Washington waking up to minorities’ plight in Bangaldesh

Chairman Ed Royce of the House Foreign Affairs Committee with Suhag and Samir Kalra,   HAF Director and Senior Human Rights Fellow
Chairman Ed Royce of the House Foreign Affairs Committee with Suhag and Samir Kalra,
HAF Director and Senior Human Rights Fellow

WASHINGTON DC: The plight of religious minorities in Bangladesh was brought to the attention of Washington authorities last week who were asked to support a bipartisan Congressional letter, spearheaded by Representatives Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Aaron Schock (R-IL), that urges US Secretary of State John Kerry to make human rights and the protection of minorities in Bangladesh a priority in US-Bangladesh relations.

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) marked its 11th Annual D.C. Advocacy Day with its across the country delegates meeting nearly 80 Congressional offices bringing to their attention the miseries heaped on minorities in Bangladesh.

“Promoting a stable and democratic Bangladesh is important to US economic, political and security interests in the South Asia region,” wrote Reps. Gabbard and Schock in a message circulated to their colleagues. “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.”

Besides this issue, the delegates also sought support for the Freedom of Faith Act (H.R. 4460) which permanently reauthorizes the special immigrant provision for non-minister religious workers. HAF 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 US and India.

Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA), a 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.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), member of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, was presented 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 Spreitzer, 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.

Harsh Voruganti, HAF’s Associate Director for Public Policy said that “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.”

Neela Pandya

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