The latter part of 2013 was largely taken up by my trying to ensure that a Hindu voice was part of the American mix – be it in interfaith, public policy, whatever. A guest post from my fellow-Hindu American Foundation member Raman Khanna, of HAF’s Executive Council, expresses clearly where we at the Foundation and others stand, defending our right to a seat at the table. Let us hope that we can move forward in 2014, and get beyond the Hinduphobia.
As Americans go, I am left of center: pro-gay marriage, pro-gun control, pro-progressive income tax, pro-universal health care, pro-choice. I knocked on doors for Obama in 2008 and I made get out the vote phone calls for him in 2012. I also consider myself a proud Hindu: pro-pluralism, pro-vegetarian (first in sentiment, then in practice), pro-yoga, pro-Vedanta. These two sides of my identity are not in conflict. My heart bleeds, but it bleeds in saffron.
When I came to learn of the work of the Hindu American Foundation, I was happy to support it by becoming a member in 2009, and proud to join the executive council in late 2012. The animating energy of this organization is firmly on the side of humility, compassion, egalitarianism, and fairness, values I cherish from both sides of the hyphen. Thus also the stands we take for nondiscrimination, equal protection, due process, for the rule of law, arm in arm with whomever will work with us, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican.
So imagine my surprise on learning that, according to Coalition Against Genocide, an organization that has inflated its theoretical significance through the creation of numerous shell groups, HAF is in fact a member of the Indian right wing, interested in planting the flag of “Hindu supremacy” on American soil. As proof, CAG offers a series of reports with such intellectually rigorous assertions as this:
1. VHP is a Hindu Supremacist organization
2. HAF was co-founded by Mihir Meghani
3. Mihir Meghani, like most Indians of our generation, called individuals older than him (who happened to be VHP-A members) “uncle” on a listserv 15 years ago
4. Rishi Bhutada serves on the Board of Directors of HAF
5. Rishi Bhutada wrote to VHP America leaders when he was 15 years old
6. Padma Kuppa, an interfaith leader from Detroit, serves on the Board of HAF
7. Padma Kuppa led a panel discussion in the largest meeting of Hindu temple executives in North America, the Hindu Mandir (temple) Executive Conference, which is a VHP-A initiative
8. HAF is a Hindu Supremacist Organization, QED
This stream of consciousness guilt-by-association dance, used on anyone who participated in Hindu groups in the 1980’s, is absurd and laughably selective (my colleague Nicholas O’Connell demonstrates this in his excellent post on this subject). At its root though, it is symptomatic of a much darker tactic CAG and other Indian groups employ–shutting off debate by repeatedly smearing those who disagree with them. You might wonder what crime led to HAF’s appellation as “Hindu Supremacist” despite our ongoing and fruitful work in the interfaith space, in human rights, and in education.
Well, here it is: CAG “reports” that HAF leaders have taken taken the position that Gujarat Chief Minister and prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi should not be denied a visa to the US based on section 212 (a) (2) (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. But any search of HAF archives will confirm that a board member of the Foundation only took this position after the Indian Supreme Court’s Special Investigative Team absolved Modi of any complicity or neglect during those tragic and awful days in 2002, a decision confirmed last week.
CAG’s real objection is actually HAF’s countermobilization campaign against the odious HR 417 CAG is pushing (and hired a lobbyist to push), a thinly veiled back-handed compliment that serves no purpose other than to insult India and its flawed but real attempts to maintain communal harmony. HAF opposes this resolution for reasons that are a matter of public record and have nothing to do with “Hindu Supremacy”. Quite simply we think it is a bad bill, and a bad idea–as do India’s most prominent proponents on Capitol Hill, from Rep. Ed Royce (R, CA) to Tulsi Gabbard (D, HI).
CAG has a different opinion. We respect their right to have one, and would welcome a debate. Perhaps we can start with whether section 212 (a) (2) (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act is a useful method for encouraging religious freedom given its grossly selective application. Or whether it might better be applied to leaders of nations (including India’s neighbor to the south) whose offenses against religious freedom dwarf those of India. But CAG is not interested in that debate; they would rather throw rhetorical bombs hoping their opponents will cede the field.
Well, CAG, if you truly are liberal as you claim to be, perhaps HAF may have positions in common with you on religious freedom, LGBT rights, on hate crimes. On areas where we differ, I believe we can have a legitimate discussion. But we will not stand for your maximalist, Hinduphobic, McCarthy-esque rhetoric. We have an unimpeachable record and we will proudly stand up for it.