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Friday, December 18, 2009

Introduction to Hindu American Foundation (HAF)

Hindu American Foundation (HAF)





Center Profile


Hindu American Foundation (2009)

(Hinduism)

Websites:

Description

History
The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) was formed in 2003 with the intent of providing a credible, effective, and professional voice on a national front for the Hindu American community. According to Suhag A. Shukla, HAF’s Managing Director and Legal Counsel, all seed money for the endeavor came directly from the organization’s founders and a group of supporters who believed in the vision and mission of the Foundation.
A significant challenge for the Hindu American Foundation lies in the great variety of beliefs and practices within the Hindu community itself. Shukla expressed that, “One of the greatest challenges in the initial formation of HAF, and one which continues to [the] present, is to create that professional, articulate, often times unified voice for a community which adheres to one of the world’s most internally diverse religions.”
Leadership
The Hindu American Foundation operates under the guidance of its Board of Directors, full-time staff, and Executive Council. Members of both the Board and the Executive Council volunteer their time. The Foundation’s four full-time staff members focus on the day-to-day advocacy and outreach work of the organization. In addition to the Executive Council, a network of volunteers from across the country also contributes to HAF’s efforts.
Programs and Areas of Work
The primary mission of the Hindu American Foundation is to serve as a progressive advocacy voice for the two-million-strong Hindu American community. The Foundation’s advocacy work focuses on educating and interacting with leaders in public policy, academia, media, human rights work, and law. They also focus on informing the general public about Hinduism. Additionally, the Foundation addresses global issues concerning Hindus such as religious liberty, the portrayal of Hinduism, hate speech, and human rights. Through all of these areas, the Foundation seeks to promote understanding, tolerance, and pluralism.
Public Policy
The main HAF office is situated close to Washington D.C., allowing its Director of Public Policy immediate access to public policy officials in and around Capitol Hill to ensure representation of Hindu Americans in the policy-making process. For example, the Foundation worked to ensure that the United States Citizen and Immigration Service’s new definitions for religious workers visa were inclusive of eastern religions. The initially proposed changes to the definitions for the religious worker visa did not include definitions of religious workers essential to maintaining Hindu temples in the US. HAF worked with the USCIS to build these definitions into the framework, thereby ensuring that Hindu temples in the US can continue to bring religious workers from India. Additionally, the Foundation successfully advocated for the passage of a US Congressional resolution that officially recognizes the historical and religious significance of Diwali, a key religious holiday for most Hindus.
Education and Curriculum
The Hindu American Foundation also advocates within the realm of academia and education to ensure that Hindus are fairly represented in school curricula and to defend the rights of Hindu students. One of the main projects undertaken by the HAF was a legal suit against the California State Board of Education (SBE). Members of the Hindu American community were excluded from the adoption process, leading to the adoption of textbooks that misrepresented Hinduism. HAF won the lawsuit against the SBE, but the judge did not recall the school textbooks due to financial considerations. Members of HAF also visit their own children's schools regularly to talk about Hinduism.
Media Outreach
The Foundation also advocates for fair representation of the Hindu community in the media. To advance that work, HAF leaders have regularly attended the annual Religious Newswriters Association Conference to educate journalists and reporters about Hinduism. For this specific purpose, HAF has created a Media Toolkit, which highlights and corrects common misrepresentations of Hinduism in the media.
Educating the Public
As part of its effort to educate the general public on the principle concepts of Hinduism, the Hindu American Foundation features a number of articles on its website including: Tolerance and Pluralism: The Essence of Hinduism and Short Answers to Real Questions about Hinduism. Additionally, the Foundation participates in interfaith work that has traditionally been limited to interaction between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Human Rights Report
Since 2007 the Foundation has published an annual Hindu human rights report to highlight human rights violations against Hindus across the globe, focusing on those regions where Hindus are religious minorities. In addition to this detailed report, the Foundation recently began publishing an abridged version for the US government to easily identify US appropriations flowing into these countries of concern. Though the Hindu American Foundation undertakes a wide variety of advocacy and outreach activities, all of its work ultimately serves to better represent Hindu Americans.
Sources
Hindu American Foundation website, personal communication with Suhag A. Shukla, HAF Managing Director and Legal Counsel, and presentation given by Sheetal Shah, HAF Director of Development and Outreach February 22, 2009 in Boston, MA. This profile was written in collaboration with these staff members of the Hindu American Foundation and incorporated the work of Pluralism Project Student Researcher Aaron White (2005).
Date Center Founded
2003
Ethnic Composition
Most members are Hindus of Indian descent, although some are American Hindus not of Indian descent. There are also a small number of members from other faith communities (i.e. Jews, Christians, Jains, etc.).
Affiliation with Other Communities/Organizations
The Hindu American Foundation is not affiliated with any particular religious or political organization. The foundation officially states that it "seeks to serve Hindu Americans across all sampradayas (Hindu religious traditions)."

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