of HAF’s engagement with Mr. Modi, and more broadly in public policy and government relations pertinent to India, are predicated on a firm belief that dialogue between the United States and India is essential in today’s geopolitical climate, and that Hindu Americans — most of whom are of Indian origin — may serve as vital emissaries to foster an engagement based on understanding, trust, and mutual respect. In contrast to this privileging of dialogue, however, the faculty statement posted here urged American businesses to be “mindful of not violating their own codes of corporate responsibility” implicitly warning against investment in India.
At no point did HAF disclose an institutional position, or release any statement in response to that faculty statement deploring Mr. Modi’s visit. A member of the HAF board did, in an individual capacity, and with an explicit disclosure stating that his views were personal, offer[viii] his own experience with the faculty statement and its evolution. The column details the author’s personal experiences interacting with, and even debating online[ix] and in person[x], a few of the signatories over dichotomous ideological positions on issues ranging from academic freedom to the stifling of free speech on campus in previous fora.
So while we unequivocally condemn — even empathize with electronic harassment having experienced the same when engaged in public advocacy — we do find disingenuous the claim that the faculty signatories actually seek debate, when they seem to vitiate dialogue by terming certain interrogations of their ideological positions, published works, and activism as “targeting” or “harassment.”
If debate and engagement on issues they raise is indeed the faculty signatories’ intention, we note that this forum has posted a categorical response[xi] specifically addressing every point that the faculty raised relative to Mr. Modi. We also note that as recently as September 15, over 150 deans, department chairs, endowed professors and other faculty representing the diversity of disciplines in the academy–engineering, medicine, liberal arts, communications, business–released a statement welcoming[xii] Mr. Modi’s visit and engaging issues such as the Digital India initiative that the original faculty statement offered dubious consideration. Important aspects of the sought debate are most definitely constructive and ongoing, and we demand that ad hominems against the Foundation, and facile insinuations that proscribe rather than foster debate, cease immediately.
Board of Directors of the Hindu American Foundation
Rishi Bhutada, Houston, Texas
Padma Kuppa, Troy, Michigan
Mihir Meghani, Fremont, California
Aseem Shukla, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania