(Rajeev Gadgil, Houston, TX, Feb 18, 2003.)
A group of individuals, under the name “Friends of India,” have come out with a white paper to rebut the recent attack on the India Development and Relief Fund.
In November 2002, Sabrang Communications and the Forum of Indian Leftists (FOIL) released a report titled “The Foreign Exchange of Hate” (FEH) with a “single, simple conclusion” – that the IDRF “funds hate”. This report, accompanied by an orchestrated media campaign and a petition, attacked the IDRF.
“A Factual Response to the Hate Attack on the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF),” prepared by Dr. Ramesh N. Rao, Dr. Narayanan Komerath Dr. Beloo Mehra, Chitra Raman and Sugrutha Ramaswami was released to the media this week.
The response demolishes the claims of the “Hate” report, dismantles the report word by word and unmasks the forces behind the anti-Hindu propaganda. The Sabrang report is a house of straw built on sand, the authors say.
The 208-page report with 10 chapters, “counters a calculated campaign of calumny,” by extensive documentation of the IDRF, its sister organizations, and RSS, and ends with a chapter titled “Lies, more lies and nothing but lies.” “Our individual readings of the Sabrang/FOIL report led us to conclude that the report is part of a malicious campaign to hurt this highly successful Indian- collaborating on a selected set of causes, and there was a pattern to these causes (anti-Hindu, communist/ anarchist, and even anti-India),” the authors of the factual response say.
Rao is an associate professor of communication at Truman State University, Kirksville, MO; Mehra is an Assistant Professor of Education at Antioch University in McGregor, Ohio. Komerath is a Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, (GIT) Atlanta, Georgia. Raman is a freelance writer proficient in both creative and technical writing fields. Ramaswami a Senior Systems ngineer/Solutions Architect with a leader in Business Messaging Services.
“The attack against the IDRF is a rehash of much that the Forum of Indian Leftists (FOIL) has published over the past five years. The report has been cobbled together from Internet sources and the information that is available to the public on the IDRF web site. There is no investigation of the IDRF but merely a cut, paste, and defame program to undermine the slow, steady, and impressive growth of the IDRF,” says Ramesh Rao. More and more Indians and Indian-Americans are becoming aware of the selfless and dedicated work of the IDRF volunteers, and the impact on the ground in India of their funding educational, relief, and development work, he says.
“ This rebuttal of the Sabrang/ FOIL report is one endeavor to expose the violence perpetrated by extremist forces in the name of peace and secularism. We, the authors of this rebuttal, decided that we could not stand by and watch this mugging – and so we came together to develop this rebuttal of the FEH and its authors.”
The FEH report presents no evidence that IDRF has done anything other than what it advertises. There is no evidence presented in the FEH report or elsewhere that the funding has been unaccounted or misspent.
The response report finds a total of two “accusations” against IDRF in the FEH report. The first is that “followers” of a certain person were reported to have been seen during the Gujarat riots. Further, that the project run by this person is described on a web page of the IDRF. Upon investigation, we find that the project in question is a middle school run in a forest - the only means of access to education for the residents for miles around. The school operator seeks funding for midday lunches for his wards, since most cannot afford to bring a packed lunch, and the school is a long walk from home. IDRF has described this as a worthwhile project, but no IDRF funding has yet gone to this organization.
The second “accusation” is that “a member of the family” of IDRF’s President was seen on the stage at a function to inaugurate some new IDRF-funded project. Also present at this function was a Cabinet Minister whose political views the FEH authors do not like. We note that in India, every new building has an “opening ceremony” to which government officials are invited to provide credibility and photo opportunities. This implies no endorsement of any politics. circular arguments and outright falsehoods. We present, analyze, and rebut them.” Millions of people participate in, and support the many good things done by what the FEH report describes as the “Sangh Parivar.” These activities include helping earthquake and cyclone victims, teaching children, empowering women, and running hospitals and orphanages. We find that IDRF is associated in this context with organizations run by Christian churches as easily and logically as with other organizations, when it comes to helping India and Indians. “In our report we present in detail what several IDRF-funded projects in fact do. It is obvious that the FEH report was false in its categorization of these projects. On the contrary, IDRF-funded projects are exemplary in their simple efficiency and cost-effectiveness, and in their nondiscriminatory approach to all. “We find houses built for Muslims, aid directed through IDRF to a church-run hospital, joint programs conducted by Hindu and Christian religious organizations on behalf of IDRF-funded projects to help disabled persons acquire artificial limbs at low cost, and many other such examples to debunk the simplistic divisiveness of the FEH report.”
The IDRF helps build schools and orphanages, helps rebuild homes shattered by earthquakes and cyclones, takes care of citizens through education. IDRF works with local communities in their own context. This involves constructing community cultural centers where people can meet for secular purposes, worship in the religious or spiritual tradition of their choice, exercise, practice yoga, or meditate. This cannot be described as “communalizing.”
The FEH report uses a number of hate-inciting terms such as “Hinduization” and “Saffronization” to characterize the education imparted in schools affiliated with the RSS. We reject and condemn such hatemongering tactics. Just as the secular celebration of a Judeo-Christian tradition such as Christmas by the singing of Christmas songs in public schools is not considered inflammatory “Christianization” in the United States, we submit that it is absurd to characterize performance of plays based on the world-renowned epics — the Ramayana and the Mahabharata in privately funded schools in India as “Hinduization.”
The FEH report gives the false impression that the IDRF has tapped into the wealth of the non-resident Indian community to fund different programs in India. In fact, the majority of donors to the IDRF are small donors. This can be seen from the total amount collected and disbursed over a period of 13 years: about $10 million! The IDRF funds are Diaspora. The FEH report does not deny that money has been spent to build schools, run orphanages, help leprosy patients, reconstruct homes destroyed by cyclones and earthquakes, and run medical institutions to provide basic healthcare in the most remote areas.
How much “hate” and “violence” could have been funded by these initiatives? In comparison, $98 million of “foreign exchange” was poured into Christian organizations in just one Indian state (Karnataka) in 2001-2002 alone. In the rebuttal, authors invite the reader to take a close look at the beneficiaries and development prtners of IDRF. We offer an in-depth portrait of heir activities stripped of the larmist hysteria.
An appendix details numerous ational and international awards on by IDRF–supported Non-Governmental organizations NGOs). Another appendix demonstrates that IDRF-funded GOs also receive funding from ther US-based Indo-American charities such as ASHA and AID hich pride themselves on “secular urity”, leading to the easy dismissal of the allegation that these NGO’s engage in “Hinduization.”
The report is “a measured response o the campaign of calumny undertaken by Sabrang/ OIL. We offer verifiable facts. We unequivocally establish IDRF’s record of accomplishment as a transparent aid agency providing critical succor.”