Washington, D.C. (June 11, 2014) --The plight of religious minorities in Bangladesh took center stage on Capitol Hill yesterday, as the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) marked its 11th Annual D.C. Advocacy Days. Hindu American delegates from around the country met with nearly 80 Congressional offices, asking them to support a bipartisan Congressional letter, spearheaded by Representatives Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Aaron Schock (R-IL), that urges U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to make human rights and the protection of minorities in Bangladesh a priority in U.S. - Bangladesh relations.
|Rep. Gabbard receiving HAF's Pride of the Community Award from Rishi Bhutada, Board member|
"Promoting a stable and democratic Bangladesh is important to U.S. economic, political and security interests in the South Asia region," wrote Reps. Gabbard and Schock in a message circulated to their colleagues earlier today. "Under domestic law, the Bangladesh government is obliged to enforce minority land rights, provide restitution for illegally seized land, and protect religious and ethnic minorities against violence and discrimination. To date, the Bangladesh government has taken no significant steps to compensate individuals, primarily Hindus, who lost their land under the 1974 Vested Property Act. Moreover, the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Dispute Resolution Commission has been largely ineffective, thereby denying fundamental rights to indigenous people in that region."
Beyond Bangladesh, HAF's delegation advocated for a range of foreign and domestic policy issues of importance to the Hindu American community, including strengthening U.S. - India ties, the confirmation of Vivek Murthy as the U.S. Surgeon General, and the Freedom of Faith Act (H.R. 4460) which permanently reauthorizes the special immigrant provision for non-minister religious workers.
"The breadth of HAF's policy initiatives demonstrates the growing prominence of a Hindu American voice in all realms of U.S. policy," said Harsh Voruganti, Esq., HAF's Associate Director for Public Policy. "From Capitol Hill, to strategic meetings with foreign embassies, the U.S. Department of State, and influential think tanks, HAF is playing a leading role in addressing a number of critical domestic and foreign policy issues facing our country."
The day's meetings culminated in an evening gala reception attended by more than 200 people, including Members of Congress, Congressional staffers, interfaith and religious freedom advocates, and leaders of the Hindu American community.
Congressmen Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) and member of the Congressional India Caucus, was honored at the Capitol Hill reception with HAF's Friend of the Community Award for consistently calling attention to the plight of Bangladeshi Hindus and for his work in strengthening relations between the U.S. and India.
Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA), a senior member of HFAC and the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on International Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, was similarly awarded with the HAF Friend of the Community Award for promoting awareness of human rights violations against religious and ethnic minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
HAF further recognized Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), member of HFAC and the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, with the Pride of the Community award for inspiring young Hindus as the first Hindu American elected to Congress.
Among the evening's other awardees, were Dr. DC Rao, Board Member of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, who received HAF's Dharma Seva Award, and Steve Spritzer, Director of Programs at the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, with HAF Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism.
Finally, HAF's Award for the Advancement of the Dharmic Arts and Humanities went to Manjari Sharma, an internationally acclaimed artist, who has educated the public about Hindu beliefs through her most recent project, Darshan, on Hindu Gods and Goddesses.