16/07/2015 11:42 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Indian American Sunita Viswanath Recognised As 'Champion Of Change' For Encouraging Hindus To Take Care Of Environment

Eugene Gologursky via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 30: Sunita Viswanath attends the Women for Afghan Women 12th Anniversary protecting women's rights beyond 2014 at Tribeca 360 on May 30, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Afghan Women)

An Indian American woman is one of the 12 faith leaders who will be recognised by the White House as a "Champion of Change" for her efforts in protecting the environment and communities from the effects of climate change.

Sunita Viswanath will be recognised for her efforts to encourage Hindus to live out principles of ekatva (oneness), ahimsa (non-violence) and sadhana (faith in action) by taking care of the environment. The event will be broadcast live on Monday, July 20, at 2 pm ET (4.30 am India time). She is the only Indian American on the list.

The U.S. government program, which recognises ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things in their communities to "out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world", are invited to the White House to share their ideas "to win the future".

Viswanath, who has worked in women's and human rights organisations for almost three decades, is co-founder and active board member of the 14-year old front-line women’s human rights organisation, 'Women for Afghan Women'. She is also the co-founder and board member of 'Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus'.

Read: A Hindu Reflection on Pope's Climate Change Encyclical

Raised in an Andhra Hindu family, she now lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband Stephan Shaw and their three sons, Gautama, Akash and Satya. She started Sadhana to bring together two parts of her identity — that of a human rights activist with her Hindu values and beliefs.

Born in Chennai, Viswanath says her childhood was steeped in ritualistic practice of Hinduism. "I have always been secure in my identity as a Hindu," she told PTI. "Growing up, I thought a lot about faith and religion, but I also had a very strong sense of social justice, what was fair."

"I imbibed profound lessons of love and justice from my religious upbringing, from the stories we were told, the prayers we learned, the texts we read. I went on as an adult to devote my life to advancing social justice causes, particularly women's human rights," she said.

"If Hinduism cares deeply about all people and all living beings, then there must be an active, vocal Hindu movement for social justice and human rights today," she said, adding that a small group of like-minded individuals got together to explore this question and Sadhana was born.

One of the project of Sadhana is Project Prithvi, a grassroots green project, which mobilise Hindus, especially the youth, to live out the principle of ahimsa by taking care of the environment.

Currently, they are working on a project to clean up specific beaches in Jamaica Bay where Hindus worship and litter the place.

(with PTI inputs)

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