Author: Yvette C. Rosser
well-orchestrated and meticulously fabricated hate tirade against a
relatively small philanthropic organization, the Indian Development
and Relief Fund (IDRF), began unfolding during the summer of 2002.
The contrived attack was guided through the media pipeline
for several months. This
ideological 'lathi charge' against the IDRF, replete with charges of
fascism, exclusivism, racist nationalism, and murderous pogroms
against defenseless minorities was electronically disseminated
through pre-existing academic and media networks.
The anti-IDRF onslaught was an ideological machination
orchestrated by people with well-known political associations -- yet
the gullible American public lapped it up.
Ironically, journalists and academicians, who have tried to
teach the rest of us to look deeper for the source of controversial
information, unquestioningly parroted the conclusions of a
"report" that makes broad assumptions and draws
conclusions based on categories that are not substantiated with
field work or grassroots examples.
same lapses in research highlight the discontinuity between the
everyday realities of Hindus both in India and in Diaspora versus
the harsh responses by India specialists in U.S. Departments of
South Asian Studies who collectively condemned the IDRF based on
Sabrang Communication's negative categories.
"Funding Hate" was a research document disseminated
by organizations which have publicly avowed that their social and
political agenda is to discredit and destroy what is known variously
as Hindu resurgence and Indian nationalism.
Even so, their report was seen as objective and their
categories accepted as valid.
Over two hundred and
eighty "South Asianists" and professors of Hinduism/Indological/Indian
Studies eagerly signed the dubiously documented on-line petition.
These scholars never questioned that the source of the
report, with its sensationalist conclusions and endless sound bites
about anti-minority pogroms and Hindu fascism, was the brainchild of
several avowedly political organizations.
These organizations make no bones about their inherent
ideological bias. Sabrang,
FOIL, SACW, SAHMAT, et al promote themselves as activists -- they
are overtly political. Yet
their research was accepted as neutral.
Sabrang sponsored study of the funding recipients of the IDRF
created circuitous arbitrary categories about various educational
programs without substantiating them through investigations into the
ground realities -- no interviews with school children, no site
visits to schools implicated in their report as examples of ultimate
without providing any concrete cases studies, and relying on
platitudes sensationalizing their pre-stated views of Hindutva's
dangerous atavistic medieval agenda, the compilers of the
"Funding Hate" report proceeded to employ these
atrociously derived negative definitions of Hinduism as mutually
assumed givens. The
research team that Sabrang sent to Gujarat after the riots was
comprised of scholars and activists whose conclusions were
predisposed by their benefactors.
the trained intellectuals who en masse signed the petition seemed
oblivious to the fact that this "Saffron dollars" crusade
was a well-financed political exercise.
The petition these scholars autographed, from the point of
view of millions of needy Indians in India and thousands of
concerned Indians living in the West, was a misguided, misinformed
disinformation campaign orchestrated by proactive organizations with
an anti-Hindu political bias.
is no doubt concerning the political affiliation of Sabrang
Publications or the other groups who helped coordinate the release
of the "91 page report": FOIL, SAHMAT, FIACONA, SACW --
acronyms that all have clear political agendas and connections.
The sponsorship of this anti-IDRF campaign was not hidden
from the purview of those who signed on.
Contrary to the laws of data collection and interpretation,
the obvious bias of the researchers who compiled and categorized the
documents was not considered.
prejudicially preconditioned collective of activist organizations
concocted a biased hyperbolic soup to poison the IDRF charitable
fund simply because they could point out, by citing materials
provided by the IDRF itself, that the IDRF was run by Hindu
philanthropists in the USA helping (primarily) Hindu self-help
organizations in India. There
was no other reason for the concentrated attack.
accusations against the IDRF were exclusively based on the
assumption that Hindus helping Hindus is potentially dangerous and
inherently evil. FOIL
members, NRI leftist activists such as Biju Mathew and Vijay Prashad,
who accused Mr. and Mrs. Prakash, the founders of IDRF of
"funding hate", should note that there are laws against
discrimination in the USA. It is illegal to target a group or
individuals because of race, gender, or religion.
That is considered a hate-crime.
The Sabrang/FOIL initiative was economic terrorism against a
particular group targeted specifically because of religion.
Aiming to destroy an institution, based on religious
affiliation, the Sabrang/FOIL/FIACONA/SACW cartel offensive was
based on half-truths and fabricated categories spread with
professional journalistic expertise.
This was a premeditated hate crime with Internet savvy.
November 2002 these two activist media organizations, Sabrang
Communications and SACW (South Asian Citizen Watch), electronically
released the "91 page investigative report".
The document was launched simultaneously by Biju Mathew, a
vocal member of the Federation of Indian Leftists (FOIL) at a media
event at SAHMAT, a publishing and activist center associated with
the CPI(M) (Communist Party of India-Marxist) in New Delhi.
FOIL is an organization of "desi leftists" based in
New York City.
to this, on June 10, 2002 the plot began to thicken and the much
touted anti-IDRF campaign boiled over when Teesta Setalvad, the
founding editor of Sabrang addressed a meeting of the “U.S.
Commission on International Religious Freedom” at a hearing titled
"Recent Communal Violence in Gujarat, India, and the U.S.
addressing the commission was Kamal Mitra Chenoy, a professor of
comparative politics at JNU’s School of International Studies, a
scholar whose work has been closely associated with SAHMAT and CPI(M),
and who had been part of the Sabrang-sponsored investigative team
that had been sent to Gujarat.
These two highly vocal anti-BJP/anti-Hinduness activists
warned the U.S. congressional committee that American dollars were
funding terrorism in India. At
the same time last summer, related articles began to appear in
journals and newspapers, notably an expose about Saffron dollars in Outlook,
followed by Angana Chatterji's parade of tirades about NRIs funding
Hindutva violence that was carried in several Pakistani dailies, and
capped by Vijay Prashad's rude diatribe that suburban Whites who
practice yoga are enabling pogroms against minorities in India.
askew view of IDRF, distorted by a lens slanted to the far left, was
energetically presented to American corporations and universities.
This international media blitz was created by a collective of
anti-BJP activists: Sabrang Publications (Mumbai publishers of the
anti-BJP magazine "Communalism Combat"); SAHMAT (a well
known activist organization in Delhi whose support comes from CPI(M)
[SAHMAT is an avowedly Communist/Marxist organization-- no criticism
intended… SAHMAT is proud of their political stance]; FOIL
(Federation of Indian Leftists) their mission is inherent in their
name; FIACONA (Federation of Indian American Christian Organisations
of Northern America) which supports Christian churches and causes in
India; and SACW (South Asian Citizens Watch, a media distribution
group based in France that disseminates only anti-BJP perspectives
and regularly carries inflammatory articles written by authors
associated with CPI/CPI(M)/SAHMAT, such as Praful Bidwai and K.N.
Saffron-baiting initiative was created and coordinated by groups
that are known to lean heavily to the far left and in particular, by
a group representing pro-missionary perspectives.
These organizations, sometimes called NGOs, have all come
together because of their shared anti-Hindu sentiments.
The far left political categories affixed to this consortium,
some might say cartel of activist organizations, are not labels or
classifications or predilections arbitrarily assigned, but these are
political identities which they publicly own.
Unfortunately, the manner in which their "report"
labeled the recipients of IDRF funds was far less concrete.
know the ideological orientation of the source of information is
essential in order to separate fact from propaganda.
In the case of the attack on the IDRF this basic
understanding of the media was ignored.
An exchange typical of this one-sided orientation towards the
topic occurred on a scholarly list-serve, H-ASIA an NEH funded
discussion e-group for scholars of Asian Studies.
On December 3, 2003 an announcement about the Sabrang
Publications report "Stop Funding Hate" was forwarded to
this very respected group of scholars specializing in Asia.
The announcement about the Sabrang Publications report in
which the dangers of saffron dollars had been supposedly
meticulously exposed informed the scholars that if they wanted
"to sign a petition to U.S. corporations to stop funding the
IDRF (a US-based 'charity' that funds Hindutva organizations
spreading sectarian hate and violence in India...)" they could
click on a URL to add their name.
announcement submitted by G. Cook was followed by several supportive
emails decrying the dangers of saffron dollars and accusing Hindus
associated with the Sangh Parivar to be worse than the worst
terrorists and the most vile of all twisted fundamentalists. Two
people wrote in to plead for a bit of objectivity and they were
roundly put down. The
tone of a few comments were rather shrill and venom-filled with a
tremendous amount of hatred directed towards the evil Sangh Parivar
and NRIs who support Hindutva.
These letters are publicly available at the H-ASIA web site:
of the H-ASIA members who asked for a more balanced approach stated
that, "The urls on both sides of the argument are now in the
public record." Unfortunately, in this case, merely the
suggestion of looking at both sides of the issue is tantamount to
advocating horrors worse than horrors and promoting fascism beyond
imagining. In another
more sane view of the world, fascists are the ones who do not ask
for both sides to be considered.
Though inconsistencies keep popping up in this debate about
the IDRF -- enough to have caused cognitive dissonance, there has
been an adamant refusal to check out both sides of the issue.
moderator of H-ASIA, who controls the discourse about India on the
discussion group, wrote that he had signed the petition to ban IDRF
-- based on the information provided by the Sabrang/ FOIL/ FIACONA
media initiative. His
stance on the issues is well known, but has he, or any of the
"280 + South Asian scholars" who signed the petition,
visited a school funded by the IDRF? Have they looked into the
activities of the women's upliftment efforts funded by the IDRF?
Have they gone to the village schools themselves to see what work is
being done? What are they teaching there? What are they learning? Is
all their information based on Sabrang's fact-finding missions?
scholars did not question the research paradigms or theoretical
assumptions of Sabrang and FOIL before signing their names.
Yet during even a cursory look, the authors of the anti-IDRF
campaign can be shown to be anything but non-biased.
Sabrang Communications is an activist organization that came
in to existence in 1993, with the stated mission of combating Hindu
Nationalism: Hindu activism in any form.
Recently, they were greatly assisted in their anti-IDRF
campaign by FOIL, who, true to their name are on a mission from
Marx, and FIACONA, that is on an implicit mission from God --Jesus
the objective of this consortium -- their Saffron dollars crusade --
is not objectivity, it is political activism at all costs: even at
the cost of a child's education or a woman's gynecological exam.
Unfortunately, the signatories on the Sabrang/FOIL petition
did not feel the need to do a little background research to see if
the accusations made by clearly politically positioned organizations
with self-affirmed activist perspectives were based on fact or just
conjecture. The IDRF
was implicated by assumptions inferred through biased categories.
Communications has been on a mission since its inception and they
have often allied themselves with colleagues professing particular
political and religious persuasions, such as the Federation of
Indian Leftists (FOIL) and the Federation of Indian American
Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA), also the CPI(M)
and SAHMAT. Part of
many high school Social Studies classes is the objective to teach
students to be media resilient, media savvy, by looking to the
source of information before making a judgment.
It seems that quite a few academicians of South Asian Studies
should go back and take a remedial course in how to evaluate the
sources of information/propaganda.
moderator of H-ASIA wrote that he was
"anxious that the generally laudable policy of some
American companies of matching charitable donations of their
employees has led to channeling support to an organization of
questionable merit…" He wondered how that concern could be
is where it is misplaced concern.
I reiterate several previous points:
and FOIL and their sponsors are biased.
They are openly and avowedly biased.
Sabrang Communications came into existence in 1993 with the
masthead, the mission to create an activist publishing/educational
network with the express purpose of combating the rise of Hindu
Revivalism. Sabrang was
created in the wake of the Babri Masjid and Bombay riots explicitly
to counter the rise of the Sangh Parivar.
This, Teesta Setalvad told me -- it is well known.
That is why they came in to existence: all of their efforts
are designed to counter Hindu Resurgence, Hindu Revivalism, Hindu
Pride, Hindu whatever. Later,
they began to also run stories about other kinds of extremism, but
Teesta Seltalvad has said numerous times that their main mission is
to discredit and destroy Hindu revivalism.
She has stated that minority fundamentalism and Islamic
extremism are less dangerous than the Hindu variety.
Several H-ASIA scholars also made the same kind of statements
about the threat from the “murderous”, “dangerous” Hindus.
September 11, 2001 "Communalism Combat" did publish
stories about Islamic fundamentalism, well-written attempts to
strike a balance when the topic was unavoidable.
They also are to be credited because they have carried
several stories in the past year about the on-going atrocities
against the Hindu minority in Bangladesh, a pogrom that has not
abated since October 2001 when the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)
returned to power on an Islamic fundamentalist coalition.
The petitions against the Bangladesh pogroms have not been
widely circulated and acted upon even though the Human Rights
Congress For Bangladesh Minorities (HRCBM) has been pleading for
help for over a year! I've personally tried to pass on several
petitions but was advised that academic forums were not the place
for such activism. Yet,
these same scholars who did not even want to hear about the
anti-Hindu pogroms in Bangladesh, signed on to the anti-Hindu
program co-sponsored by FOIL/SAHMAT /Sabrang and the usual CPI(M)
associated journalists and scholars.
am a longtime subscriber to "Communalism Combat," and it
seems that recently their finances have improved dramatically due to
publicly pursuing their "research" about IDRF with great
fanfare. Beginning last
spring, there came several months of announcements about the
dramatic findings they were uncovering regarding the source of
murderous saffron dollars. The
most recent issue of "Communalism Combat", which I
received in mid-January, is very glossy, the paper is of a higher
grade, and the cover is also heavier.
The magazine is quite a bit thicker.
From appearances, they seem to have received a substantial
infusion of funds from their high profile international efforts.
Their anti-IDRF work seems to have paid off.
Setalvad has openly admitted that Sabrang takes funds from the
Congress party as well as the CPI and CPI(M), and other
"secular" political organizations.
One of their biggest advertisers, with several full-page ads
per issue, is the government of the state of Madhya Pradesh
announcing the schemes and themes and snap shots of the state's
Congress Party chief minister, Digvijay Singh.
In fact, when I interviewed Ms. Setalvad in the summer of
1999, she informed me that they were suspending the Fall issue of
"Communalism Combat" so that the organization could raise
funds and direct all of their energy at bringing down the BJP in the
coming elections. They
spent lakhs of rupees on this unsuccessful advertising effort…
promoting Sonia Gandhi, etc. The
point is that their funds came from the CPI, CPI(M), Congress, et
al. Sabrang is not and
has never been nonpartisan.
a humorous break in this analysis, please note this quote from Mr.
Biju Mathew from the New York based Federation of Indian
Leftists (FOIL) web site: "Our bourgeois 'leaders' and their
friends in Washington need to get a wake-up call which blows their
eardrums: I think we can in our noisy, desi manner concoct something
suitable. Let FOIL be that noise!" [proXsa home page] and
concoct something, they did… tales of dreaded "Saffron
Dollars" and told with such noisy tamasha!
were the facts of the extravaganza? The Sabrang/FOIL combine with
the media savvy tentacles of SAHMAT, SACW, and SAJA (South Asian
Journalist Association) hit the IDRF broadside.
The IDRF, really a Ma and Pa fund-raising operation had not a
clue... whew! Broadsided!
and Mrs. Prakash had a commitment to zero percent overhead and a
penchant for locating existing NGOs with excellent track records for
successful programs and volunteerism.
Then, from out of the far left, and also, ironically, the
Christian right, they were sideswiped by the locomotive of media
savvy, politically driven preplanning.
The Sabrang/SAHMAT/FOIL/SACW/FIACONA/SAJA combine of acronyms
had selected their target last spring and laid out their plan during
the summer -- gearing up to smash Mr. and Mrs. Prakash's life's work
and defame and disgrace Hindus who had contributed their time and
money to further the IRDF educational and disaster relief programs.
Vinod Prakash, retired from the World Bank, and his wife Sarla were
auditing and overseeing small projects in India to help some young
girl go to law school, or provide a clinic in a remote area, or
health care for a sick baby, or an after school program for a group
of village children, or a woman's collective to gain economic
independence, or rebuilding the homes of earthquake victims…
squeezing each dollar. They
didn't have a PR firm, they kept costs down, and operated on very
minimal overhead. They
were do-gooders whot were really doing good things for individual
underprivileged human beings. They
are a Hindu couple and many of the people they helped were Hindus.
But up until it was decreed thusly by the Sabrang/FOIL/SACW/FIACONA
political correctness police, Hindus helping Hindus was not a crime.
Baptists help other Baptists.
Catholics help Catholics.
Muslims help Muslims. Why
is it when Hindus do what everyone else has been doing for
centuries, they are called fascist… but for the other religious
denominations, it is business as usual?
surprised me most was that the gullible 280 scholars who signed the
on-line petition had never heard about the IDRF.
Since its inception in the late 80's IDRF had developed a
well-respected reputation for efficiency, particularly noted in
their response to the Maharashtra earthquake in 1993.
That is when IDRF first made headlines and won awards.
The work they did was more efficient and the donated funds
were used to create a model town, really fast and solid.
I remember a joke at the time that the IDRF Maharastra relief
project was done better and faster because it was from the USA (NRI
dollars). Not my joke,
and I rather think it reflects a self-deprecating attitude, but the
point that it makes is the IDRF was a streamlined organization that
put the dollars donated to maximum use.
IDRF worked with NGOs where there were volunteers and didn't have to
deal with directors or bureaucrats who wanted a Maruti van with a
driver. The United Way
has a 40% overhead. IDRF
had next to none. Now,
I suppose they will have to put some of their funds into a PR firm
or some legal advice. Too
bad about the kids in India who needed those dollars that will now
be spent on overhead. I
suppose, in today's media driven world, having a charitable
organization that has zero percent overhead is unrealistic.
Thanks to the efforts of the Sabrang/SAHMAT/FOIL/FIACONA/SACW
media combine IDRF will help fewer women and children and spend more
on lobbying, legal fees, or some other stupid distraction from real
targeted by SAHMAT/FOIL/SACW/FIACONA/ SACW, et al IDRF had a
well-documented, blemish-free reputation for accountability, clear
auditing practices, transparency.
As mentioned, they gained notice particularly after their
response to the Maharashtra earthquake.
But look at the facts here: the amount of funds sent to India
through the IDRF in the last 12 years since they have been in
existence is only approximately $10 million dollars.
That is nothing. Think
about it -- a billion Indians, ten million dollars in 12 years-- a
drop in the proverbial development/disaster relief bucket.
much does the Jehovah Witness church send every year to India? And
what part of those funds went to the Orissan cyclone victims? What
about the Southern Baptists and the Roman Catholics?
How much do they send to support their schools and clinics in
remote places in India? Do those schools and clinics support the
traditional practices of the indigenous people? What about money
from the Gulf States? Is any of that sent to support madrassas
and mosques? The amount coming into India from non-Hindu sources,
secular and non-secular, is exponentially, hundreds of thousands of
times greater than the measly amount raised so diligently by Mr. and
Mrs. Prakash during the past twelve years.
only reason that they have been singled out is that they are Hindus.
Think about it. Where
is the petition to stop the funding of hate that is channeled
through the Southern Baptist missionary institutions? We've all read
those polemical and insulting tracts about Hindus worshipping Satan.
The level of one-sidedness is astonishing! And for pointing
that out scholars are tarred and feathered -- virtually, tainted
"Saffron-balled" for their efforts to point out that the
source just might influence the research.
Why that has to be pointed out is beyond me.
What happened to all that Critical Studies stuff they used to
teach? I guess it doesn't apply when a Hindu couple in Maryland is
diligently supporting little projects that just might help other
Hindus in India.
Sabrang/FOIL expose/research is really just a selective piecing
together and labeling of information taken directly from the IDRF
web site. The fact that
the IDRF has been so transparent made Sabrang/FOIL's research very
picked up names of schools and projects listed on the IDRF web site
and gave them pejorative labels and created a tamasha.
There were some big errors in their research that I found
during just a cursory read of the document.
For example they state that the Ekal Vidyalaya (One Teacher
Schools) were founded by the VHP.
That is impossible since the Ekal Vidyalayas have been in
existence since the early fifties and the VHP was formed in the
someone who has spent considerable time in India studying education,
I can testify to the incredible work that the Ekal Vidyalaya program
has done. Creating one
teacher primary schools in villages where there are no schools;
training the teacher from a bright young person from the village;
and expecting the village to participate and support the school by
promising to send their children daily.
Since the school is under a tree or a small structure in the
village and not five kilometers away in a town, the mothers are
willing to let their five and six year old children attend every
day. Additionally, when
teachers from the towns are sent to teach in village schools there
is a high level of absenteeism.
The Ekal Vidyalaya schools solved numerous problems and have
brought literacy to literally millions of India's children who
otherwise would not know how to read and write.
find it hard to believe that the 280 scholars of South Asian Studies
who signed the anti-IDRF petition, several of whom I've tipped a few
with, really want to stop funding a proven literacy program that is
well-organized and efficient? Certainly, that is why Mr. and Mrs.
Prakash picked out the Ekal Vidyalaya program as a recipient of IDRF
-- the single teacher schools had a track record of low overhead and
high success over several decades.
would advise my colleagues in American universities to visit one or
two Ekal Vidyalaya schools. I
am sure then they may wish to erase their signatures from the
petition. There are
Ekal Vidyalaya schools in Madhya Pradesh, Assam, and Gujarat.
I suggest that the South Asianist academics, who are
convinced that IDRF has funded hate, should go on a "fact
finding mission". I
can assert with confidence that they will love what they see and it
will be at odds with what they read in the Sabrang report.
But I suggest they bring their check books, because their
signature on a check would be a lot more effective than trying to
cut off funding to these small schools and social programs in remote
areas of India. The
ladies and gentlemen in the villages who teach in the Ekal Vidyalaya
schools are not teaching hate.
I wish that the signatories of the petition attempting to cut
off their funding would go see for themselves.
web site, www.stopfundinghate.org/sacw/ stated that
"IDRF has raised about 5.5 million dollars during the
past decade. Nearly 69
percent of IDRF’s funds go to organizations in adivasi (tribal)
and rural areas." It goes without saying that the amount sent
to evangelical organizations in India during the past decade is
hundreds of times that amount.
The Sabrang report goes on to say that of these funds,
"A large segment is allocated for educational projects of
Hinduization," which they claim will lead to "the
disintegration of adivasi (and other non Hindu) cultures through
their incorporation into Hindutva."
the authors and those who signed the petition think that the
adivasis have more in common with the Jehovah's Witnesses or some
kind of Tabernacle Church than with the Indic traditions? Notably,
the tribal peoples often worship Hanuman, and the Christians know
this because they commonly use anti-Hanuman literature and
strategies in their conversion campaigns.
Hanuman is by all standards, part of the Hindu tradition.
quote from Satyakam Joshi, who studied the Adivasis in the Dangs in
Gujarat, is important in this regard:
community solidarities are apparent also in the way the people
worship and celebrate festivals.
The people, whether kokna, bhil or varli, share a common
cosmology which incorporates local deities as well as Hindu gods and
goddesses…. There is a common belief that Ram and Sita passed
through the Dangs in their travels.
According to the bhil raja of Gadhvi: "Before there were
human beings, the Dangs was full of rakshashs (devils).
When Ram and Sita passed through the Dangs they killed all
rakshshas and gave birth to us.
Ram had created us. Ram
is our God." Even today when Dangis meet they use the greeting
'Ram-Ram'. It is
notable also that almost all villages have an image of Hanuman, the
disciple of Rama, and during festivals and religious ceremonies the
people worship and give offerings to this deity."
("Tribals, Missionaries and Sadhus: Understanding Violence in
the Dangs", Economic and
Political Weekly, September 11, 1999.)
Ekal Vidyalaya, the Sabrang/FOIL report also singled out the Vanvasi
Kalyan projects and the Vivekananda Kendra, which supposedly are
"communalizing the adivasis" and teaching them to
I visited India in December 2002, shortly after the
Sabrang/FOIL report was released at the SAHMAT office in Delhi by
FOILer Biju Mathew. I
went to the Vivekananda Kendra in Guwahati, Assam and looked into
the work they were doing among tribal "Janajati" peoples
in Nagaland and Assam. I
spent over a week visiting a few of the hostels and after school
programs that receive some sponsorship from the Vivekananda Kendra.
I didn't find any one who was espousing hatred.
found women volunteers who run an after-school tutoring program in a
tribal area three hours outside of Dimapur in Nagaland.
Their situation needs some explaining.
For over a century Christian groups have funneled millions of
dollars into that neighborhood.
Whenever and wherever twenty or thirty families or a small
village converts to Christianity they build a huge church.
On our three-hour drive from Dimapur we passed numerous
churches that were gargantuan white structures, especially when
contrasted to the low, thatched homes of the local residents.
The ladies who ran
the after-school program told me that eight years earlier, when
their children were small, they got together and formed an
after-school program "like the one that was offered at the
reason they formed this program was because they did not like it
that at the church their children were told repeatedly that their
traditions were superstitious and that their deities were devils.
So they got together and started their own after-school
program. Are they
fascists for wanting to preserve their traditions? Or is it that
community activists are coming together to resist a hegemonizing
force? One would wish that Sabrang that claims it stands for
"all colors, creeds, etc" could recognize fellow activists
striving to preserve their own hue in that multicultural rainbow.
Unfortunately, all that Sabrang can see is saffron.
I think it best not to rely on research about the beliefs of
Indian tribal peoples sponsored by Federation of Indian American
Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA).
the village I visited a few hours from Dimapur, there is a large
government school that goes through class X.
When school is over the children either go home or go to
tutoring. The ladies I
visited in Nagaland provided a place in their back yard, where their
children could go for tutoring and snacks and also some physical
education and learning songs and weaving.
The mothers of these non-Christian children, created a space
where they do not have to hear repeatedly that their religion is
evil and they should convert to Christianity.
There is a Shiva temple in the area where they go to worship,
which they told me has been repeatedly vandalized.
small neighborhood program had been going on for several years
before the Vivekananda Kendra began helping them pay for snacks and
built a small shelter. They
have also provided funds to help pay for trips to the doctor in
Dimapur if a child is ill. Now
the daughters of these two founding women are in class nine and ten
and they help tutor the little children after school.
They want to go to college in Dimapur to become teachers.
If the IDRF funds find their way to this precious little
self-help group, is that communalism? How does helping these village
women take charge of their lives and their children's lives promote
fascism? It is certainly not what Sabrang called
children at the after school program sang me a song.
I understood parts and asked for a more detailed translation.
It sounded a whole lot like "America the Beautiful"
in an Indian context. If
this is patriotic or nationalistic does that make it evil? It
certainly is the opposite of what Sabrang called divisive politics.
"We are all brothers and sisters from sea to shining
sea…." Cute song… no fascism here, either.
many of the programs that received funds from the IDRF, and were
listed in Sabrang's report, were also funded by CRY, ASHA, ActionAID
and other NGOs that continue to be favored by Sabrang.
Sadly, many of these NGOs have participated in the media
campaign against Dr. and Mrs. Vinod Prakash, hoping, I suppose, to
cash in on their bad fortunes.
IDRF also funded projects of the Ramakrishna Mission (who are
still not sure whether they are Hindu or not, though the recent
Supreme Court opinion is that they are), that were cosponsored by
UNESCO; also a project by Aparna cosponsored by WHO.
informed about the work of IDRF, it makes one wonder at the utterly
selfish political motives and mean spirited tactics of the
Sabrang/FOIL anti-IDRF media initiative.
Check out the URL below if you want to know the level or
organization pull behind the media frenzy against Dr. and Mrs. Vinod
Prakash by FIACONA: http://www.emalayalee.com/503news.htm
Read the article "Christian
bodies in the US want RSS funds issue probed.”
investigating the grassroots recipients of IDRF dollars, I also
visited a Dimasi village a few hours outside of Dimapur in Nagaland.
It is one of the few non-Christian villages in that
neighborhood. Last year
they received some funds from the Vivekananda Kendra to help
transliterate their ancestral prayers.
Vivekananda Kendras are one of the IDRF recipients.
I asked the Dimasis if the Vivekananda Kendra asked them to
cry out "Bolo Ram" and urged them to give up their
indigenous tradition and embrace Hinduism thereby leading to what
Sabrang called the "disintegration" of Adivasi culture.
The Dimasi gentleman laughed and said that the Kendra had
helped them to preserve their indigenous prayers, and they believed
in Shiva Rai. Last year
they tape recorded the prayers of the old men of the Dimasi tribes
and transcribed them, using Roman script, and made the prayer books
available to all of the Dimasi villages.
elderly mother said, with words that shook me, "Over a hundred
years ago the Americans came with the Kala Kitab (black book) and
told us our Gods were Satans. Now
we are hearing that Americans are coming back and telling us to
preserve our indigenous traditions".
The men and women of the Dimasi village informed me that in
the last few years since they have received help from the
Vivekananda Kendra, they have felt a feeling of renewed pride in
their own culture that was difficult to maintain when missionaries
are always knocking on their door.
Importantly, the Dimasis received some funds to preserve an
ancient Dimasi monument in a park in Dimapur, a giant stone-carved
chess set associated with Bhima's wife from the Mahabharata, who was
from that tribe.
of the claims of the Sabrang initiative, the Dimasis are not being
coerced or disintegrated by the help they are receiving from the
Vivekananda Kendra, which may include some funds from the IDRF.
The Dimasi are lively yet serious people.
The village head told me that they were pushed into getting
more organized when in 1999 there were dozens of huge prayer
meetings in all the adjacent villages, revival meetings warning
people that Jesus was returning to earth on the new year.
Missionaries from different churches would go through the
villages on bicycles with bull-horns and tell people to come to the
prayer meeting and be saved… to leave their old evil ways behind
and be saved when the rapture comes on Dec. 31, 1999.
headmaster's daughter asked her father why they couldn't have a
prayer meeting, which got him to thinking and he contacted other
Dimasi leaders. The
next year they had a prayer meeting with several of the Dimasi
tribes, which included traditional dancing and singing.
They did this for two years and then they got some help in
printing up the Dimasi prayer booklets.
It doesn't take a media savvy genius to understand why
FIACONA (Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of
North America) would want to curtail such funds that support and
strengthen indigenous traditions.
They become less easy to convert.
had an eye-opening visit to Nagaland and Assam and hope to go back
one day. I met some
amazing people. I wish
those scholars and others who signed this anti-IDRF petition would
go there and see what kind of projects are being funded in the North
East of India. Very
inspiring… not communal, unless you think helping people retain
their indigenous traditions in the face of all kinds of globalizing
pressure is dangerous. I
think it is dangerous if we lose these tribal traditions and they
all become Jehovah's Witnesses or Southern Baptists.
It is a great boon to the religious diversity of the earth
that the Vivekananda Kendra is helping the Dimasi to preserve their
traditional prayers, lest they be lost for all generations.
Dimapur I also met a journalist who is a Naga, with a Christian
name. Though he is the
grandson of a Naga priest, his father converted to Southern Baptist
religion. Then, as a
young man, feeling dissatisfied with the Southern Baptist faith, he
converted to Roman Catholicism.
As a mature adult he still felt rootless, like he had no
culture. He looked
around and in his own words he "saw so many second and third
generation Christianized Naga youths disenfranchised from their
ancient traditions and turning to the narco-terrorist culture for
lack of roots and identity." So he went back to the villages
and tried to learn about the ancestral ways.
For several years he has been doing research on traditional
Naga religion. He is a
small town journalist and his trips into interior Nagaland are
self-financed, no connection with the IDRF.
is involved in a project to replant Banyan trees in Naga villages.
It was an ancient tradition that each Naga village had a
Banyan tree in the center with rocks at its base.
When a new village was established, a branch of a tree would
be planted. However,
through the last century, when a village was Christianized, the
missionaries told them to cut down the Banyan trees and throw the
stones in the river. This
movement by a group of Nagas, NOT FUNDED BY THE IDRF, to replant the
Banyan trees in some of the villages had been threatened with
violence from certain Christian groups.
fact, it is ironic, in India, a "secular country",
shopkeepers in Dimapur are “required” to display Christmas
lights... whether they
want to or not. There is a city ordinance that “suggests” that
lights be displayed, but the local student union and the constables
demand a bribe if businesses don't hang Christmas lights.
Dimapur is predominately Christian, but it was quite strange
to see gigantic Santa Clauses at each intersection with huge
Orwellian stomachs and tiny heads.
At night large electrified red stars dangled eerily from tall
bamboo poles above every other home.
inquiring about recipients of IDRF funds, I met a young woman from a
village in Arunachal Pradesh studying pre-law at a college in
Guwahati. She lives at
the Vivekananda Kendra. She
is a follower of the Donyipolo religion, and is determined to
preserve her indigenous faith.
She was not harming the beliefs of others because she was
proud of her ancestral religion… she was preserving diversity.
She was a petite, sweet, and sincere human.
Dimapur I also visited a Naga hostel run by followers of Rani
Gaidinliu who were working to preserve the Heraka traditions.
The students there were kind, considerate and full of hope
for today and promise for the future.
No one I met, not one program I investigated, not one person
who was involved in preserving indigenous traditions, helping school
children, or supporting young scholars, no one was preaching hate.
asked many of the people I met if the Vivekanada Kendra's funds had
strings attached. Were
they expected to leave their old ways behind and become "part
of the Hindu fold"? I was told each time that there is no
faiths have ancient connections with the Indian epics and countless
cultural overlaps. No
one complained that their culture was being diluted by Saffron.
They all were grateful that someone cared about the
preservation of their ancestral traditions. Sabrang's research was
way off the mark. In
the same EPW article
quoted above, which is not at all complementary to the Sangh
Parivar, the author states that, "It is important to note that,
in contrast to Christians, followers of these Hindu sects
[Swadhayay, Swaminarayan, etc.] continue to worship their
traditional gods and goddess and participate in community festivals
"Hinduization" of tribals is a concept created by Sabrang
that needs to be carefully unpacked.
The tribal peoples I met were relieved to have found some
support for their traditional ways while at the same time obtaining
access to health care and education.
Among the tribal peoples whom I met in the North East who
received funds from IDRF related charities, there was no pressure to
convert to a strict Vaishnava tradition.
Quite the opposite was happening, the people were supported
and encouraged to preserve their tribal deities and customs.
this whole tamasha about the IDRF may be beneficial as people look
more closely at the ground realities and the facts come out.
Hopefully, IDRF will be exonerated and rather like a banned
book everyone goes out to buy, perhaps the support for IDRF will
ultimately increase as a reaction to this ill-founded, well-funded
manipulation of facts and figures.
But in the meantime, it is painful to see the damage
inflicted by Sabrang/FOIL/SACW activists.
It is a misguided effort, to target funds intended to help
ordinary Hindus who otherwise have no support in their own
grassroots efforts to educate their children and preserve their