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Hindus now have a fellow believer in Congress

By Deepti Hajela

Associated Press


NEW YORK >> When Dr. Uma Mysorekar looks at the members of the new Congress, the Indian immigrant and practicing Hindu can see that, for the first time, there's someone who shares her ethnicity and someone who shares her faith.

To her surprise, they're two different people.

Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii is the first Hindu elected to Congress. Rep. Ami Bera of California, also a Democrat, is the third Indian-American to serve in the House.

Gabbard, however, isn't from India, where Hinduism originated and to which the vast majority of its adherents have ethnic ties.

Bera is a Unitarian. His two Indian-American predecessors in Congress, Dalip Singh Saund and Bobby Jindal, also were not practicing Hindus. The late Saund, a California Democrat elected in 1956, was Sikh. Jindal, a Republican elected to the House in 2004 and now Louisiana's governor, is Catholic.

Gabbard's presence in Congress creates an interesting moment for Hindus in the United States, a chance to celebrate a barrier broken but also a topic of discussion as they ponder how closely religion and nationality are entwined, or even should be.

Mysorekar is glad to see a practicing Hindu in the country's halls of political power, no matter her nationality.

Gabbard "is a Hindu representative, it doesn't matter where she came from," said Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, a temple in the New York borough of Queens that is one of the country's oldest.

As a non-Indian Hindu, Gabbard is most definitely an outlier.

According to an analysis issued last month from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, there are about 1 billion Hindus in the world. Of those, 94 percent are in India, and 99 percent in the larger South Asia region. The analysis, based on data from 2010, the latest available, estimated the population of Hindus in the United States at 1.79 million. Most are of Indian descent.

Hinduism encompasses a range of beliefs and practices, and there is no formal conversion practice. That acceptance of plurality in the faith, that Hindus come in many forms, would make it "hypocritical" for Indian Hindus to look askance at Gabbard for not sharing their ethnicity, said Smita Kothuri, 38, of McLean, Va.

"How can I hold it against her? I'd be untrue to my religion if I held it against her," she said.

Other Indian Hindus agreed with the sentiment.

"I don't think it makes a difference that she's not Indian," said Kinjal Dave, 17, a high school senior in Hillsborough, N.J. "I think it's the faith that matters."

The press secretary for Gabbard, a 31-year-old Iraq war veteran, declined an Associated Press request to interview Gabbard for this story, but sent along a statement Gabbard had made upon being sworn into office, for which she used a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu religious text.

"I chose to take the oath of office with my personal copy of the Bhagavad Gita because its teachings have inspired me to be a servant-leader, dedicating my life in the service of others and to my country," she said.

Gabbard has said she was introduced to Hinduism through her mother, and embraced it fully as a teenager. She also is the first member of Congress to be born in the U.S. territory of American Samoa.

The reception from Indians and Indian media to her electoral victory has been largely positive, although there has been at least one mistaken media report making a reference to Gabbard being Indian-American. (She and her siblings all have Indian first names.)

Having any Hindu representation in Congress breaks barriers in a country that, despite religious freedom being enshrined in the Constitution, has seen its elected officials overwhelmingly come from Christian backgrounds.

It can be an inspiration to other Hindus who are interested in public office, that their faith and most voters' unfamiliarity with it, won't prove insurmountable. "I think it instills confidence to say there's been a Hindu there," said Suhag Shukla, executive director of the Hindu American Foundation in Washington.

It's also an opportunity to introduce Hinduism as a faith to people who may have seen it as solely the purview of those who have a connection to India.

Dharmasetu Das knows all about that. Born in Massachusetts to a military family, the 55-year-old white man whose original first name was David has been practicing Hinduism for decades. Now living in San Diego, he performs weddings and other ceremonies as a Hindu pandit, or priest.

Das was a teenager when he came across some books on the faith, and "I felt like this was it," he said.

He hasn't come across too many other non-Indian Hindus like himself over the years, and is happy to know he now has a compatriot in such a high-profile place like Congress.

"Just opening people's eyes," he said, "it's a great thing."

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DABLACK wrote:
Tulsi....may the oath you took never be forgotten. Wish you well in your tasks to represent the state of Hawaii. Make us proud, sista.
on January 13,2013 | 07:09AM
simple wrote:
She will surely make us proud bra. Hawaii voters have made me proud by not only electing the first Hindu, but also the first Buddhist (Mazie) to the senate. Also to be noted is that Tulsi is one of the first female combat vets elected to congress, the other being Tammy Duckwoth (who also grew up in Hawaii). Tulsi is also the first Samoan-American elected to Congress. Hawaii voters rock!
on January 16,2013 | 12:18PM
simple wrote:
that was supposed to be brah, not bra :-)
on January 16,2013 | 12:20PM
Michele007 wrote:
Tulsi neglects to mention that she was raised a Hare Krisna, and that her parents guru was kicked out of the local Krisna group for being too political. Why would you hide this, I wonder.....
on January 13,2013 | 07:25AM
bumbye wrote:
Hindu is safer to say than Hare Krishna. My hippie sister knew her parents in their Down to Earth days.
on January 13,2013 | 07:35AM
Mythman wrote:
I don't think it's accurate to say Chris was "kicked out" of the Group.
on January 13,2013 | 04:34PM
Ken_Conklin wrote:
We don't really know much about Tulsi or her beliefs. That's because she has not made a public record on religion; and she changed her mind on very significant moral issues like abortion and gay rights, just in time to run for Congress. The word on the street it that the only real connection Tulsi has to Hinduism is her active participation in Hare Krishna activities during her teenage years. I suppose she can call herself a Hindu in the same way as anyone can call himself a Unitarian, since there is no set of doctrines which Unitarians promise to uphold and no hierarchy of authorities or decision-makers. I am also not aware of any temple or community of faith to which Tulsi belongs or has actively participated in -- that's not essential to judge someone's faith; but it would provide one way to verify whether she has publicly embraced Hindu beliefs and practices in any way other than Hare Krishna chanting and handing out free vegetarian food at Kapiolani Park.
on January 13,2013 | 07:27AM
turbolink wrote:
Scripted Gabbard family political theater.
on January 13,2013 | 08:23AM
64hoo wrote:
shes hindu she took her swearing in oath on the hindu scriptures. not the regular bible that others swear on taking oath of office
on January 13,2013 | 10:32PM
Ken_Conklin wrote:
I made a comment which included the word for the youth rebellion which begins with "hip" and the comment was "sent for approval." I then removed that word, tried again, and the comment was successfully added. But then, a moment later, it had vanished along with someone else's comment. Looks like the label for the pseudo-Hindu youths who chant and hand out free vegetarian food is also forbidden (Har-Kr-) is also being censored. This newspaper should not have published the article unless it's willing to entertain reasonable commentary.
on January 13,2013 | 07:35AM
bumbye wrote:
My HK comment is under review too.
on January 13,2013 | 07:42AM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
bumbai is the way u spell it, i think. I do not have a Pidgin English Dictionary. No one ever had, i think, unless Frank deLima would publish one soon !!
on January 13,2013 | 08:58AM
bumbye wrote:
I'm sure it has "bye" in it because it's based on "bye and bye."
on January 13,2013 | 12:44PM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
This newspaper is sometimes hypocritical because when one looks at the bottom of the sports section in a tiny corner, one sees some Ads there that are not family oriented, if i can say so, in a nice way.
on January 13,2013 | 09:02AM
inverse wrote:
The only thing the S A cares about is making $$$$$$$$$$$. Whether from the Rail feeding trough using taxpayers monies or pro development measures like the Hoopili, 650 ft skyscrapers or from adds from hos tess ba rs. The online adds are incredibly intrusive and the Streetpulse section on the right side of every web page is pure boo tee. Hot tie of the week, bi kini fashion show or pool party etc is MOST prominent. I did not realize how popular in Hawaii dancers who prefer wearing those knee high, furry mukluk or eskimo boots. Would think they would be kind of warm to wear dancing around on top of a stage in Hawaii. Also with the S A I have become a lot more knowledgeable that most wom en prefer people with straight teeth, don't smell, have a job and are mildly intelligent and cannot stand liars or someone who is controlling
on January 14,2013 | 04:35AM
bender wrote:
You would think that the StarAdvertiser would not subject their paying subscribers to all the nonsense we have to deal with. Once you log in you should have a smooth session instead of being subjected to continuing popups and pop unders, jumping screens, etc They also provide a set of guidelines for users of the comments section but they seem to have a vast dictionary of unacceptable words that cannot be used in comments. What grabs be is the Congress can use the very same vocabulary and no one censures them but the censor software at the SA will shut you down in a heartbeat even if the word or phrase was used correctly.
on January 14,2013 | 04:50AM
bumbye wrote:
My comment is still not posted. I guess it's not "Hare Krishna" that's questionable. I used the word "h-i-p-p-i-e" to describe my sister who knew the Gabbards in their D-o-w-n t-o E-a-r-t-h days. What's wrong with that?
on January 13,2013 | 12:50PM
kainalu wrote:
Your narrow-minded intolerance is not lost on many, KKKonklin. No worries, we get the gist of it.
on January 13,2013 | 01:15PM
bender wrote:
He merely made an observation that Gabbard says she is Hindu but has never seen or heart of her affiliating herself with any Hinidu religious group, only the bell ringers.
on January 14,2013 | 04:52AM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
1 billion Hindu. I did not know that. Considering though that India has a population 1,210,193,422 as of March 1, 2011 (per Wikipedia, if u r reading, honopic), then that is an accurate figure. So Christians and Muslims are not alone.
on January 13,2013 | 08:56AM
kailuabred wrote:
Don't care what religion she is. Just keep it out of government.
on January 13,2013 | 09:09AM
Anonymous wrote:

Except she is not HIndi. She is a Hare Krishna. Keep it REAL.

on January 13,2013 | 09:20AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Tulsi is a Hare Krishna Samoan. And that's real.
on January 13,2013 | 10:02AM
IAmSane wrote:
on January 14,2013 | 06:51AM
kukui_1 wrote:
I don't think someone's religon is important as long as they do a good job and take care of the people of Hawaii.
on January 13,2013 | 09:40AM
bender wrote:
Obviously it is to the newspaper and to some Congressional observers.
on January 14,2013 | 04:53AM
9ronboz wrote:
Ok by me, so long as her interest is in the U.S.A.
on January 13,2013 | 09:52AM
Opelu wrote:
The Hindu and Vet card is getting plenty play, let's just get to the biz of serving and representing Hawaii
on January 13,2013 | 09:52AM
mrluke wrote:
Agreed! It's getting a little tedious hearing about her "gulf veteran" status.
on January 13,2013 | 03:10PM
Mythman wrote:
She chanted and handed out chow as part of her duties in the Gulf War.
on January 13,2013 | 04:38PM
entrkn wrote:
Tulsi Gabbard got elected to public office in Hawaii because of her record of honesty, courage, bravery, patriotism, fairness, and dedication, and had nothing to do with her religious faith. All that says a lot about the people of Hawaii and about her. And she belongs in the Senate with Senator Schatz, representing the best interests of Hawaii and America for the next 50 years, and all of us should be doing every thing we can to make that happen asap.
on January 13,2013 | 10:50AM
turbolink wrote:
An accomplishment to show qualification for higher office would be nice, but so far no one else in our delegation needed any.
on January 13,2013 | 11:05AM
turbolink wrote:
It would also be a sign of good faith for Cong Gabbard to complete one of her elected terms before jumping to greener grass.
on January 13,2013 | 11:13AM
Mythman wrote:
Tulsi's biggest qualification is and was that she was not that other person from Samoa, the tall one who sings instead of chanting and hands out free contracts instead of free food in the park......
on January 13,2013 | 04:39PM
Sat wrote:
Isn't the media overdoing this subject? Isn't Tulsi using this to her political advantage and aspirations? What's the big deal?
on January 13,2013 | 11:27AM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
Well let's hope she decides to actually serve out her term before trying to jump to a higher office again. I still think she's anti gay and abortion but said otherwise just to get elected in a blue state. It also the reason she joined the national guard and volunteered to go to afghanistan. She and her family are more aligned with republican beliefs but switched to the democratic party so they could get into office.
on January 13,2013 | 01:12PM
garciaja wrote:
You are 100 percent correct! The Gabbarts were against gays, gay marriage, you name it. When they couldn't get elected as Republicans they switched parties which I am still upset about! Now she is Hindu, isn't war against Hindu beliefs? Just saying....
on January 13,2013 | 06:57PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
Hare Krishna.... really?
on January 13,2013 | 01:15PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
I don't understand the rrelationship between Hindus and Hare Krishnas. To me the HK's will forever be the kids in robes down by the old Waikiki theater passing out a plumeria flower and then asking for money.
on January 13,2013 | 03:10PM
Mediocrates wrote:
Hare Krishna sect is one of literally hundreds, if not thousands, of branches of what we in the West call "Hinduism." Basically Krishna (an incarnation of Vishnu - or for some Vishnu is an incarnation of Krishna) is the personality of God. The most effective way to salvation is through love of God (faith) and the most intimate way to achieve this is by chanting his name. As this is one of the first branches of Hindu thought that came to the West, the majority of non-ethnic-Indian Hindus are Hare Krishna. Honolulu has one of the IKSON temples and the man who brought Hare Krishna doctrine to the West, AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, spent a good amount of time here in Hawaii and translated many many texts here into English here in Honolulu at what is still the IKSON temple. As an outsider, the best part of Hare Krishna's are renowned for their excellent vegan cuisine! They have a restaurant, Govindas, down on Fort Street Mall.
on January 13,2013 | 03:56PM
Mythman wrote:
They were annoying as heck back in the day but the veggie food they made up in Manoa was really, really good. Some of them were kids of some pretty big deal big shots, back in the day....then the temple threw a bunch of them out and they landed on the North Shore, where some of them still may be found. Down to Earth kept them in money. Dr. Butler, their guru, used to teach at the U of Hawaii I think, right? Or was that another guy, the one who started the Italian restaurant?
on January 13,2013 | 04:42PM
64hoo wrote:
no more cookies.
on January 13,2013 | 10:37PM
scooters wrote:
Just keep religion OUT OF POLITICS...She just needs to be a good politician for Hawaii..
on January 13,2013 | 07:12PM
scooters wrote:
So lets talk about this "Combat Veteran". Did she really get into "ACTUAL COMBAT"? I mean like out of the safety of the rear and into harms way with bullet's,mortars the like flying all around. Did she EVER have to return fire at the enemy? Or did she just stay in the rear with the gear and the beer. You can be in a COMBAT ZONE and never have been in ACTUAL COMABT. So which is it for her? Just what was her military specialty? Somebody out there must know..
on January 13,2013 | 07:22PM
inverse wrote:
I did a quick internet search and found Gabbard was a Captain in the Army National Guard and was given the following awards: Meritorious service medal; Army commendation medal, Army achievement Medal with Oak leaf cluster, Army good conduct medal and Combat medical badge. I am sure her record and awards can be easily verified. I don't think of anyone less who served in the US military who shoots the weapon or actually kills the enemy with the personnel who support saving the lives of injured US soldiers in the battlefield.
on January 14,2013 | 04:51AM
scooters wrote:
So how does one earn the Combat Medical Badge? Do you earn it through training before deployment or in the Combat Zone? Is she a Doctor, Medical what ever? All personnel including those who serve in the rear are vital parts of the unit. However, there is a BIG difference between the rear and the FRONT LINES!
on January 14,2013 | 06:07AM
bender wrote:
Mysorekar syas "Gabbard is a Hindu representative". Wrong, Gabbard is one of the two Representatives from the State of Hawaii. She represents no particular religion, nor to any of the other Congressmen and women.
on January 14,2013 | 04:56AM
Mediocrates wrote:
Wow. All of my basic factual comments explaining what Hare Krishna faith is and how it relates to Hinduism writ-large has been scrubbed from this commentary section. There is some amazing paranoia on this subject that in turn perpetuates ignorance of the readers who come here to discuss and understand issues further. Shame on the Star-Advertiser for this stupid stupid policy.
on January 14,2013 | 07:28AM
turbolink wrote:
First amendment applies to the SA when it's newsworthy, for its readers when it's not litigious.
on January 14,2013 | 07:56AM
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