Hinduism encompasses a range of beliefs and practices, and there is no formal conversion practice. That acceptance of plurality in the faith, that Hindus come in many forms, would make it “hypocritical” for Indian Hindus to look askance at Gabbard for not sharing their ethnicity, said Smita Kothuri, 38, of McLean, Va.

“How can I hold it against her? I’d be untrue to my religion if I held it against her,” she said.

Other Indian Hindus agreed with the sentiment.

“I don’t think it makes a difference that she’s not Indian,” said Kinjal Dave, 17, a high school senior in Hillsborough, N.J. “I think it’s the faith that matters.”

The press secretary for Gabbard, a 31-year-old Iraq war veteran, declined an Associated Press request to interview Gabbard for this story, but sent along a statement Gabbard had made upon being sworn into office, for which she used a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu religious text.