Community leaders renew support to IDRF

(India Herald, Houston, TX, Dec 13, 2002.)

The recent attack on the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) by a secularist group has caused little impact among the local IDRF supporters.

A report by Biju Mathew under the banner The Campaign to Stop Funding Hate alleged that the IDRF is connected to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh and hence, instrumental in spreading communal hatred. Especially in Houston, the IDRF is seen as a relevant institution to bring relief to the poorer sections of India and it is not considered a front organization for Hindu groups, though many Hindu activists support the IDRF.

"I am happy to note that the IDRF is helping educate the most neglected segments of Indian society, namely the tribal children. No one cares for them since they are not a vote bank. I am glad at least one relief organization i.e. the IDRF cares for them. I have been pleased and satisfied with the process the IDRF uses to identify and work with various NGOs. The relief work done by IDRF and volunteers in Latur, Maharashtra and after Gujarat earthquake are exemplary. I will continue to support the relief and development efforts of the IDRF," says Kalpalatha K. Guntupalli, M.D., a noted Houstonian and past-president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, (AAPI).

"India Culture Center of Houston has a long history of cooperatively working with India Development & Relief Fund. Especially in times when India has suffered from earthquakes, cyclones and other calamities, ICC and IDRF have been able to raise the awareness of the Indo-Americans. I am glad to have been a supporter of IDRF in the past and will continue to support it and the good work that it does," says Lachhman Das, India Culture center president.

"IDRF and the Gujarati Samaj are working together since the Latur earthquake. IDRF has been a leading organization in helping Gujarat earthquake victims. Moreover Houstonians have adopted Jivapar village with IDRF support. IDRF has done a great job in India , especially in Gujarat, and we are glad to be able to support it and its work," says Vinod Patel, President of the Gujarati Samaj of Houston.

Durga Agrawal, prominent businessman and founding President of the Indo-American chamber of commerce of Houston says: "I have been supporting IDRF since 1993 Latur earthquake. I have been very pleased with their performance. They operate with little or no overhead. Money goes to charities intended. It is a shame that someone with political motive is trying to malign a fine service oriented organization run by volunteers. I have known the volunteers who work with the IDRF. Their integrity and desire to help the needy are unquestionable."

Local spokesman for IDRF, Vijay Pallod, says IDRF focuses on five key areas: education, healthcare, women, children and tribal welfare. IDRF supports India -based government approved NGOs with the donations. In addition to these development projects, IDRF also works actively for relief and rehabilitation efforts in the event of natural calamities such as the Orissa Cyclone in 1999, the Gujarat Earthquake in 2001, and national tragedies such as the Kargil War.

IDRF’s website provides annual reports where all disbursement details are given every year. Many of the donors actually visit the supported projects. The website also has many such reports.

A website with a petition has been established at www.letindiadevelop.org so that supporters of IDRF can register their support. However, hackers "stole" the website to block such show of support, Pallod says. In spite of this illegal and immoral activity, as of Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2002, www.letindiadevelop.org had 3200 signatures and an opposing website had only 1700 signatures, he says.

IDRF has never given any money to the RSS, Pallod says.

"The allegations that IDRF deceived the donors and that IDRF is a sectarian organization are false. We are sure the corporations will see the facts and IDRF will continue to be the charity of choice for Indian-Americans. Leftist organizations and people such as Biju Mathew who have not done anything constructive in the past are behind such controversies. Somehow the good work IDRF and our NGOs do in India must be affecting them badly. That is why these allegations," Pallod says.

"The so-called "incontrovertible evidence collected over years" by The Campaign to Stop Funding Hate is nowhere seen in its report. What we see there, are only insinuations and selective use of data posted by IDRF on its website, free-at-will labeling of any NGO as Sangh affiliated. Not a shred of evidence has been produced to show that NGOs used IDRF funds to spread hate or incite violence. The fact that the IDRF supported NGOs are continuing to operate legally for years under the watchful eyes of governments of different parties and that they have not been found guilty by any court, exposes the flimsy nature of evidence," he says.

"We feel we are caught between the crossfire between right wing and left wing politics that is going on in India. IDRF is singled out probably because we did not pay heed to the pressures of leftist groups to stop supporting the NGOs that they label as Hindu extremists. In the process, these forces are now conspiring to falsely label IDRF as a sectarian organization. IDRF does not shun projects by any organization that is engaged in selfless humanitarian service as long as the specific projects meet our mission and satisfy US laws. NGOs are approved by Government of India and they accept our monitoring," Pallod says.

"Biju Mathew is a leftist and is pushing a political agenda even if it goes against the poor and backward people of India. Indian American donor community is intelligent enough to understand that propagation of education, development and health care in the rural areas by IDRF supported NGOs, is hurting the evil designs of these people," he adds.

The so-called "affiliation" of a NGO with the Sangh is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for receiving an IDRF grant. However, IDRF’s association with or funding for any NGO is limited to specifically supported projects. Families of Hindu and non-Hindu soldiers who were martyrs of Kargil war were given help with no distinction being made. In Gujarat and Orissa, the families of victims belonging to minorities who were pulled out of the rubble were also certainly beneficiaries of IDRF-supported projects and relief work. Interestingly, the report writers have said that the tribal people are animists rather than Hindus. If this is so, why is the work for that population not considered by the report writers as work serving non-Hindu minorities?

Houston IDRF volunteers raised funds for flood victims in Houston last year. IDRF gave that money to be distributed by a Catholic charity. Many of the NGOs supported by IDRF have been receiving grants from state and federal Governments of India for years as well as from American charities like ASHA, AID, etc. If Matthew’s report is correct, these governments and these organizations would also have to be charged that they are funding hate! None of the NGOs IDRF supported so far has been banned by any government or has been found guilty of any crimes, Pallod says.

IDRF workers are completely focused on the motto "Service to Humanity is Service to God" and do not mix their diverse ideologies in IDRF work. As is evident from IDRF’s annual reports, IDRF works with many NGOs. IDRF monitors their projects by visiting them from time to time. Social interaction with the leaders of communities to seek a feedback of impact of our support is natural. This does not mean we share the ideologies of all the diverse NGOs that work with IDRF. Such conclusions are malicious in intent," Pallod says.

"We have several instances where the minority population has significantly benefited from IDRF’s funding. Recently a grant of Rs. 250,000 was given to United Volunteers Service Society whose founder and officers are Christians. The nonprofit, nonpolitical, nonreligious organization provides service for helpless destitute. It provides free accommodations, food, clothing, and medical care for genuinely deserving cases of very old destitute, regardless of religion, sex, caste, creed or nativity and provides training for younger helpless disabled persons," he says.