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By Venkata Bhatta dasa (Vineet Chander, Coordinator for Hindu Life, Princeton University)
As a general rule, Hindu-Americans love milestones and photo opportunities. When photogenic Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu elected to U.S. Congress, is sworn in to office with her right hand resting on a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, we will get both. But we will also get something far more valuable: a congresswoman who reads and bases her life around the Gita. I hope that amid all the coverage of the historic swearing in, this won’t be lost.
I don’t mean to take away from the symbolic importance of Tulsi’s decision to swear in on the Gita, or to dismiss the genuine joy that many Hindu-Americans feel about it. It is a formality, to be sure, but it is an important formality. Swearing over a copy of sacred text is a venerable tradition; the book serves as a sort of three-dimensional symbol of truth itself. And if the book is accepted as legitimate, then it follows that the faith that reveres the book is legitimate as well. For a Hindu-American community that has had to endure Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley — both born into Dharmic faiths, both converts to Christianity as young adults — Tulsi Gabbard and her Gita are affirmation that our faith is finally taking a seat at the table. That alone is worth celebrating.
Still, I think that if we stop there we sell ourselves short. To me, the more interesting and important questions revolve around how the Gita will play into Tulsi’s job in the days that follow her being sworn into office. How will she engage with the text in making the tough decisions her new role will present to her?
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