With a delegation of over 60, the Hindu American Foundation hosted its second annual Advocacy Forum in Washington, D.C., June 19, which brought together leading members of the government and civil society to discuss the protection of civil rights, ways to combat the rise of hate crimes in the U.S., and the spread of terrorism and violent extremism across South Asia.

The event saw a policy conference, an evening reception, as well as an ‘Advocacy on the Hill Day’ consisting of meetings with elected officials.

The panelists at the event included Tom Wheeler, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Justice; Michael Lieberman, Anti-Defamation League and convener of the Hate Crimes Coalition Taskforce; Ron Mori, Japanese American Citizens League; Sushil Pandit, CEO of Hive Communication and co-founder of Roots in Kashmir; Seth Oldmixon, founder of Liberty South Asia; and Anita Wadhwani, India country director, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Asian and Pacific Security Affairs.

“In 2015, the number of anti-religious hate crimes was the largest percentage of hate crimes in the 25-year history of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act,” Michael Lieberman told the audience. “This year was the first year ever that the FBI collected anti-Hindu hate crimes. The reason they did this was because of your advocacy.”

On how to prevent extremist terrorism at the broadest level, Seth Oldmixon concluded: “We (in the United States) have to be a city on the hill. We have to be a shining example of demonstrating that religious freedom and tolerance and inclusivity work. That is the biggest threat to these extremist groups.”

During HAF’s annual DC Advocacy Day June 20, the delegates met with 50 members of Congress to discuss the community’s concerns about rising hate crimes, the spread of terrorism, and the lack of transparency and accountability at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The delegation also addressed the need to generate greater awareness of heart health among South Asian Americans.

The Advocacy Forum concluded with HAF’s Capitol Hill reception, which garnered more than 200 attendees — including members of Congress such as Indian American Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Michael Coffman (R-CO), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Pete Olson (R-TX), Judy Chu (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Darren Soto (D-FL) — to recognize the advocacy work done in the past year by or on behalf of the Hindu American community.

In addition, Charles Haynes, founder of the Religious Freedom Center and vice-president at the Newseum Institute, was honored with the Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism.

The Hindu American Foundation also released the 2017 edition of its Hindu Human Rights Report during the forum. This 12th annual report documents the challenges facing Hindu minorities in ten nations and regions throughout the world and makes policy recommendations to improve conditions for these populations, as well as the steps the U.S. can take to assist with this.

“Hindu minorities living in countries throughout South Asia and other parts of the world are subject to varying degrees of legal and institutional discrimination, restrictions on their religious freedom, social prejudice and persecution, violence, and economic and political marginalization,” noted report author Samir Kalra, HAF’s senior director.

“Hindu women are especially vulnerable facing kidnappings and rape ultimately leading to forced conversions in countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan. In several countries where Hindus are minorities, non-state actors advance a discriminatory and exclusivist agenda, often with the tacit or explicit support of the state,” Kalra added.

The report assigns three levels of concern for nations and regions. For 2017, nations categorized as egregious violators of the rights of their Hindu minority include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Pakistan. Each of these nations has either engaged in or allowed rampant and systemic human rights violations to take place against their Hindu population in the past year, according to the report.

Countries and regions categorized as being of serious concern for 2017 are Bhutan, Jammu and Kashmir, and Sri Lanka. Each of these nations, HAF’s research shows, have committed severe human rights violations against Hindus living there, but not rising to the level of egregious violators.

HAF’s 2017 monitored countries are Fiji, Saudi Arabia, and Trinidad and Tobago. In these places, adds the report, there has been a history of violations against the Hindu community, but conditions have improved in recent years. The exception is Saudi Arabia, where there is a lack of adequate data on the small Hindu population of migrant workers, the report says.

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