Hindu women’s conference in Virginia attracts high-profile guests

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Lt. Governor of Virginia, Winsome Sears, addressing the audience at the Women’s Leadership Conference in Reston Association Conference Center, Northern Virginia on Sunday, March 27, 2022. PHOTO: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman, News India Times

The Women’s Caucus of the American Hindu Coalition (AHC), a non-partisan and non-profit organization, held its Second Annual Women’s Leadership Conference on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Reston Association Conference Center in Northern Virginia.

(Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media which publishes News India Times, is on the National Advisory Board of American Hindu Coalition).

Organized under the theme, “Education and Election Reform,” the conference covered a range of topics from strategies on running for an election, campaigning, conducting opinion polls, fundraising, building public brand, to the campaign volunteer experience.

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The keynote speaker at the conference was Lt. Gov. of Virginia Winsome Sears.

The event was well attended by a diverse group of women leaders. Several   panel discussions took place on education, and election reforms, in which Virginia’s Education Secretary Aimee Guidera, Elizabeth Schultz, VA assistant superintendent of Public Instruction, as well as other high-profile women participated. They included Asra Nomani, vice president of Parents Defending Education, Maya Noronha, independent women’s forum fellow, Christine Brim, Fairfax election integrity working group, and Andrea Bayer, election outreach coordinator/precinct chief, participated. During a panel, Ishaan Brainig, a high school student spoke about his experience in Virginia’s public school system and the necessity for reform.

Lt. Governor Sears spoke about her experiences as not just a woman, but also an immigrant woman, and the challenges she faced in her quest for public office over the past two decades.  A Jamaican-American, Sears immigrated to the U.S. when she was six years old.

“I had death threats during my campaign 20 years ago. And it was so bad and so credible that the state police had to wire my house and my phones, and I had a helicopter that would buzz over our house every now and then,” Sears recalled in her address. “Now you have to think about this, that I am from Jamaica and sometimes you’re killed for political purposes. So my mother called me from Jamaica and said they’re going to kill you, and I told her no mom, they don’t do that in America.”

Sue Ghosh, one of the founders of AHC, who served as Assistant Administrator, Asia Bureau, USAID, said, “at the end of the day, no matter what we look like, we’re all Americans. And our platform really is America first, with a Hindu twist. We build a coalition based on our values. We reach out to anybody and everybody who believe in our platform, and are willing to join our movement.”

According to Sears, a lot has changed in the past 20 years as more women have entered the political arena, and the public is now used to women running for office. “I remember when I ran for the first time, I was told that my husband couldn’t be anywhere near me. Because people wouldn’t know who’s running. Is it him or is it me?”

When asked about her message for women who are aspiring for leadership roles in politics, Sears told News India Times, “Don’t be afraid of political life. Yes, your life will be very public. But anything that’s worth doing is worth doing well. So get involved. Don’t stay on the sidelines. You have an opportunity to serve, and you have an opportunity to bring your thoughts to the public square. And of course, they’ll either be voted up or voted down. But the beauty of America is that you can be just about anything you want to be.”

As an immigrant she said, “when you run for office there’s going to be jealousy no matter what. There’s always somebody who will try to pull you down, and no matter whatever good that you try to do, they turn it around and make it negative. But, this country was made up of immigrants and continues to be made up of immigrants. So you take your place alongside everyone else, and contribute. You have thoughts, you have ideas, and you have ambitions about how America can be better. Don’t wait, get involved.”

Similar sentiments were also shared by Virginia House Delegate, Charniele Herring, who grew up in poverty and homelessness. While her persistence and resilience resulted in her becoming a lawyer, the path to office was not without difficulty.  “I will tell you, since we had a little bit of talk about running for office, I too was discouraged from running. When you decide to run there will be people out there who say you shouldn’t do it. It’s not your turn now. When I started at the local level, my passion was to improve issues at the state level. So, I joined hands with an interfaith group which worked on homeless intervention, and worked on programs that prevented people from becoming homeless.”

Aimee Guidera, Virginia’s Secretary of Education speaking at a panel during the Women’s Leadership Conference in Reston Association Conference Center, Northern Virginia on Sunday, March 27, 2022. PHOTO: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman, News India Times

The Secretary of Education in Virginia, Aimee Guidera, a believer that education supports workforce development, said Virginia Govenor, Youngkin’s administration is aiming towards preparing students to think and communicate effectively, which also contributes towards their being productive members of society.

She stated, “we need to make sure that we are investing in the right people to ensure that they are going to be productive members of our democracy, community, and economy. But, this economy is changing so quickly, right? Nowhere faster than here in Northern Virginia, and how do we ensure that the schools are not stuck in 1950s. But, instead that they’re keeping up with the skills, demand, the competency, and everything that they need. We’re going to work on aspects such as how to think, how to pivot, how to be problem solvers, how to be critical thinkers, and all of these things that we know in our work lives that we need to. value.”

Women leaders with Lt. Governor of Virginia, Winsome Sears, at the Women’s Leadership Conference in Reston Association Conference Center, Northern Virginia on Sunday, March 27, 2022. PHOTO: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman, News India Times

Chairman of AHC, Shekhar Tiwari, told News India Times, “I believe women are better leaders. There are not many platforms either in India or in the U.S to encourage women to run for leadership positions. That’s why the women’s caucus of AHC organizes seminars and meetings to provide necessary skills and encourage women to run for office. Even, if they lose elections they get the name recognition and can always contest in next elections.”

John Jaggers, political director of AHC, provided the roadmap to running a successful campaign for public office, highlighting the importance of interpersonal and communications skills.

Dr. Kanchan Anand, from AHC Women’s Caucus, and a physician from INOVA Health System in VA, spoke about the values of the AHC and said that the Coalition is a platform of fertile soil especially for women interested in pursuing a path of politics. She also emphasized that the Coalition is a bipartisan platform that deals with not just local but also global issues of relevance.

Srilekha Palle, a board of director of AHC introduced speakers and guests at the conference. Harsh Sethi, president of AHC, Alok Srivastava, executive director of AHC, Su Puttugunta, AHC’s co-chair of Ambassador Circle, Astrid Gamez, chairwoman of Latino National Republican Committee of Virginia, and Puja Khanna, democratic leader at the Loudoun County, VA were among others present at the conference.

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