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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IV. VOLUNTEERISM AT ITS BEST

The IDRF is administered by volunteers and has little to no overhead cost.  IDRF volunteers meet out-of-pocket expenses and visit NGOs at their own expense.  They also generate income for IDRF by organizing cultural events, operating food stalls at fairs, and distributing grocery scrips and calendars.  Thus, IDRF disburses close to 100 percent of contributor donations and does so directly to the beneficiary NGOs.  Not many welfare and charity organizations including the Red Cross, CARE, American India Foundation, etc. can say this about their fund-raising and disbursement[30]. IDRF volunteers spend money from their own pockets for travel, stationery, telephone calls, etc.  According to objective third party charity rating agencies, IDRF gets an “A” for the funding to expenses ratio.  In fact, it may be one of the unique organizations where there are almost no overhead expenses. 

The word “affiliate” has been used loosely by many, including by one of the authors of this report[31].  That should not be taken to mean that indeed the IDRF or its volunteers are the employees or handmaidens of the RSS. 

Now let us compare IDRF’s record to that of Biju Mathew.  The chief author of the Sabrang/FOIL report is the Vice-President of an organization named SINGH Foundation[32].  SINGH—a convoluted acronym  -- stands for “Secular India’s National Growth and Harmony.”  The records show that of $125,800 collected by SINGH in five years, the program expenses were less than 50% of total expenses[33]!  Over $39,000 was used to fund travel for an organization that is devoted to supporting grassroots efforts in India “to promote civil liberties, secularism, communal harmony, women’s issues, and uplifting of the poor.[34]  For the year ending 12/31/2001, the SINGH Foundation reported $27,653 as its revenue.  Out of this, total operating and administrative expenses were $13,237, of which travel, conferences and meetings were $8,703.  Contributions, grants, and gifts paid totaled $12,254.  In other words, their program-funding ratio ($12,254/25,491) is less than 50%, which will get an F rating from charity rating organizations!  

A. Volunteers’ Backgrounds

The Sabrang/FOIL report claims that,    

“From documents submitted to the US Federal government in 1989 as part of its application for tax exempt status, it is clear that from its very moment of inception, IDRF’s goal was clearly to support the Sangh in India.  That IDRF supports Sangh organizations in India is thus not a matter of accident but is instead the very purpose for its existence. 

Since its inception, IDRF’s links with Sangh organizations in India have grown dramatically.  Of the organizations in India that it lists as “sister organizations”, an overwhelming number are clearly part of the Sangh’s family of organizations.  IDRF’s leadership in the US has well-established links with the Hindutva movement both in India and the US.  Officials of IDRF in India are also openly part of the Sangh. 

Hindutva organizations in the US do extensive publicity and fundraising for the IDRF.  They openly acknowledge IDRF as a part of the Sangh.”

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

Do the IDRF volunteers and office-bearers talk to members of the RSS affiliates in India and the U.S.?  Perhaps.  Let us not forget that the RSS is supposedly one of the largest NGOs in the world, and the VHP is active in delivering a wide range of social, educational, and relief services in India.  But does the RSS itself or its affiliates, or the VHP influence how monies are raised, and to whom it is allocated by the IDRF?  To this the answer is a resolute and unconditional “NO” according to the IDRF.

Consider for example that the Ford, Rockefeller and Pew Foundations talk to various community and religious organizations providing charitable and social services.  They maintain an active dialog as a matter of fact.  This does not make their funding commitment decisions “religious” or “sectarian.”  Many groups like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army give money to Catholic charities.  That does not mean these groups support child molestation simply because of their association with the scandal-plagued church. 

B. Administration of funds

IDRF has raised 10 million dollars during the past decade.  By raising $303,000 for the rehabilitation of victims of the 1993 earthquake in Latur, Maharashtra, IDRF was awarded the distinction of being America’s topmost voluntary NGO[35].  In the year 2001, IDRF disbursed $668,000 to 98 NGOs, mostly in India. 

Using the services of IDRF, one donor could fulfill his dream of establishing a high school in his native village.  Another non-resident Indian is supporting a tribal women self-empowerment training center in the memory of her father.  Five young couples have donated their wedding gifts to the IDRF.  Some families have contributed funds that enabled the IDRF to finance the purchase of 12 ambulances/medical vans.  Other donors have adopted a school, a village, or sponsored health, and eye care programs[36]. 

Below we present some detailed information about the IDRF’s policies and practices regarding fund-raising and fund-disbursement.  Please note that all this information is at the fingertips of anyone interested in learning more about the IDRF ( www.idrf.org).  However, the Sabrang /FOIL authors probably chose to deliberately disregard this information while defaming and maligning the image of IDRF, and perverting the information from the IDRF web site. 

An IDRF donor can choose to send money directly to a specific project instead of sending a general contribution to the IDRF.  The donor designated project or trust in India should be a registered non-profit organization in India.

To assure donors that their contributions will be properly used, IDRF attaches the utmost importance to the NGO’s accountability and integrity.  IDRF selects NGOs with a proven track record.  Dr. Vinod Prakash visits India almost every year and has personally observed the work on different projects in 14 states.  Since his retirement from the World Bank in 1988, he has volunteered virtually all his time for IDRF.  We note that IDRF’s US - India coordinator spends about six months a year in India visiting the project sites.  IDRF volunteers also visit those sites and submit reports. 

IDRF has also been receiving matching corporate gifts. 

IDRF offers donors a wide range of opportunities.  For example, donors may let IDRF choose the recipients or donors can designate a project of their choice, such as:

$10,000 – Van/ambulance for a Mobile Medical Clinic

$2,000 -- Save 10,000 Children from Blindness

$500 -- Adopt the family of a “Kargil Hero”[37]

$350 -- Adopt a One-Teacher School (The amount now sought for these single teacher schools is $500 instead of $350 per year)

$300 -- Adopt a Child at a Residential School

$100 -- Contribute to the Deendayal Kosh (for the unique Chitrakoot Project in Madhya Pradesh state).  This project, initiated by Nanaji Deshmukh, is actively supported by industrialists like Nusli Wadia and Keshubh Mahindra.

 

C. How Are Recipients Chosen?  Application Process, Vetting, and Selection of Recipients. 

IDRF has clear policies and procedures to ensure that its mission is being met.  Each NGO it works with must meet the following criteria: 

·        It must be registered as a charitable organization eligible for tax exemption under sections 80(G) and 12 A (a) of the Income Tax Act of 1961 of the Government of India, and provide IDRF with proof of such registration (its Section 80G ID). 

·        It must be non-discriminatory and must serve its population without regard to caste, sect, region, or religion. 

·        It must involve local people in order to support self-sufficiency and self-help rather than create an environment of welfare dependence. 

·        It must be volunteer-based, with minimal overhead, to ensure maximum benefit to the poor and needy.  

Cognizant of the potential for corruption in India[38], IDRF is vigilant in maintaining a high level of scrutiny to ensure that these standards are met.  In addition, IDRF volunteers have visited almost all of the NGOs that have received major funding from the IDRF.

The IDRF volunteers have been visiting India over the past 20 years and they identify the NGOs they deem ideal for receiving support.  Those NGOs identified as having dedicated workers and volunteers get first priority.  These NGOs work throughout rural and urban India: from Jammu and Kashmir (North) to Kerala and Tamil Nadu (South) and from Arunachal Pradesh (East) to Gujarat (West). 

D. Who Are the Recipients? 

 The IDRF-supported, grassroots NGOs focus on integrated human development, creation of self-empowerment, inculcation of responsible citizenry, promotion of social and economic harmony, and bringing the neglecteddowntrodden segments of society and persons with disabilities into the mainstream.  These Indian NGOs operate with a minuscule budget and serve people without consideration of caste, sect, or religion.    

1. Accomplishments and Awards

Many IDRF supported NGOs have received awards from national (Indian) and international institutions.  These awards symbolize the selfless work being done by these NGOs and their dedication to their chosen mission.  Below we list selected information about these accomplishments and awards.  For a more complete listing, see Appendix G.

·        Arpana Research and Charitable Trust has won international recognition for its contributions in the area of healthcare. In 1993, the Trust received the prestigious Sasakawa Health Prize from the World Health Organization (WHO).[39]. 

·        Ramakrishan Mission has won honorable mention in the prestigious UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Prize for Promotion of Tolerance and Non-violence category.  UNESCO’s communication sent to the Ramakrishna Mission states, “This honorary mention highlights UNESCO’s recognition of your continuous activities to make peace and happiness prevail among the people, regardless of their caste or religious beliefs”.  Earlier recipients of the honor include Gandhian worker Narayan Desai and South Africa’s Bishop Desmond Tutu[40]. 

      ·        Swami Vivekananda Medical Mission was awarded the 2001 Governors Community Service Award  
      for “Bringing Basic Amenities and Health Care to the Tribals in Kerala, India” by the American College of
      Chest Physicians[41]. 

      ·        The International Center for Cultural Studies (ICSS), Nagpur is a member of the Forum of Indian NGOs for
     Cooperation with UN (FINCUN) and working member of the Asia Pacific Center, Japan.  ICSS has conducted a joint
     conference with the School of Maori and Pacific Development, the University of Waikato, New Zealand
[42]. 

 

2. Support From Other Indian-American Charities

IDRF supported NGOs enjoy support from multiple non-profit organizations in addition to IDRF.  This support not only validates IDRF’s selection of these NGOs, but also adds to the importance of the work being done and the recognition they received in the form of grants from other US based Indo-American charities.  We have listed some IDRF supported NGOs and their supporting charities in (Appendix H).  Below, we provide some examples:

      ·        Jnana Prabodhini was funded by ASHA in 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000[43].  The same organization was also funded
      by AID in 1999
[44]. 

      ·        Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, Maharashtra, another NGO under attack by Sabrang/FOIL authors, was also funded by
      ASHA in 1997 and 1998
[45]. 

      ·        AID and ASHA have also funded Vanvasi Ashram Trust, Waynad, Kerala[46]. 

Since both these organizations – AID and ASHA – deemed “secular” by Sabrang/FOIL – are engaged in funding NGOs that provide non-sectarian, social welfare services, how is it possible that the simple fact of IDRF support to these NGOs would result in their being labeled as “Hindu” NGOs or NGOs engaged in “Hinduization”? 


[30] See http://www.guidestar.org for charity fund ratings.

[31] Ramesh N.  Rao (2002).  A Left-Right Upper Cut to the RSS,  Sulekha.com

[36] ibid. 

[37] Indian soldiers paid a heavy price in evicting Pakistani soldiers and terrorists from the icy heights of the Himalayas in the Kargil region of Jammu and Kashmir in 1999.  Hundreds of soldiers were killed, some tortured brutally by the Pakistanis, and many were badly wounded.  For a good summary of the Kargil war see J.  N.  Dixit’s “India-Pakistan in War and Peace”, (2002), New Delhi: Books Today. 

[38]Asian nations among world's most corrupt”, August 29, 2002, CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/asiapcf/east/08/29/corrupt.  index/“.At the other end of the scale, Bangladesh and Indonesia were joined by Vietnam, Pakistan, the Philippines and India as being considered highly corrupt”. 

[40] UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for Suu Kyi, The Hindu, October 06, 2002.  “The fourth Honourable Mention was given to the Ramakrishna Mission (India) ‘for its unrelenting efforts to promote the principles of tolerance and non-violence in assisting disadvantaged groups’”.

 

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