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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A. Objective

Our objective is to critically examine the report titled, “The Foreign Exchange of Hate: IDRF and the American Funding of Hindutva,” jointly published by Mumbai based Sabrang Communications Private Ltd., and France based South Asia Citizens Web.  The goal is to look for the evidence, arguments and reasoning provided by the authors as they make their case against the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), a USA based charity that funds NGOs doing relief, rehabilitation, and development work in India. 

The authors and sponsors of “The Foreign Exchange of Hate” describe themselves as being associated primarily with the Forum of Indian Leftists (FOIL) and Sabrang Communications.  Thus we will interchangeably use the terms “Sabrang/FOIL report,” “FOIL report,” or simply “Hate report” to describe “The Foreign Exchange of Hate.”  From recent statements made by authors and their representatives, it appears that they may be uncomfortable with this association being spotlighted in public, in view of the interesting loyalties, affiliations, and agendas of these organizations.  We hasten to point out that there is no intention to insult, but only to clarify who these people are and where they come from.  Their history is certainly germane to the issue of their credibility. 

The end product of our critical analysis is this comprehensive rebuttal.  Here we present evidence to show that the Sabrang/FOIL report does not put forward facts to make its case, instead the authors pick and choose from publicly available data to fit their biased and pre-determined conclusions about IDRF.  For example, the report accuses IDRF of being sectarian since it raised funds for 9/11 victims ONLY because the perpetrators were Muslims and the victims largely non-Muslim.  Could it be that by accusing IDRF for its responsible act of helping 9/11 victims, the authors have exhibited their extreme bias against IDRF, and anyone helping 9/11 victims? 

The Sabrang/FOIL report also claims that IDRF did not raise funds for Muslim victims in Gujarat, India, when it raised funds for Bangladeshi-Hindu victims.  They ignore their basic responsibility to check their “facts” with IDRF; otherwise they would have known that as a matter of policy, IDRF does not raise funds for victims of communal violence.  They would have also known that IDRF did not raise any funds for the victims of the Godhra train carnage, in which 58 Hindus, including women and children, were burned alive.  Hence, IDRF did not discriminate against Muslims by not raising funds for post-Godhra violence.  By doing a little bit of objective research, the Sabrang authors would have also known that the effort to raise funds for Bangladeshi Hindu victims was a donor-designated project.  IDRF offers this unique service to any donor to fund his/her project of choice, and it does not have any influence on how the donor-designated project funds are spent.

In this rebuttal, we will present more evidence of such baseless and unfounded claims made by the Sabrang/FOIL report.  We will show that all IDRF supported NGOs that are accused of being “Hindu Supremacist” organizations have been legitimate NGOs that are registered with appropriate Central or State government authorities in India.  We will show that all NGOs that the Sabrang/FOIL authors accuse of being engaged in  “Hinduization” are in fact involved in constructive education and social service projects. 

B. Theoretical Framework

In order to fully understand the arguments and gain a critical insight into the authors’ reasoning, we find it necessary to situate our process of deconstructing the Sabrang report in an appropriate theoretical and methodological framework.  As the members of our team engaged in a critical reading and analysis of the Sabrang report, it became clear that this report is guided by an ideology and not by an interest to discover reality or to present a balanced account, and/or add to our attempts to build bridges between communities.  Though not stated explicitly in the ‘meticulously researched report’, it became abundantly clear in our analysis that the authors of this report are influenced by what can be termed as a meta- or grand narrative.[1]

The few examples mentioned in the previous section indicate that one of the guiding grand narratives of the Hate Report is Marxism — a totalizing ideology that endorses a particular set of power relations (class-based, and also caste-based in the Indian context), privileges certain groups in historical struggles, and ignores the communal power relations and conflicts.  The authors’ ideological colors were clearly revealed when they challenged and even accused IDRF for helping victims of 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Readers will find more evidence for our claim in the pages to follow, including a peek into the ideological and political affiliations of the Hate Report’s primary author and publisher.  By successfully challenging all accusations made against the IDRF, we will show that since the Sabrang/FOIL authors really did not have facts on their side, perhaps the impetus for their report (which is touted as the product of more than five years of research) was nothing but one last strike against what Helena Sheehan[2] describes as an “external attack” on the “formidable grand narrative of the modern era: Marxism.”

In opposition to the totalizing and universalizing modernist grand narrative of the Sabrang/FOIL authors, we have situated our work within the postmodernist idea that allows for ideological plurality and choice, and gives individuals, groups and societies agency to construct their own narratives.[3]  We believe that meta-narratives are fostered in order to smother difference, opposition, and plurality.  In other words, we work with an assumption that in the socially, culturally and politically complex world of today, individuals and groups define their own narratives instead of living with an externally imposed narrative constructed by ideologues, academics, or politician wannabes—for example, people whose names appear in the authors’ list of the Sabrang/FOIL report.  It is not only theoretically flawed but also irresponsible and dangerous to define Hindutva or anyone connected with it from the vantage point of its ideological or political opponents. 

Let us present an example to make our point.  The authors of the Sabrang/FOIL report define Hindutva as “the Hindu supremacist ideology” and refer to it as a violent, fundamentalist, and sectarian movement.  They argue that any organization that is even remotely affiliated with the RSS or Hindutva is assumed to be promoting fundamentalism, hatred, and even violence.  They further argue that any individual or a group that donates money and time to any such organization is guilty by association.  Some basic questions to ask here are these: Does this grand narrative of anti-Hindu and anti-Hindutva take into account how Hindus, supporters of Hindutva, or at least the Supreme Court of India understand Hinduism and/or Hindutva?  Do these authors intend to take away the agency of individuals, groups, organizations, and societies by defining for them what is it that they believe in or work toward?

To a majority of Hindus, Hinduism is a way of life.  For a majority of the supporters of Hindutva, that too is a way of life.  It is a proactive ideology based in the belief that Hindus must build community solidarity, inculcate individual and collective pride, and advance cultural and civilizational renaissance among Hindus.  For some other supporters of Hindutva, it is a contemporary Hindu movement trying to make a particular historical identity a central element of its image.  Hindutva is also a framework for maintaining an identity within societies where Hindus are small minorities, like in the U.S. 

None of these narratives, however, make Hindutva a fundamentalist or an extremist movement.  These narratives as constructed and understood by individuals and groups themselves are completely ignored by the Sabrang/FOIL authors.  Equally ignored by them is the ruling made by the Indian Supreme Court.  The Court has concluded that Hindutva or Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life that incorporates values of life such as respect for all religions, and a moral code of conduct in all spheres of human activity that inter alia include secularism[4]. 

It became obvious in our analysis that by ignoring such localized narratives that allow people to make sense of their individual and collective experiences and beliefs, the Sabrang/FOIL authors aim to impose their own ideologically constructed grand narrative of Hinduism, Hindutva and “Hinduization”—a term perhaps coined by these authors exclusively for the purpose of their report!  Our goal then becomes to uncover the ideology behind this grand narrative, and to simultaneously defend the narratives of peoples, groups, and organizations such as the IDRF and its affiliated NGOs. 

C.  Methodological Framework

Our Team

This is a collaborative work in the truest sense of the word.  The nature of this work requires that we inform our readers not only about our objectives and methods but also about who we are.  We are a group of concerned Indians working in a variety of professional and academic fields including business management, engineering, social sciences, liberal arts, information technology, and journalism.  Like our professional and academic backgrounds, we are also diverse in our ideological and political beliefs ranging from the center to all peripheries.  None of us have ever collaborated in any project—academic, social, political or ideological.  In fact, most of us have never even met each other, and as recently as a week after the release of the Sabrang/FOIL report, many of us had never communicated with each other. 

The things that unite us are our sense of fairness, belief in democracy and true secularism, and love for India—a democratic and secular nation.  We are a virtual community of Indians and Indian-Americans that came together as an ad-hoc group with one objective: to critically examine the Sabrang/FOIL report to find out if there is any truth to its conclusions, and to tell the world what we found. 

Like most Indian-Americans, we envision India as a developed nation and a world leader.  We live and work in the U.S. and we wish to see both India and the U.S. prosper, and to have strong cultural, social, and economic ties.  As Hindus, we also believe in the idea of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (The whole world is my family).  We understand that this process of development must include the uplifting of the most disadvantaged and impoverished sections of Indian society.  We also know that the IDRF is a successful organization that supports various development and social programs in India, especially in areas and communities where such work is most needed. 

Our individual readings of the Sabrang/FOIL report led us to conclude that the report is part of a malicious campaign to hurt this highly successful Indian-American charity.  We were disturbed by the fact that a group of educated and presumably talented individuals (the authors of the “Hate Report”), despite professing concern for India, would so maliciously attack an organization that works for the welfare of some of the most disadvantaged groups of people in India.  We realized that most of these authors had a history of collaborating on a selected set of causes, and there was a pattern to these causes (anti-Hindu, communist/anarchist, and even anti-India).  We came together as a team driven by one common goal—to understand why this group would engage in such a campaign against the IDRF[5]. 

The team was also motivated by the vision to present a more accurate image of Hindutva and its manifestations in contemporary Indian society.  We reject the uninformed and misguided definition put forth by the Sabrang/FOIL authors, and their attempt to malign organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).  In the planning stages of our project, we made sure that we had people on board who could bring a range of skills and expertise.

We were led by someone who has a deep understanding of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) and Hindutva in the inclusive, syncretic sense, which is its true essence, and which is also the way the Indian Supreme Court describes it.  One member of our team has spent a number of years researching Hindu organizations like the RSS and its affiliates.  We also had people with a range of experiences in business consulting, journalism, and research methodology to help us with our analytical and narrative approach.  The only criteria behind putting this team together were the love for India, an inclusive orientation towards and an understanding of Hinduism, and a keen desire to promote balance, objectivity, and fairness in the representation of all things Indian and Hindu. 

D. Deconstructing the Sabrang/FOIL Report

Our primary approach in understanding and deconstructing the Sabrang/FOIL report was what is termed as Rhetorical Analysis[6].  Simply put, it is a method that breaks down a text or a speech into its parts and helps explain how those parts fit together to build a persuasive argument.  In rhetorical analysis, we examine how authors attempt to persuade their audiences by looking at the various components that make up the art of persuasion.

Following are some of the questions that guided our analysis of Sabrang/FOIL report:

a. What is the rhetorical situation? 

For example, we paid attention to all the fanfare and media hype surrounding the release of the Sabrang/FOIL report, timing of the report’s release, fore-warnings in terms of other publications supportive of the Sabrang/FOIL ideology, etc.

b. Who are the authors of the report? 

We spent time understanding the ideological and political leanings of the authors by looking at some of their previous works.  This helped us put their present faulty analysis in an appropriate context.

c. What is/are their intention(s) in producing the report? 

Answering question # b. above also helped us understand the authors’ and publishers’ intentions.  In our rebuttal, we provide ample substantiation for our claim that the intention of the report was to malign a non-sectarian organization that supports major relief and development work in India.

d. Who makes up the audience? 

We will show in the following pages that the audience for this report was primarily the U.S. corporations that provide matching contributions to IDRF.  By targeting them, the Sabrang/FOIL report’s intention was to hurt the financial standing of IDRF, which is one of the most popular charities among the majority of Indian-Americans who don’t want to contribute to missionary, religious, or government-run organizations.

e. What is the content of the messages? 

Through a ruthless application of the technique of distorting the data to fit in with their pre-determined conclusions the Sabrang/FOIL authors want their readers to believe that the IDRF “funds hate.”  In the following pages, we will provide plenty of evidence that not only challenges this faulty claim, but also reduces it to nothing but a fantasy that anti-Hindu propagandists such as the authors of the “Hate Report” like to engage in.

f. What is the form in which it is conveyed? 

We debunk the authors’ claim that the “Hate Report” is a meticulously researched report.  By constantly repeating that the research for this report took more than five years and a careful analysis, the authors try to con readers into ‘buying’ their conclusions as THE TRUTH that has been uncovered after serious and objective investigation.  We will show otherwise.  For example, since most of the data used by the Sabrang/FOIL authors is available for anyone to see at the IDRF’s website, debunking their claim that the IDRF “duped” its donors is enough to remove the mask of “research” that the authors use to sell a completely biased and prejudiced work.

g. How do the form and content of the report correspond? 

See points e. and f. above.

h. Does the text succeed in fulfilling the authors’ intentions? 

The actions taken by some corporations such as CISCO temporarily suspending its matching contributions to the IDRF, and the action of several academic faculty members in “endorsing its conclusions” indicate that the Sabrang/FOIL report was partially successful in fulfilling its primary intention.  One purpose of this rebuttal then is to challenge such hasty and uninformed decisions and present the corporations with facts about the IDRF and its affiliated NGOs.

i. What does the nature of the text reveal about the culture that produced it? 

We will address this question by providing enough information about the authors’ and publishers’ ideological and political leanings, by critically examining the Sabrang/FOIL report’s findings in that ideological and political context, and by situating this report in the larger context of anti-Hindu and anti-Hindutva propaganda currently prevalent in India and the U.S.  We suggest that the convergence of religious fundamentalists, Opposition political agendas, Communist forces, and anti-India, foreign forces is aimed against the present democratically elected government of India – and in a larger context, given the advertised agendas of these entities, against all democracies.  In a democractic set up, every citizen is free to criticize the government; however, the present combination of forces, we believe, have worked stealthily and deviously to create dissent and to demonize certain groups, organizations, and individuals. 

E. Constructing our Narrative

Our method consisted of four steps: formulating our objective (as stated above) and selecting the artifact for analysis (Sabrang/FOIL report); selecting the unit of analysis (content, form, authors, motivation); analyzing the artifact; and writing our critical narrative[7].  The key step, analysis of the artifact, began with a comprehensive examination of the Sabrang/FOIL report.  As discussed in the previous section, this examination was organized around specific questions. 

Narrative theory assumes the primacy of storytelling as a human activity for creating meaning.  In terms of constructing our narrative in this rebuttal, we will tell IDRF’s story – its history, background, and activities.  We will also tell the story of the RSS.  These stories will be situated in the multiple, localized and non-essentialized narratives of cultural and civilizational ethos of Hinduism and Hindutva.  In these narratives, we also locate the work of the IDRF in facilitating and supporting relief, rehabilitation and development work including work in the fields of education, healthcare, and research. 

By following an appropriate and rigorous theoretical and methodological framework, we made sure that we were engaged in a serious and critical inquiry.  As shown in a later chapter in our report, this is in total contrast to the Sabrang/FOIL authors’ cut-and-paste type of ideological rant masquerading as research.  In short, what we present in the following pages is a verifiable report on the true nature of the work supported by the India Development and Relief Fund. 

[1] Grand narrative or “master narrative” is a term introduced by Jean-François Lyotard in his classic 1979 work The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.  Lyotard argues that all aspects of modern societies rely on grand narratives, or a sort of meta-theory that attempts to explain the belief system that exists.  These grand narratives represent totalizing explanations of things like Christianity, Hinduism or Marxism -- dominant modes of thought.  See Lyotard, Jean-Francois (1979/1984).  The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.  Translation from the French by Geoff Bennington & Brian Massumi.  Foreword by Fredric Jameson.  Theory and History of Literature, Volume 10.  Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. 

[2] In a paper titled, Grand narratives then and now: Can we still conceptualise history?” written for the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto for an international conference in Paris (May 13 –16,1998), Helena Sheehan writes: “Whatever Marxism is, it is systemic analysis and historical perspective.  It is a totalising (not totalised) philosophy of history.  It is the only mode of thought able to give a coherent, comprehensive and credible account of the complexity of contemporary experience.  It is the only coherent analysis of the capitalist mode of production and how it structurally generates, not only the maximum expropriation of surplus value, but maximum dissolution of social bonds, involving decreasing access to totality and increasing atomisation of thought processes.  It is the only credible analysis of an alternative mode of production, proposing socialism, not only as a radical restructuring of the relations of production, but as a fundamental transformation of patterns of thought and forms of social organisation”. For more, see http://www.comMs.dcu.ie/sheehanh/cm-narr.htm

[3] Lyotard renounces the totalizing discourse of such schemes as Marxism being inherently partial and interested, intended to endorse particular relations of power and to privilege certain groups in historical struggles.  Instead, he argues for a plurality of particular narratives, limited and localized accounts that attempt to explain features of experience excluded by grand narratives.  Peter Barry explains in Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory, (Manchester University Press, 1995):  “The reason Lyotard and others reject these grand narratives of the human condition is because they privilege certain points of view and attempt to explain society in reductive terms.  The postmodern condition casts doubt upon all grand narratives, and as such all the key assumptions of Marxism are brought into question. “  

[4] M.  Rama Jois (1995). Supreme Court Verdict on Hindutva: An Important Landmark.

[5] One of us, Ramesh Rao, has written about issues concerning Indian society and politics, and he has not fought shy of criticizing those he has often praised, and whose works and ideology he has defended. 

[6] In rhetorical analysis, the primary task is to discover the methods for discovering and explaining what a text asserts as the truth.  For more on rhetorical analysis, see: Foss, Sonja K., Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration & Practice, 2d ed., Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland, 1996; Ettema & Glasser,  Narrative Form and Moral Force: The Realization of Innocence and Guilt through Investigative Journalism, Methods of Rhetorical Criticism: A Twentieth-Century Perspective (3d ed.) Bernard L. Brock, Robert L. Scott, and James W. Chesebro (Eds.).  Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1990, 256-72; Hart, Roderick P. (1997) Modern Rhetorical Criticism (2nd ed.)  Boston: Allyn and Bacon; and Lloyd Bitzer, The Rhetorical Situation. Philosophy and Rhetoric, 1 (January, 1968), 1-14. 

[7] Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice.  Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland, 1988; second edition, 1996. 


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