A Factual Response To The Hate Attack On IDRF

(Ramesh N. Rao, sulekha.com, March 11, 2003.)

http://www.sulekha.com/column.asp?cid=300824

(Full report available at: www.letindiadevelop.org/thereport)

On November 20, 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, was a blatant political attack on a low-profile organization with a respected history of helping those in desperate need. 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.

We find that the FEH report presents no evidence that IDRF has done anything other than what it advertises. It funds socio-economic development projects. These are specific projects with the scope and funding of each specifically approved by the Government of India per the laws set up under the Indian Constitution. Approval for foreign funding is specifically obtained for each project, and IDRF funds them after thorough evaluation of their proposals. There is no evidence presented in the FEH report or elsewhere that the funding has been unaccounted or misspent.

We find a total of two “accusations” against IDRF in the FEH report. The first is that some people connected to the head of a local Vanavasi Kalyan Parishad (VKP) were reported seen near a place of rioting in Gujarat last year, and that the VKP is mentioned on the IDRF web page. Upon investigation, we found 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, Dr. Vinod Prakash, was seen on stage with a BJP Minister at a function to inaugurate some new IDRF-funded project. 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.

The rest of the FEH report's 91-plus pages are filled with innuendo, circular arguments and outright falsehoods. We present, analyze, and rebut them.

We confirm IDRF's statement that IDRF is an independent, non-political, non-sectarian organization duly registered in the United States of America. IDRF is not a “funding front” for anyone. IDRF makes all the information connected to its fund raising, allocation of funds, and its affiliations public. IDRF is fully and duly audited and is in good standing with the Internal Revenue Service. IDRF volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds, and their political and social affiliations are their own business in a democratic society. They are not members of any banned organizations, either in the United States, in India, or elsewhere. The founder of IDRF is inspired by the RSS ideals of equality, justice, selfless service, tolerance and acceptance of diversity, non-exclusivity in religious belief, and a developed and strong India.

We find the notion quite absurd that the “Sangh Parivar”, a term which the FEH uses to denote anyone associated with the democratically elected government of India, and the RSS, should ever need any “front” to do their work. They are all perfectly legitimate organizations and have no need to resort to subterfuge to raise funds. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a national political party that now heads a coalition government in India, the world's largest democracy. The RSS is a well-known socio-cultural organization that is present throughout the length and breadth of India -- and has existed for some 60 years longer than the IDRF. The highest levels of the Government of India, under BJP-led rule, continue to have non-Hindu leadership. Chief among them are President, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (a Muslim) and Defense Minister, George Fernandes (a Christian). Additionally, the BJP General Secretary and Spokesperson, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, is a Muslim.

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. These are not political or religious pressure tactics -- these are simple, efficient, caring efforts performed by people who believe that the best form of service is service to fellow human beings. It is only in this that the IDRF is associated with any organization. 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 non-discriminatory 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 leprosy patients, and gives slum-dwellers a chance to become successful 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 hate-mongering 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.” See Chapter V as well as Appendix K for a thorough rebuttal to the accusation of “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 a minuscule part of the total funds repatriated to India by the Indian Diaspora. From these ten million dollars over a period of thirteen years, even 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.

Appendix B provides detailed analysis of the FEH authors' methodology (or lack thereof). Considering the five-year gestation of the FEH report, Dr. Mehra's analysis shows that the end product betrays a profound lack of attention to standard social sciences methodology -- and gross contempt for their readers' intelligence and sense of fairness. Their profound anti-Hindu bias is not surprising since the author(s) have been either members or supporters of the Communist Party of India.

Searching for the “Hate”

In Chapter III of our rebuttal, we invite the reader to take a close look at the beneficiaries and development partners of IDRF. We offer an in-depth portrait of their activities stripped of the alarmist hysteria. We contrast this reality with Sabrang's ludicrous contortions as they attempt to “indict” these excellent organizations. Appendix G of our rebuttal details numerous national and international awards won by IDRF–supported Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Appendix H demonstrates that IDRF-funded NGOs also receive funding from other US-based Indo-American charities such as ASHA and AID which pride themselves on “secular purity”, leading to the easy dismissal of the allegation that these NGOs engage in “Hinduization.” Besides, the term “Hinduization” is an absurdity, since indigenous tribal religions are part and parcel of the Hindu ethos.

False Stereotypes To Push Guilt By Association

The first chapter of our rebuttal establishes the fundamental premises that underlie the claims made by the anti-IDRF report of Sabrang/FOIL. These premises are based on two major presumptions.

The first presumption involves caricaturing organizations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as promoters of sectarian violence. The RSS stands for the unity of all Indians, does not promote violence, and has always condemned religious and ethnic violence in India. We could, with much less need for imagination, have pointed out the association of FOIL's own parent organization in India -- the Communist Party, with the communist and Marxist record worldwide of over sixty-five million murders, forced labor, and forced indoctrination, and its continuing endorsement of anarchy and terrorism, especially in India.

The second presumption describes “Hindutva” as a Hindu supremacist ideology, basing their definition on proclamations by anti-Hindu zealots. Residents of democratic nations ought to recognize that the granting of free speech does not automatically translate into thought control by the speaker. India remains a nation governed by laws -- the Supreme Court of India has unanimously decided on the definition of Hindutva:

“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.”

This is far from the blatant Sabrang/FOIL falsehood that Hindutva represents fundamentalist Hinduism.

Exposing the Attackers

Our team came together with the sole objective of replacing conjecture with facts. We are not in the business of initiating witch-hunts. However, in the course of our work, we could not avoid certain facts that hit us in the face. To summarize: the visceral antipathy of the FEH report and subsequent anti-IDRF media blizzard, FEH's single-minded focus on obstructing the generosity of corporate matching funds, the authors' selective application of moral standards, and their discriminatory data gathering and reporting methods beg the question: Who are these people? And what do they really want?

Appendix M answers these by exposing the facts about the FEH authors and their sponsors, in the context of their own “Frequently Asked Questions” website.

Presenting The Empirical Evidence

Chapters IV and V of our report take an inventory of the scope of work funded by the IDRF, its administration and disbursement of funds, and its unique 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 dedicated 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.

As for donors, any doubts that they are a gullible group susceptible to being “duped” into funding IDRF is laid to rest by Appendix N. This is a column by Harsh Verma published earlier this year in the Indian Internet magazine Sulekha. The article reflects the vibrant debate sparked by the anti-IDRF report in the online community IndDiaspora, of which Verma is the founder.

Yvette Rosser, a research scholar at the University of Texas at Austin, is among a small minority attempting to sound the steady metronome of reason to fellow academicians. Through numerous emails, based on her own personal experience of visiting India, she appealed to members of H-Asia, an e-group for Asia scholars, for objectivity and dispassionate consideration of all the facts. Appendix K uses this “discussion” to illustrate the nature of the “scholarly” field of “South Asia (Religious) Studies” which regrettably appears to have turned into a closed-minded camp of baiters of traditional Hinduism.

We offer this report as a measured response to the campaign of calumny undertaken by Sabrang/FOIL. We offer verifiable facts. We unequivocally establish IDRF's record of accomplishment as a transparent aid agency providing critical succor. Our report also provides a lens through which to gauge the motives and methods of Sabrang Communications and the Forum of Indian Leftists. This combine has 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.”

We thank you, the reader, for your patience and your sense of fairness.

Narayanan Komerath
Beloo Mehra
Chitra Raman
Sugrutha Ramaswami
Nagendra Rao
Ramesh Rao