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Over 300 enthusiastic supporters attended the Hindu American Foundation’s (HAF) Northern California Fundraiser on Saturday 9/17/11 at the Quinlan Center in Cupertino, California. In attendance were several local government officials, including city council members and mayors from San Jose, Fremont, Cupertino, and Union City. This was HAF’s 8th annual fundraiser and as before, it was a combination of outstanding food, rousing speakers, and a feeling of common purpose revolving around the work of the organization.
The keynote speaker, US Army Captain Rajiv Srinivasan, electrified the crowd with his narrative of serving in the combat zone in Afghanistan. His experiences brought him both further from and closer to his spiritual home, he said, and though he still struggles with what it means to believe in God in a world that can seem so unfair, ”I support the work HAF does because there are many organizations that care about Hinduism–but HAF cares about Hindus.” The distinction is important, Srinivasan said, because “when I needed support as a Hindu, after the trials of Kandahar, I found it in the hearts and homes of the many members of HAF that I met over the last year.”
Satguru Swami Bodhinatha, head of the Kauai Adheenam and publisher of Hinduism Today based in Kauai, Hawaii, addressed the audience explaining the difference between education and advocacy. “Both of these approaches are necessary if we want Hinduism to be more respectfully and accurately portrayed in the classroom, in the media, and in popular culture,” he said. Prithvi Guruprasad, a junior at Berkley, talked about her experiences as a HAF-sponsored congressional intern. She linked these experiences to the assertion and promotion of rights that all Americans and Hindus hold dear and encouraged Hindu parents to allow their children to take part in the future.
Rounding out the list of speakers was Aseem Shukla, M.D., co-founder and board member of HAF, who discussed HAF’s evolving approach to the media, particularly with the “Take Back Yoga” campaign. As he pointed out, “this was the first time we went from being a reactive to a proactive organization–not just responding to mischaracterization but actively seeking to initiate and influence a conversation.”
As in previous years, co-founder Mihir Meghani made an impassioned entreaty for guests to open their hearts and wallets to the organization. As he pointed out, HAF’s peer organizations such as the American Jewish Council and the Council on American Islamic Relations spend far more–in some cases almost 100 times more–on advocacy, which enables them to hire full time staffers and influence policies in ways that HAF ultimately aspires to do. The night then closed with dinner provided by Bombay Garden of Santa Clara, even as many of the event volunteers and HAF leaders headed to the airport that night to catch flights to Washington, DC for a Capitol Hill hearing on the future of India’s Kashmir and a full slate of congressional meetings for its annual DC Legislative Days events.