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HAF Houston chapter holds Annual Fundraising Gala

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by Manu Shah
HOUSTON – History textbooks in the US depict obscure practices about Hindus and Hinduism but not its core philosophy. This was one of the cudgels the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a leading institution for Hindu advocacy, took up 10 years ago and the fight is finally paying off.
An insight into more of their work was provided to a packed hall of community members at the HAF Annual Fundraising Gala on April 7th at India House. The Keynote speaker was Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi from the 8th District in Illinois and one of 4 Hindu American members of Congress.
A melodious invocation by Dr. Mitra Misra set the tone for the evening. Emcee Bharat Pallod briskly got the event rolling by inviting HAF’s Houston Chapter Coordinator Rishi Bhutada to offer a primer on the work HAF does.
The goal, Rishi Bhutada explained, is to enhance the understanding of Hinduism and help shape policies that affect Hindus every day. This is done by educating the public, speaking out on issues that affect Hindus and building bridges with individuals and organizations whose vision aligns with HAF.
Citing an example, he explained that textbooks in California and Texas are filled with matter and pictures depicting Hinduism and Indians as “weird, exotic, dirty and poor and causing our children to feel ashamed of their identity.” After sustained years of work, HAF was successful in submitting over 100 changes to educational material in Texas and getting a major publisher’s books rejected by the State Board as the publisher refused to make the changes.
It was also proof of what civic engagement can accomplish. Thousands of Indian American children and parents across the State sent letters and took time off to travel to multiple hearings of State Education Boards where their message was simple: they wanted to be represented accurately and with dignity.
Rishi Bhutada sourced some of HAF’s success to a professional approach, an office in Washington D.C and 12 full time staff members who’ve “given up lucrative careers to work for HAF because they believe in the importance of advocacy.”

HAF team with Raja Krishnamoorthi - Arvind Chandrakantan (left), Dr. Rahul Pandit, Shradha Bhutada, Dr. Lavannya Pandit, Dr. Mihir Meghani, Rishi Bhutada, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, Priya Prasad, Aesha Mehta, Kavita Pallod, Krishna Parmar, Bharat Pallod, Vinay Sarda

HAF team with Raja Krishnamoorthi – Arvind Chandrakantan (left), Dr. Rahul Pandit, Shradha Bhutada, Dr. Lavannya Pandit, Dr. Mihir Meghani, Rishi Bhutada, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, Priya Prasad, Aesha Mehta, Kavita Pallod, Krishna Parmar, Bharat Pallod, Vinay Sarda

Aesha Mehta, Associate Director of Programs, pulled up a survey which showed 1 in 3 Indian American students were bullied because of their religious beliefs, a consequence of what’s depicted in textbooks. She reiterated the importance of raising awareness of Hinduism in mainstream America. HAF is currently working closely with the FBI and the Department of Justice on tracking hate crimes against Hindus and in a recent effort is meeting with elected officials to address the issue of the administration’s proposal of revoking H1B visas for green card holders.
HAF presented an award to the Houston Chapter of Sewa International because the organization “stood out in their efforts to rescue and rebuild Houston in the wake of Harvey’s devastation and exemplified Hinduism in action.” Sewa President Gitesh Desai accepted the award and shared his pride at the huge number of volunteers who “exhibited character and courage.”
Democratic candidate in the runoff for the 22nd Congressional District, Srinivas Preston Kulkarni notched a record of sorts in the recent primaries when polls showed that 12 times the number predicted turned out to vote for him. He urged people to vote because if you “don’t vote, you don’t count” and he was determined that the Indian American community’s voice counted.
The opportunity to intern with HAF and explore the concept of Hinduism and politics was, according to Smriti Ahuja “an incredible experience.” Not only did the summer internship expose her to issues affecting Hindu Americans but provided her a direct insight on how Hindu Americans are being represented on the Hill and “how advocacy actually works.” Smriti Ahuja is a member of the Arya Samaj of Houston.
Congressman Krishnamoorthi’s address was laced with lighthearted anecdotes and quips but behind the humor was a serious undertone of the necessity of upholding Dharma values “now more than ever.” He expressed his pride at being “a Hindu American” and his aspiration in representing all Hindu and Indian Americans and their values and principles in Congress. The Congressman who draws inspiration from the Gita and had taken his oath on the Gita, commended HAF on their outstanding work and stated that he was proud to stand with them in their efforts.
He also emphasized the importance of voting and civic engagement to be able to formulate public policy in the country so that “every Indian American child is proud of their name.”
HAF co-founder Dr. Mihir Meghani, who donates 25% of his income every year to HAF urged the gathering to invest in HAF and “donate until you feel the pinch.” The appeal seemed to have worked as HAF racked up a tally of $128,000 by the end of the evening.
A classical dance by the students of Nritya Dance School was also appreciated.
Rishi Bhutada wrapped up the event by thanking the gathering for their immense support and for believing in HAF’s ability to represent Hindu Americans across the country. This, he stated, was a testament to how important HAF’s work is. He also highlighted the support and the long term partnership with the Hindus of Greater Houston, an umbrella organization that works to support the Hindu community in Houston.
For more information about HAF, please visit hafsite.org

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