Hindus of Human Rights celebrates ‘Celebration of Hope’ inaugurates Swami Agnivesh Memorial Award



The Indian American religious activist group, Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), gathered several of its members for its second annual gala titled – ‘Celebration of Hope’ – virtually on Saturday, December 18.

HfHR, headquartered in the United States, is “committed to the ideals of multi-religious pluralism in South Asia, particularly in India, and throughout the Indian diaspora”.

The key objective of the gala was to celebrate their achievements and chart a roadmap for the coming year. In addition to that, the event also aimed at raising funds for the organization’s future endeavors.

Over 100 guests gathered for the gala, and raised more than $25,000 from ticket sales and a live fundraising auction anchored by Shailly Barnes Gupta and Adam Barnes, of the Poor People’s Campaign and the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice.

In addition to this, HfHR also announced the inaugural Swami Agnivesh Memorial Award. in honor of Swami Agnivesh (1939-2020).

Sunita Viswanath, Executive Director, HfHR on hosting the second annual gala said was thrilled to see the response and the fund raised, calling it a ‘welcome boost.’

Viswanath told indica, “It was a beautiful event which brought together a diverse group of supporters and a diverse group of incredibly talented performers.”

“As we work towards our 2022 goal of doubling our budget, staff capacity, and impact. Since the atrocities towards Muslims and other minorities in India by Hindus are escalating, we pledge to keep building our Hindu platform and movement of love, oneness, and justice for all,” Viswanath said.

Asked on what inspired her to honor the award in Swami Agnivesh’s name, said, “We named our award for Swami Agnivesh because he an inspiration to us, and a dear friend and mentor. Swamiji is our towering role model, a Hindu whose faith was his motivation for unwavering commitment to justice for the most disenfranchised.”

Swami Agnivesh was a rare individual and Hindu religious leader who spoke against Hindu nationalism and caste. He was inspired by the Hindu teaching of vasudhaiva kutumbakam: “the world is one family,” and he fought for the rights of communities who were not necessarily his own: bonded laborers, religious minorities, Adivasis, and caste-oppressed communities.

Ajit Sahi

In recognition of Swami Agnivesh’s fearless commitment to human rights for all, the Award recognizes one individual and one organization continuing his legacy by fighting for justice for all.

The debut winners of Swami Agnivesh Memorial Award were a veteran journalist and US-based Indian civil rights activist Ajit Sahi and Indian not-for-profit organization Dhanak of Humanity.

Ajit Sahi, the individual winner of the inaugural award, is an Indian civil rights activist currently based in the United States, where he works as Advocacy Director of the Indian American Muslim Council.

“Ajit is a veteran journalist, and he has been a dedicated campaigner for civil liberties, human rights and religious freedom in India for over three decades. He has testified before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and spoken boldly about human rights violations in India. He has been a trusted mentor and close partner to HfHR, and, most inspiringly, being a Hindu, he has worked tirelessly for the rights of Muslim Indians.”, HfHR said in a media release.

“He was a giant,” said Sahi about Swami Agnivesh. “People like him inspired tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, in my generation. And I hope that he’ll continue to inspire many more.”

Dhanak of Humanity is a nonprofit organization in India which ensures that interfaith, inter-caste, same-sex, and other non-traditional couples can get married safely in spite of family, societal and legal obstacles. Dhanak fights for an individual’s right to choose in matters of marriage or relationships, against religious conversion for the sake of marriage, against honor-based crimes, and against forced marriages in India. To date, Dhanak has helped over 5,000 individuals.

“We are truly grateful and overjoyed to be recognized for our work today,” said Shailaja Rao, a member of Dhanak. “Indeed, we should all celebrate hope as the year closes, as it is hoped that gives us the strength to remain focused on our shared vision to move forward towards a pluralistic society.”

“And though the work is difficult,” Asif Iqbal, co-founder of Dhanak noted, “fortunately we have partners and friends from all across [the] world.”

The event also showcased performances by comedian Kajol Srinivasan, Carnatic musician Rithvik Raja, a star from “Indian Idol,” and a Bangalore-based Indian Folk Band.