Report by ‘Friends of India’ exonerates IDRF

(Voice of Asia, Houston, March 7, 2003.)

A group of independent scholars and professionals under the name of Friends of India (FOI) have released a report titled, “A Factual Response to the Hate Attack on the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF)” which seeks to restore the impeccable credentials of IDRF as charity of choice for Indian Americans and simultaneously expose the forces behind the attack on IDRF.

The report has been presented by Ramesh Rao, Narayanan Komerath, Beloo Mehra, Chitra Raman, Sugrutha Ramaswami, and Nagendra Rao (Project Director). The group, which describes itself as “Friends of India.”, has vehemently rejected the allegations against IDRF.

Our report is factual, the authors say. We present the true nature of IDRF. We also uncover the ideological leanings of the forces behind the campaign against IDRF.

The authors say they have found that the report titled “The Foreign Exchange of Hate” (FEH), by Sabrang Communications and the Forum of Indian Leftists presents no evidence that IDRF has done anything other than what it advertises. IDRF funds socio-economic development projects, and relief and rehabilitation work. These are specific projects with the scope and funding of each approved by the Government of India, and only after IDRF thoroughly evaluates each proposal. There is no evidence presented in the FEH report or elsewhere that the funding has been unaccounted for or misspent. The FOI has characterized the FEH report, which was accompanied by an orchestrated media campaign and a petition, as a blatant political attack on a low-profile organization with a history of helping those in desperate need. “We, the authors of this rebuttal, decided that we could not remain mute spectators to this mugging. This report is the result of our commitment to truth and justice and our collective social conscience.”

Following are the excerpts from the report:

“On November 20, 2002 a report was released in New Delhi accusing the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) of funding sectarian hate in India. It was simultaneously published by a number of Left/Marxist, Pan-Islamic, and Christian-Fundamentalist websites around the world. The IDRF is a volunteer charitable organization that raises money in the United States for development and relief projects as well as educational and social work in India.

The attack against the IDRF (“The Foreign Exchange of Hate: IDRF and the American Funding of Hindutva”) was compiled in a 91-page report, and published by Sabrang Communications & Publishing Pvt. Ltd., India, and The South Asia Citizens Web, France. Much of the report is simply a rehash of what the Forum of Indian Leftists1[8] (FOIL) has publicized over the past five years. FOIL has been targeting the IDRF primarily for what they claim are the following reasons:

  • “The IDRF has supported a variety of philanthropic and social work including many undertaken by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates.”
  • “The IDRF has volunteers and office-bearers affiliated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh and other overseas affiliates of the RSS.”
  • “The RSS and its affiliates are sectarian and hate organizations, and the IDRF, as an ‘affiliate’ of the RSS, is also involved in funding and spreading hate.”
  • That the IDRF violates the matching fund criteria of U.S. corporations that have provided matching grants to the IDRF.
  • The Sabrang/FOIL report is very explicit in its “single, simple conclusion”: the IDRF funds hate. The report’s author is Biju Mathew, founding member of FOIL, and an Associate Professor of Business at Rider University, New Jersey, and those who have collaborated with him on the project include Girish Agrawal, Angana Chatterji, Shalini Gera, Ali Mir, and S. Ravi Rajan.

    In this rebuttal to the Sabrang/FOIL report, we will show that the arguments and evidence presented by the Sabrang/FOIL authors do not pass the test of either reliability or validity. We will provide arguments and supporting evidence that debunk the interpretations and conclusions of the Sabrang/FOIL report. Throughout this rebuttal report we will provide several examples of false claims made by the Sabrang/FOIL writers and counteract them with evidence that shows what the IDRF has actually supported, and how the IDRF’s work reflects the true spirit of volunteerism and social outreach. From a close reading of the Sabrang/FOIL report we can surmise that the report is in the classic mold of political pamphleteering and propaganda, and should be treated as such.

    That the authors of the Sabrang/FOIL report don’t shy from stooping to devious, unethical, and almost criminal tactics can be seen from what they did when the IDRF supporters started a petition drive at the web site called LetIndiaDevelop.org. The web site address ended in the suffix “org.” To confuse petition signers, the Sabrang/FOIL group started another petition drive at the web site called LetIndiaDevelop.com - the suffix here being “com.” Because their original petition drive lost out in the popular vote, Sabrang/FOIL/FOSA attempted a cyber-flimflam. They thus plagiarized the Let India Develop campaign’s web address with a “com” extension instead of “org” to mislead people by redirecting them to their website. Public outrage convinced the Internet service provider to remove their “anonymous” registration and expose their identity to the world. This shows the extent to which these groups are willing to manipulate truth.

    Here a further comment on the relationship between the RSS and IDRF is in order: the IDRF was started by Dr. Vinod Prakash, who grew up attending RSS shakhas, and was inspired by the Sangh philosophy and so has an ideological kinship with the RSS. He has never denied it, and in fact he has explicitly acknowledged this in a recent press conference. Many of IDRF’s volunteers have been inspired by the RSS philosophy of serving India, but not all of IDRF’s volunteers and office-bearers have that affiliation. The IDRF does not have any legal or formal relationship with the RSS or the RSS’ American or Indian affiliates. The RSS does not direct how IDRF should commit its funds nor does it speak for IDRF. The IDRF, in turn, does not represent nor speak for the RSS or any of its affiliates. IDRF is an independent, legal, registered, non-profit organization in the U.S. It has its own board of directors.

    Here a further comment on the relationship between the RSS and IDRF is in order: the IDRF was started by Dr. Vinod Prakash, who grew up attending RSS shakhas, and was inspired by the Sangh philosophy and so has an ideological kinship with the RSS. He has never denied it, and in fact he has explicitly acknowledged this in a recent press conference.

    Many of IDRF’s volunteers have been inspired by the RSS philosophy of serving India, but not all of IDRF’s volunteers and office-bearers have that affiliation. The IDRF does not have any legal or formal relationship with the RSS or the RSS’ American or Indian affiliates. The RSS does not direct how IDRF should commit its funds nor does it speak for IDRF. The IDRF, in turn, does not represent nor speak for the RSS or any of its affiliates. IDRF is an independent, legal, registered, non-profit organization in the U.S. It has its own board of directors.

    IDRF’s work reflects the organization’s interest in the interaction and convergence of development and relief work, particularly in relation to the needs and welfare of the poor. As such, IDRF has a broad focus and does not restrict its activities to any particular set of projects. However, the projects with which IDRF is involved will always reflect IDRF’s pledge to:

  • Create self help, rather than “welfare dependence”
  • Serve economically and socially disadvantaged people irrespective of caste, sect, region or religion
  • Operate, manage and monitor project activities without any overhead costs
  • Typically IDRF projects range from building schools for needy children, orphanages and rehabilitation centers for disaster victims, to urban slums and tribal area development schemes. The project areas may be quite diverse, but all address relevant social and economic issues.“