Anurima Bhargava appointed to U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

A veteran Indian American civil rights attorney Anurima Bhargava has been appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom by Speaker-Elect, California’s Congresswoman, Nancy Pelosi.

In a statement announcing the appointment, USCIRF chair Tenzin Dorjee said, “I commend Leader Pelosi for this superb appointment. With an impressive background and a demonstrated commitment to advocating for members of minority communities in the United States and abroad, Anurima Bhargava brings an important new perspective that will enhance the work of the Commission, especially on democratic India, with whom the United States has a long and proud relationship.”

“I very much look forward to working with her to advance the fundamental right of all people to exercise their freedom of religion or belief,” said Dorjee, who was also appointed to the Commission in 2016 by Pelosi, and re-appointed in May.

Bhargava is the founder and president of the Anthem of Us, an organization which aims to highlight civil rights issues in underserved communities through legal advocacy, and documentary films.

The Harvard alumnus, who earned her law degree at Columbia University, formerly served as the chief of the Educational Opportunities Section of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice during the Obama Administration. During her six-year tenure there, Bhargava led ant-discrimination efforts on school campuses including school segregation; school discipline and the school to prison pipeline; harassment and bullying; sexual assault; and protecting educational access and services for English Learner, LGBT and undocumented students.

She has served on numerous task forces and working groups, including the White House Task Force to Prevent Campus Sexual Assault and the Supportive School Discipline Initiative.

Bhargava has been an ardent opponent of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s attempts to roll back provisions protecting victims of rape on college campuses. DeVos has also issued a new set of proposed rules on Title IX regarding the responsibilities of primary and secondary schools, as well as universities, to address sexual assault and harassment.

Prior to joining the Justice Department, Bhargava served as the director of the Education Practice at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where she was actively engaged in litigation and advocacy to expand educational access and opportunities for students of color, according to her Harvard profile. She previously worked at the New York City Department of Education and clerked in the Southern District of New York.

Bhargava has served as a fellow at the Open Society Foundations and at Harvard University. Before attending law school, Bhargava worked in India assisting women elected to local government. She has been a member of the Truman National Security Project and the Council on Foreign Relations.She was born and raised on the south side of Chicago.

Earlier this year, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, appointed Indian American businessman Andy Khawaja to the commission. Khawaja is the founder and chief executive officer of Allied Wallet. In 2016, a diplomatic kerfuffle occurred when India refused to issue visas to two USCIRF commissioners.

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze and report on threats to religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the president, the secretary of state, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief.

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