The nuances of persecution

(Your Take, India Abroad, April 18th, 2003, by Sugrutha Ramaswami and Chitra Raman) original

Picking on a charity like IDRF appears to be a process of dissemination of hate towards anything remotely connected with Hindu Organizations.

A brilliant and provocative work by Aaron Lynch titled “Thought Contagion: How Belief Spreads through Society, ” published in 1996, introduced the science of memetics to the lay person. Memetics is the study of how ideas are propagated. To quote from the book, “Like a software virus in a computer or a real virus in a community, thought contagions proliferate by effectively programming their own retransmission…the science of memes …asks not how people accumulate ideas but how ideas accumulate people.”

Few recent events provide a textbook illustration of memetics in action as lucidly as “The Campaign to Stop Funding Hate” spearheaded by Sabrang Communications and the Forum of Indian Leftists. The release of their report “The Foreign Exchange of Hate …” (FEH) was followed by some of the most extensive media coverage to accompany what is essentially a voluminous work of speculation. 

The FEH report indicts the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) as a front for non-development related causes. Translated, their argument for this serious accusation reads: “Because we think so.” 

Revisiting a document published in late December last year titled “Brief Comment on IDRF Press Release,” by Dr. Vinay Lal, Associate Professor Department of History UCLA, we find him scoffing at the supposed inability of “IDRF’s defenders” to understand “elementary arguments, much less nuanced thinking.”

We must explain that our complaint is precisely that the FEH report is such a procession of “elementary arguments” as to be completely bereft of proof. As for nuanced thinking, we prefer to deal with facts rather than fables about monsters and bogeymen. Let us review some of those facts.

Any Indian citizen irrespective of religious or political affiliation has the right to engage in non-governmental development work in India. 

The IDRF distributes funds to charities registered and monitored by the Government of India (GOI). All non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receiving foreign funding need to be registered with the Ministry of Home Affairs (GOI) under the Foreign Contributions Regulations Act (FCRA). Ministry officials monitor both the receipt and application of such funds thereafter. 

Any accusation of misuse of funds by organizations must properly be accompanied by irrefutable proof that there is a clear discrepancy between the receipts and expenditure in the projects/organizations in question. Allegations should be unambiguously substantiated with data generated by comprehensive inspections carried out by impartial and respected developmental consultants. Without such proof, the anti-IDRF report amounts to little more than slander. No nuances there.

IDRF began operating at a time when a government led by the “secular” Congress Party was in power. The BJP, dubbed as a Hindu Nationalist party, came to power 10 years after IDRF began its funding operations. IDRF has been funding many of the NGOs that it has recently been 'accused' of funding, right since its inception in the late 1980s. 

IDRF has never tried to hide from its donors the fact that some of the funded NGOs were affiliated with Hindu organizations. So there is no case for what are called gullible donors, and not one donor has come forward to claim that he or she has been misled by IDRF. 

The selected NGOs had a good track record of achieving developmental goals with minimum overheads, and the IDRF was happy to fund them for these reasons. Many of these organizations, for example, the Ekal Vidyalayas, are lauded by people totally unrelated to the Sponsors or their ideologies. The schools run by these organizations implement the syllabi of government schools, training students for jobs in the public and private sectors or higher (University) education. 

In view of the above, picking on a charity like IDRF appears to be a process of dissemination of hate towards anything remotely connected with Hindu organizations. Hence our use of the label 'Hate Attack' to describe Sabrang/FOIL’s anti-IDRF report, which trivializes significant developmental work for the larger objective of ideological warfare. 

Following the detailed rebuttal to the FEH report by Friends of India (FoI), Dr. Lal and others expressed their ire over FoI authors’ references to their ideological leanings. They isolated and played up that particular segment as “red-baiting” while ignoring the main substance of our rebuttal. How interesting that a party working tirelessly to pin unfounded allegations of mendacity upon a humanitarian organization should be so piqued by others who label them! 

The fact that Sabrang/FOIL’s edifice of conjecture was sanctified by endorsement from many respected faculty members causes a different species of concern. To quote Dr. Lal, these eminent scholars "have devoted years of study to communalism and to the organizational structures of Hindutva" and "are also charged with educating students in this country about the history, politics, and culture of South Asia." 

We respectfully submit that we do not doubt their years of study. We simply doubt that they studied the anti-IDRF report with the same degree of meticulousness. If it were otherwise, we might be alarmed to contemplate their potential influence on students. After all, many faculty members impart perspective on a philosophy and culture that they relate to only as observers.
As such, they must step back and objectively assess, at every turn, whether they have unwittingly served as passive hosts to memetic propagation. 

All thinking persons must reflect on why an established charity like IDRF is accused of funding ‘hate’ at this particular juncture; why its track record of humanitarian involvement is played down if not completely ignored by the opposition; and why its motives are assumed to be nefarious absent any impartial on-site evaluation of these projects and how the funds are put to use. 

They also should note that the first priority of the FEH writers was to get corporations to amputate matching funds, and not to suspend judgment until first hearing from IDRF. We doubt very much that the orphans, abandoned children and leprosy patients supported by IDRF funds would see this gesture as protecting them from hatred. 

By a strenuous feat of logic, Dr. Lal links the signatories of the pro-IDRF petition to those who voted for Mr. Narendra Modi in the Gujarat elections. The petitioners do not represent, as per his simplistic reductionism, our contention that “truth and justice lie on the side of those whose numbers are greater.” Rather, the petitioners represent the demand of the larger majority, specifically with respect to IDRF, to LET truth prevail and justice BE done. 

The authors of the anti-IDRF report claim that their opus took five years to put together. Given their energetic efforts to link IDRF to political events in the very recent past, their reliance upon IDRF’s own web site as a source of information, and the paucity of data that suggests original research, we believe otherwise. We note that the intense campaign against the IDRF started only after 9-11 when the U.S. government began worrying about Islamic charities being used as fronts by terrorist groups. It is not a coincidence that the anti-IDRF report writers suddenly woke up to this 14-year-old fund in the wake of the U.S. government's new anxieties, with the single objective of pushing their own agenda at what seemed to be an opportune moment.

Information technology professional Sugrutha Ramaswami and freelance writer Chitra Raman are among five co-authors of the recently released report “A Factual Response to the Hate Attack on IDRF” available at