FOI report supports IDRF activities; questions Sabrang/FOIL

(Prashanth Lakhihal, India Tribune, New York, March 7, 2003.)

A group of scholars and other professionals under the name of Friends of India has released a report rebutting the charges laid against the India Development and Relief Fund that it is funneling funds to communal forces in India.

Entitled, “A Factual Response to the Hate Attack on the India Development and Relief Fund,” the report has a twin aim: establish the sincerity of IDRF’s work and expose the forces behind the attack on IDRF - the Sabrang Communications and the Forum of Indian Leftists (FOIL).

The Friends of India report seeks to prove that the IDRF is a “ transparent aid agency providing critical succor.”

The Sabrang/FOIL in their report “The Foreign Exchange of Hate: IDRF and American Funding of Hindutva” had charged that the IDRF is funding several “Sangh Parivar” organizations that propagate Hindu fundamentalism in India.

The FOI report, authored by Ramesh Rao and Narayanan Komerath, says it offers “verifiable facts” as opposed to “the veils of innuendo, specious logic, and extrapolation” presented by the Sabrang report.

Questioning the motives and methods of Sabrang/FOIL, the new report said the IDRF attackers have “relentlessly pursued every avenue to choke off funds to IDRF based purely on the presumption of guilt. In that arbitrary stampede to judgment, there was no thought spared for the innocent beneficiaries of IDRF, a strange inconsistency from a group that claims to be against ‘hate.’”

In its rebuttal, the FOI report takes a close look at the beneficiaries and developmental partners of IDRF and claims it “offers an in-depth portrait of their activities stripped of the alarmist hysteria.”

For instance, the FOI report denies Sabrang/FOIL’s portrayal of single-teacher schools or “Ekal Vidyalayas” in tribal areas as virtual petri dishes of “Hindutva” indoctrination. “Our rebuttal shows that this educational approach appeals precisely because it is not didactic but assimilative and respectful of local cultural norms and belief systems. The teacher typically chosen is a local, who teaches through story-telling sessions and folk drama in an informal, supportive environment.

“Ironically, what the Sabrang/FOIL report criticizes as “Hinduization” – is the same approach semantically reincarnated in the West as “holistic/integral education” by Western philosophers,” the authors said.

Further, the FOI report rejects the Sabrang/FOIL’s characterization of the Vikasan Foundation’s “gurukul” system of learning as equivalent to the Islamic Madrassas.

“A typical “gurukul” is an environment free of caste restrictions, conventional examinations and textbooks, fostering discipline and self-reliance. It offers an atmosphere of serenity and intellectual growth in which a student’s questioning nature is never stifled. A respect for nature and the environment, patriotism, and the value of simple living are just some of the values instilled. After their course at the gurukul, students are free to pursue higher education of their choice at the university level,” explains the FOI report about the “gurukul” system of education.

The FOI report turns around the Sabrang/FOIL allegation against Sewa International and lays it against the Christian missionaries for converting people forcefully. Sabrang/FOIL had charged that SEWA International is a front organization to “convert” people who are “insufficiently Hindu” by means of “sectarian ideological training” masquerading as “developmental activity.” “This charge could be more appropriately laid at the feet of the better-organized and munificently funded Christian missionary activities in the country. It is ludicrous to point to the celebration of Hindu festivals by Hindus as indicative of some sinister purpose.

“Here is what a rational individual should ask: Is being for something always being against something else? Does loving your wife lead to hating other women? Is loving your nation an indication of hating other countries? Is helping those closest to you an attempt at undermining others? This logical fallacy perpetrated consciously, willfully, and vulgarly by sophists and political grandstanders should be condemned unequivocally by any sane reader of the Sabrang report,” the FOI report said.

The report rebuffs the fundamental premises that underlie the claims made by the anti-IDRF report of Sabrang/FOIL: The first presumption involves caricaturing organizations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as exclusive promoters of sectarian violence; and the second presumption describes “Hindutva” as Hindu supremacist ideology. The FOI report said the Sabrang/FOIL fail to acknowledge the RSS’s peerless record in providing timely, selfless and courageous disaster relief work. The RSS, as the world’s largest NGO, offers voluntary service on a non-partisan basis, it added.

Rebutting the Sabrang/FOIL’s exclusionist definition of Hindutva, the FOI report noted what the Supreme Court of India had to say on the subject: “Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism. A Hindu may embrace a non-Hindu religion without ceasing to be a Hindu and since the Hindu is disposed to think synthetically and to regard other forms of worship, strange gods and divergent doctrines as inadequate rather than wrong or objectionable, he tends to believe that the highest divine powers complement each other for the well-being of the world and mankind.”

The FOI report, besides raising doubts about the attackers’ motives and methodology, also takes an inventory of the IDRF’s scope of work, its administration and disbursement of funds, and its commitment to near - zero overhead costs to maximize donor impact.

“IDRF serves economically and socially disadvantaged people irrespective of caste or religion; it does so in a manner that promotes self-reliance over welfare dependence; it manages and monitors project activities entirely through its volunteers. IDRF volunteers meet their own out-of-pocket expenses and spend their own money to visit the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) administering aid. This ensures that almost every cent of donor-designated money (99.1%) is routed to the beneficiary,” the report concluded.