HAF Receives $1 Million Commitment from Philanthropist Ramesh Bhutada at Houston Gala

Ramesh Bhutada addresses the audience at the Annual HAF Houston Gala. He announced a $1 million donation to HAF.

HOUSTON: The Hindu American Foundation captivated a sold out crowd as they listened in pin drop silence to Sundar Iyer’s frightening story of being hounded by government agencies with false accusations of caste-based discrimination at its 14th Annual Houston Fundraising Gala on Saturday, April 13th. The event, held at the GSH Event Center, featured HAF’s Executive Director Suhag Shukla in conversation with Iyer, one of the defendants in the infamous Cisco caste discrimination case, about how the California Civil Rights Department (CRD) willfully ignored and suppressed exculpatory evidence to pursue its history-making claim in the first major lawsuit alleging caste based discrimination. The case, which caught the attention of HAF due to the CRD’s bigoted and unconstitutional insistence that caste and caste discrimination were required by Hindu beliefs and practice, is now the subject of a federal lawsuit by HAF against the state of California.

(Left to right) HAF team of Karuna Kankani, Rashmi Sheshadri, Vachan Sheshadri, Tithee Patel, Rohan Sheshadri, Naina Mehra, Rohith Mehra, Niharika Mehra, Sanvi Pandit, Vikram Sheshadri, Sakhi Ganjoo, Bharat Pallod, Lavannya Pandit, Rahul Pandit, Vinay Sarda, Suhag Shukla, Rishi Bhutada, Sahaj Bhutada, Vibhav Aluru

The gala also featured local philanthropist, Ramesh Bhutada, who committed $1 million over the next four years to HAF, the third such commitment he has made in the past year to key Hindu institutions.

The night started off with gala emcees, Dr. Subodh Bhuchar and Vikram Sheshadri, a member of HAF’s Board of Directors, introducing local elected officials to the crowd as they lit the lamp to mark the auspicious start of the occasion, followed by an invocation by local HAF youth volunteer Sanvi Pandit. Sheshadri and another HAF Board Member, Rishi Bhutada, then updated the over 350 attendees about HAF’s work in both advocating for the Hindu community as well as educating Americans, including educators and media, about Hindus and Hinduism. One of the themes of this presentation was HAF’s focus on empowering local Hindu communities to advocate for themselves locally, through training and resources, such as its Dharma Ambassador and Dharma Advocates programs.

Tech entrepreneur Sundar Iyer (left) on stage with HAF Executive Director Suhag Shukla at the annual HAF Houston Gala. Photos by Unique Photo Images/Bijay Dixit

Shukla and Iyer then took the stage for a 30 minute conversation that covered Iyer’s sordid saga as well as how a case in “loony, lefty” California, as Shukla jokingly put it, could directly impact Hindu Texans. Iyer made clear that while California took it to the extreme of putting a target on the backs of the Indian and Hindu communities with the proposed SB403 bill that was vetoed by Governor Newsom, the fallacious idea that the Hindu community could be engaging in widespread caste-based discrimination and violence could easily seep into corporate HR departments and local city ordinances via targeted pressure by anti-Hindu caste activists. Shukla and Iyer both brought up the need for the community to stay vigilant against such scenarios.

HAF volunteer Sanvi Pandit delivers the opening invocation with Judge Chad Bridges, Fort Bend County Commissioner Andy Meyers, Judge Surendran Pattel, Justice Richard Hightower, Stafford Mayor Ken Mathew, and Fulshear Councilmember Abhijeet Utturkar on stage

The gala also included Bollywood dance performances by Kalakriti Performing Arts, whose founder, Kusum Sharma, was awarded HAF’s Advancement of the Dharmic Arts and Humanities Award. The award was accepted on Sharma’s behalf by her daughter Tanya Sharma, who is also part of the dance troupe. Ramesh Bhutada then took the stage as his $1 million commitment over four years was announced to the surprise of the attendees. He spoke about the need to fund Hindu community institutions such as the Texas Hindu Campsite, the Hindu University of America (HUA), and now HAF. All three have now received $1 million commitments from him. Shukla and Rishi Bhutada took the stage as well, to talk about HAF’s plans for launching its first-of-its-kind Legal Justice Center to help community members navigate and protect their rights and to explain why donating to HAF was an investment in “your future, your children’s future, and your grandchildren’s future,” as Rishi Bhutada put it.

The attendees responded well, donating almost $450,000 in total, including bidding on a silent auction that featured travel packages, baseball tickets donated by the Astros Foundation, and courses donated by HUA, among other prizes. The evening then ended with a sumptuous dinner provided by Nalin’s Bombay Brasserie.

The HAF looks forward to next year’s annual gala in Houston and continuing its work on education and advocacy in Texas. HAF leadership also expressed its deep gratitude to the Hindus of Greater Houston and DISHA for being local partners on the ground that supported the gala and the HAF Houston chapter team that organizes it year after year. To learn more about HAF, visit hinduamerican.org and follow on all social platforms @hinduamerican.