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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IX. SUMMING UP: CAN WE NEGOTIATE FROM CORNERS?

The attack against the IDRF is a rehash of much that the Forum of Indian Leftists (FOIL) has published over the past five years.  FOIL had been targeting IDRF simply because IDRF supports a variety of philanthropic and social work including many undertaken by the RSS and its affiliates.  The RSS has faced a hostile opposition from the days of its inception.  As the years have gone by the demonization of the Sangh organizations has become more and better organized.  Merely associating the IDRF with the RSS would therefore have the effect of making the IDRF itself an integral part of a “hate group.”

Once characterized in extreme terms, the IDRF or the RSS can perform a similar maneuver with the position of those demonizing it.  If the IDRF is labeled as sectarian or fundamentalist, it can label the Sabrang/FOIL report authors as “Marxist”, “pseudo-secular”, and “Leftists”.  This dynamic is labeled “drive each other into a corner” by the American rhetorician, Kenneth Burke[116]. 

“Being driven into a corner” is particularly problematic when the dispute pits the orthodox against an emergent position.  The authors of the Sabrang/FOIL report are closely identified with the Indian, “secular” orthodoxy.  That orthodoxy is now being challenged, and although the dialectical pressure drives both groups into corners, the orthodoxy, according to Burke “owns all the recognized avenues of approach[117]”. 

Pushing the RSS into a corner, the orthodoxy has sought to have the RSS banned.  The Sabrang/FOIL report claims that the IDRF is an RSS affiliate.  And it is only a ban on the IDRF that will satisfy the Sabrang/FOIL orthodoxy chafing at the success of IDRF.  

The release of the Sabrang/FOIL report, with the accompanying media attention, and petitions to U.S. corporations which contribute matching funds to employee designated charities has brought publicity to the authors of the Sabrang/FOIL report.  It has also brought a massive but largely under-reported reaction from those in the community who have knowledge of what the IDRF does. 

The authors of the Sabrang/FOIL report have been highlighting the fact that 275 or so well-known academics have signed their petition urging people to “stop funding hate”.  If only the academics had carefully read the Sabrang/FOIL report they would have noted many mischaracterizations, including the partial description of Ambassador Bhishma Agnihotri as “a well-known RSS ideologue and a HSS Sanghchalak (Supremo).”  He is also falsely identified as a founding member of the IDRF.  The report fails to inform readers that Bhishma Agnihotri was the Dean of the Southern University Law Center, and he is now the NRI ambassador appointed by the Government of India.  

In this light, some of us issued a press statement countering the Sabrang/FOIL report and labeling the campaign against IDRF a “hate movement.” In response, Vinay Lal, associate professor of History at UCLA argued that, “The fact that IDRF’s defenders would initiate a campaign called ‘Stop hatred and Let India Develop’ suggests that they are entirely incapable of understanding elementary arguments, much less nuanced thinking.  The authors of the report have nowhere suggested that they do not wish to see India develop; nor are they counseling hatred towards anyone… .”

Lal has not read the Sabrang/FOIL report in full.  He and his collaborators also expect that the IDRF should respond to their “report” which they claim took anywhere between five and ten years should be responded to in less than five weeks, as seen from the series of letter writing campaigns they have launched on Indian-American newspapers, and on their web site. 

The choice of language, blatant mischaracterizations, and reduction of RSS leaders and workers to cardboard and stick figures are all explicit indications of a hate campaign.  Any impartial reader would conclude that the authors of the Sabrang/FOIL report wished to accomplish one thing: demonize the IDRF by associating it with the RSS.  Demonizing someone does constitute a hate tactic.

Indian secularists, whose job seems to be opening other people’s cupboards, are described by Ashis Nandy, the well-known Indian social scientist as an emblem “of a person or group willing to accept two corollaries of the ideology of the Indian state: the assumption that those who do not speak the language of secularism are unfit for full citizenship, and the belief that those who speak it have the sole right to determine what true democratic principles, governance, and religious tolerance are”[118].  Similarly, an India Today editorial (December 30, 2002) remarks about the recent Gujarat elections: “Truly, this election was held in the backdrop of two riots, one bloody, the other pure sophistry.  In the latter, professional secularists and the conscience-keeping industry sought out the darkest entries from the glossary of hate to describe the crime of the Hindu – Holocaust, fascism, Hitler….  They rhapsodized the ghettos of victimhood, and, forever scavenging for a cause, they found a self-serving monster in Modi.  The election exposed their pretence.”

The authors of the Sabrang/FOIL report are members of that secular family, as are the 275 or so academics who have signed the Sabrang/FOIL petition.  It is time therefore that they do some introspection and repudiate the hate campaign launched against the IDRF.  If not, we will continue to push each other into corners.  From corners we can only lash out, not speak civilly. 

“The mom, pop, and some committed children” operation that the IDRF is, having raised and disbursed about ten million dollars in its thirteen years of operation, has attracted the ire and the destructive gaze of a combination of forces for the single, simple compulsion: to destroy or harm any effort that is connected with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its affiliates.  The Sabrang/FOIL report is just one of the latest in a long series of media and partisan political attacks on the RSS.  Biju Matthew and his co-conspirators wished to accomplish one thing: to show that the IDRF is closely connected to the RSS, so that they could then tar and feather the IDRF in the manner that they and others have tarred and feathered the RSS. 

The report has been cobbled together from Internet sources and information that is available to the public on the IDRF web site.  There is no “investigation” of the IDRF as Mathew claims but merely a “cut, paste, and defame” program to undermine the slow, steady, and impressive growth of the IDRF.  More and more Indians and Indian-Americans are becoming aware of the selfless and dedicated work of the IDRF volunteers, and the impact on the ground in India of their funding educational, relief, and development work.  Mathew and others want to put a spanner in the IDRF’s works, and that they have been able to achieve their target partially by targeting U.S. corporations that match their employee contributions to charity must be cause for hurt and anger to those who have supported the IDRF. 

However, we believe that a fair, impartial, and careful scrutiny of the IDRF and its loose collaboration with, and support of, work undertaken by both Hindu and “secular” organizations will show that the massive propaganda campaign undertaken by the authors of the Sabrang/FOIL report with the collaboration of people in the media and academe will ultimately fail.  It will fail for this one simple, basic reason: the Sabrang/FOIL report is a calculated and cussed effort at destroying the good work undertaken by dedicated, hardworking, selfless volunteers who wish to see India become a developed and vibrant nation.  This rebuttal of the Sabrang/FOIL report is one endeavor to expose the violence perpetrated by extremist forces in the name of peace and secularism. 

In conclusion, we demand that U.S. corporations that have withheld matching funds lift their ban on such contributions to the IDRF, and we urge Indian-Americans to channel their charity contributions through the IDRF. 


[116] Kenneth Burke, Attitudes Towards History, Boston: Beacon Press, (1937, 1961).

[117] We thus see the unrelenting press of articles, editorials, interviews, letters to editors, and campaigns to “inform” the public about the IDRF, and almost an overwhelming majority of them being anti-IDRF.

[118] Ashish Nandy, The Romance of the State and the Fate of Dissent in the Tropics, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, (2002). 

 

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