A Factual Response to the Hate Attack on the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF)
 © Friends of India and Authors of the Report
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APPENDIX K

 “Stop Funding Hate” Discussion On H-ASIA Group

Author: Yvette C. Rosser

Department of Curriculum and Instruction, The University of Texas at Austin

Date: January 2003

 

A 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. 

 

These 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. 

The 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 evil.  Nonetheless, 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.

 

Nonetheless, 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. 

 

There 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. 

 

This 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. 

 

The 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. 

 

In 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.

 

Prior 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. Response".  Also 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.

 

An 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. Panikkar.  This 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.

 

To 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.

 

The 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:

http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=lx&list=h-asia&user=&pw=&month=0212

 

One 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. 

 

The 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?

 

These 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 that is. 

 

Obviously, 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. 

 

Sabrang 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.

 

The 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 wrong.

 

Here is where it is misplaced concern.  I reiterate several previous points:

Sabrang 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.

 

After 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.

 

I 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.

 

Teesta 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.

 

For 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!

 

What 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!

 

Mr. 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. 

 

Meanwhile, 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?

 

What 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. 

 

The 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 relief work.

Until 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. 

 

How 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.

 

The 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.

 

The 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 easy.  Sabrang/FOIL 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 sixties.

 

As 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.

 

I 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. 

 

I 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.

 

The 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."

 

Do 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.

 

This quote from Satyakam Joshi, who studied the Adivasis in the Dangs in Gujarat, is important in this regard:

 

"Strong 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.)

 

Besides 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 "brutalize Muslims".  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.

 

I 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 church".  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).

In 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.

 

This 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 “deculturalization”.

 

The 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.

 

Ironically, 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. 

 

Once 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.”

 

While 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.

 

His 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.

 

Regardless 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. 

 

The 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.

 

I 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.

 

In 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. 

 

He 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.

 

In 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.

 

While 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. 

 

In 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. 

 

I 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 distinction.  Their 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 and celebrations."

 

The "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.

 

Ultimately, 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 indigenous traditions.

 

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