(Letter to Editor, India West, April 4th, 2003, by Mihir Meghani, M.D.)
The recent coordinated attack on the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) is a tragedy for the Indian-American community. Led by supporters of the Forum of Indian Leftists and by self-proclaimed Marxists, a group of anti-democratic Indian-Americans has attacked a charity that gives almost 100% of donations to projects that serve the poor and needy marginalized communities in India, irrespective of religion, caste, language, or political view.
This attack on IDRF stymies and stifles the work done by activists in the U.S. over the past 30 years to help develop literacy, health, education, and equality in India, and to promote stronger India-U.S. relations. The anti-IDRF report is one example of several media reports by a group of Indians whose only image of India is that of an undemocratic nation that has committed "genocide" against its minorities, that is not secular, and that is a threat to the rest of the world. These biased essays paint a lop-sided and dark picture of India where its one billion people cannot live in peace because of Hindu terrorist attacks on and persecution of Muslims and Christians. The rhetoric of those who call themselves "progressive" is such that they viciously claim "Hitler worship is the fastest growing religion in India." This hate campaign, masquerading as a movement for secular, democratic ideals, has hurt India badly, and those of us in the silent majority must counter it.
My personal experience with IDRF has been positive. IDRF supports The Meghani Foundation, a well-known charitable trust named after Zaverchand Meghani, Gujarat's famous poet and author, jailed during the struggle against British rule and called "Rashatriya Kavi", or national poet, by Mahatma Gandhi. The Meghani Foundation, founded by my parents, gives 100% of money donated to it to social service projects that help educate tribal communities in southern Gujarat, promote literacy, and promote the health of the local population. Many of these projects are in areas where several Christian missionary groups are very active. For those who have wanted to support projects that help the needy, incurring little or no overhead costs, and that serve to strengthen Indian identity, IDRF has been the primary venue for channeling charitable funds.
Prominent Indian Muslims are affiliated with IDRF projects. For example, former Indian ambassador to the United States, Dr. Abid Hussain, serves on the Board of Trustees of Ekal Vidyalaya, one of the recipients of IDRF funds. The IDRF, through The Meghani Foundation, supports Shri Sarvodaya Saraswati Mandir (SSSM), an educational non-profit organization that operates 16 secondary schools, 4 higher secondary schools, and a Primary Teachers' Training College in remote villages of South Gujarat. More than 400 students and 40 staff members reside on campus at Babapur. The President of India, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, visited the Sri Sarvodaya Saraswati Mandir (SSSM) in Babapur in May 2002, and remains a strong supporter of this project. This institution is run by Gandhians who are dedicated to bringing awareness and empowerment to India's tribal youth, based on the Gandhian ideals of self-reliance, harmonious living, and acceptance of all people regardless of race, caste, creed, or religion.
Another project supported by IDRF through The Meghani Foundation is the Gram Seva Sabha (GSS), in the Valsad district of South Gujarat - an economically backward region with a large tribal population. The GSS seeks to improve socio-economic conditions, provide healthcare to tribals, and spread literacy. Among their many educational activities is a tribal girls' hostel in the village of Bilpudi. This facility serves an important need as the literacy rate and education level among tribal women is much lower than for men. This project is supported by Gafur Bilakhia, founder and past president of one of India's leading paint manufacturers, a prominent leader of the Muslim community in the area, and a respected Gandhian freedom fighter.
The Meghani Foundation, through IDRF, also funded the Computer Training Center at Nandigram Ashram, in Nandigram, Gujarat. The Meghani Foundation, IDRF, and the Nandigram Ashram believe that training in computers and in the use of the Internet opens up a host of educational and career opportunities for marginalized communities.
The current attack against IDRF is really part of a much larger, anti-Hindu, and politically motivated campaign against a stronger and more progressive Hindu identity. The self-assertion by Hindus has by and large been a peaceful process. Occasional retaliatory violence by Hindus such as that which occurred last year in Gujarat cannot be justified and has rightfully been condemned by most Hindus. Yet, in order to solve India's sectarian problems, Hindu grievances must be addressed.
Those who are opposed to Hindu rights or Hindu organizations can take their fight to India's judicial system and the various governmental commissions dealing with human rights and minorities, and engage India's political process. However, their use of extralegal methods to promote their ideology and fight against Hindu rights shows their contempt for Indian democracy, Indian institutions of freedom and justice, and most of all, for Indians themselves.
Worst of all, their reckless behavior smears the image of India, Indian-Americans, and Hindu-Americans at a time when the community is more vulnerable to racism. After 9/11, Indians have been victims of hate crimes, a Hindu temple in Canada was burned down, and recently three Hindu temples in the U.S.A were attacked. Additionally, their hate campaign has stifled the flow of money to all Indian charities, because of the decrease in corporate matching donations, without stemming the flow of money to Christian evangelical or Muslim organizations operating in India.
Unfortunately, the enemies of Indian-Americans today are Indian-Americans themselves.