U.S. District Court dismisses lawsuit filed by the Hindu American Foundation
On December 20, 2022, a US District Court Judge for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit, filed by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), against five defendants. HAF’s lawsuit, filed in May 2021, claimed the defendants “conspired to publish… allegedly false and defamatory statements,” in two different articles in Al Jazeera, in April 2021.
The Judge, Amit Mehta, dismissed charges against all defendants: Co-founders and Board members of Hindus for Human Rights (HFHR), Sunita Viswanath and Raju Rajagopal; Executive Director of the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), Rasheed Ahmed; Chairman of the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations (FIACONA), John Prabhudoss; and Professor of South Asian History at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Audrey Truschke.
The defendants’ motions requested the Court “to dismiss [the lawsuit] for lack of personal jurisdiction, lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and failure to state a claim.”
After the verdict, HAF released a statement expressing its disappointment but appreciated the support received from the community. Reacting to the verdict, Executive Director of HAF, Suhag Shukla said, “Though HAF is disappointed the case will not move forward, it respects the court’s opinion, and feels vindicated where the court found false statements about HAF were likely made. HAF will remain ever vigilant in ensuring the truth prevails, Satyameva Jayate,” adding, “We are forever grateful and humbled by the unwavering support we received from the community in our defense, and reinvigorated to work even harder for the Hindu Americans and for the protection of Dharma.”
All defendants and their organizations also released statements and expressed jubilation.
IAMC’s statement said, “In a 28-page ruling delivered Tuesday, Judge Amit P. Mehta of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia found that not only did the defendants’ statements in question not defame HAF, ‘most of the statements are clearly statements of opinion,’ which cannot be proven either true or false, and therefore did not meet the threshold of defamation.”
“This is another clear statement of opinion expressing a view on how government funding should be distributed, and which groups are deserving of federal relief funds,” Judge Mehta wrote, said the statement.
Al Jazeera published the first article, on April 2, 2021, with a headline “Hindu right-wing groups in US got $833,000 of federal COVID fund.” The second article was also carried in the same publication on April 8, 2021, with the headline “Call for US probe into Hindu right-wing groups getting COVID fund.” The Al Jazeera article said, “SBA gave the funds as part of its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance (EIDLA), Disaster Assistance Loan (DAL) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).” It went on to say, “Of the five organi[z]ations, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a Washington-based advocacy group co-founded by former VHPA activist Mihir Meghani, received the lion’s share of federal funds with $378,064 in PPP loans and another $10,000 in EIDLA.” The articles also named four other organizations including Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation, Infinity Foundation, and Sewa International.
Managing Director of HAF, Samir Kalra in his response noted, “We know, as the court found, that Hindus for Human Rights, IAMC, FIACONA and Truschke lie about HAF, and we believe, they often conspire against many Hindu American individuals and organizations in this country. We will be relentless in calling out their malign attacks and we will never hesitate in defending our reputation against hateful lies.”