Hindu Advocacy in America – Towards a Strong American Hindu Voice in the Public Square
To kick-off its 2021 policy research and advocacy initiatives, HinduPACT organized a fundraiser gala on Saturday, December 19, 2020. Conducted virtually on several online platforms, it was headlined by an anticipated keynote by Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, US House of Representatives, and included four prominent American Hindu panelists: Dr. Rik Mehta, Ms. Vindhya Adapa, Dr. Raj Vedam, and Pandit Roopnauth Sharma. Unfortunately, Rep. Gabbard had to cancel her appearance at the last minute, and the proceedings nevertheless continued with background information eloquently provided by Dr. Ajay Shah and Utsav Chakrabarti, HinduPACT Convener and Executive Director, respectively.
The event was anchored and hosted by Preity Üpala, a former investment banker and Miss India International, who now is a media entrepreneur in Hollywood, CA, a geo-political commentator, columnist, and director of The Omnia Institute.
The program began with a Sri Ganésh stuti, mellifluously sung by Ms. Geetikka Kulkarni, a renowned playback singer (of Bajirao Mastani and other movies fame). The urgent need for partnerships for American Hindus to promote Hindu voices and perspectives in the political and cultural landscape of USA was articulated by Ankur Patel, HinduPACT Director for Partnerships, along with introductory remarks. This was followed by felicitations by Dr. Abhaya Asthana, President of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), and Dr. Ved P. Nanda, John Evans Distinguished University Professor and Thompson G. Marsh Professor of Law, University of Denver. Dr. Jai Bansal, HinduPACT Executive Director – Education, and former Chief Scientific Officer and Distinguished Fellow at Argonne National Laboratory, provided a brief on Hindu diaspora in USA, the structure of HinduPACT, its current and proposed activities, and financial (donations and/or endowments) needs.
A very engaging and thought-provoking panel discussion, moderated by Ms. Rakhi Israni, HinduPACT Executive Director – Legal, ensued. It articulated the broad theme of advocating a strong American Hindu voice in the public space that encompasses political, cultural, and educational arenas. Dr. Raj Vedam, Co-Founder of Indian History Awareness and Research think-tank (Houston, TX) and Director of Arsha Vidya Satsanga, emphasized the necessity of advancing Hindu narratives that are contextualized in their original Puranic traditions. The urgency for countering the distorted colonial and leftist descriptions was also expressed. The latter engender flagrant Hinduphobia and outright demeaning of Hindu values and cultural identities. These views were further advanced by Pundit Roopnauth Sharma, President of the Hindu Federation, Ontario, Canada, and Ms. Vindhya Adapa, Attorney Advisor – US Dept of Treasury and Formerly Asst. General Counsel for HIAS. Ms. Adapa also espoused the need of forming partnerships with other diasporas in order to build broader advocacy coalitions. Dr. Rik Mehta, Biotech entrepreneur, Healthcare policy expert, former USFDA staffer, and first American Hindu 2020 Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in New Jersey, echoed similar comments for advancing Hindu points of view in its multi-faceted domains. The question and answer session that followed evoked a very engaging and thought-provoking exchange between the moderator, panelists, and viewers.
Earnest appeals for donations to endow the HinduPACT initiatives were made by Smt. Renu Gupta, HinduPACT Executive Director for Chapter Development, and Smt. Vishakha Manek, Healthcare entrepreneur, prominent social worker, and a clinical Registered Nurse. The pressing need for funding the policy research and Hindu issues advocacy in USA cannot be overstated, and donations can be made at the following URL: https://hindupact.org/.
In his concluding remarks, Utsav Chakrabarti narrated an emotive personal journey of Hindu discrimination, grossly distorted depiction of Hindu views, and Hinduphobia, which guided his path to engagement with HinduPACT. The program was interlaced with melodious musical interludes provided by Ms. Geetikka Kulkarni, and ended with a lovely Ghoomer song and the rendition of Albela Sajan song in both Hindi and Telegu.
The estimated virtual audience of the gala was 5,000 viewers over the diverse Zoom, Facebook, and YouTube internet platforms. Furthermore, the program was streamed (either live or via a dedicated link) by the following media partners: Diya TV (https://diyatvusa.com/), Tag TV (https://www.tagtv.info/), and Bharat FM (https://bharatfm.com/).