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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SYNOPSIS

“Most people think that shadows follow, precede, or surround beings or objects.  The truth is they also surround words, ideas, deeds, impulses, and memories.”

Holocaust Survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, The Fifth Son Summit, 1984

“Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.”

Elie Wiesel, U.S. News and World Report, 27 October 1986

 PROLOGUE

In the lexicon of astronomy, a “conjunction” occurs when two or more celestial objects appear very close in the night sky.  On May 13, 2002, observers of the western night sky observed a particularly rare conjunction when five planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – lined up spectacularly close to each other along the invisible necklace of the ecliptic.

In the down-to-earth realm of political beliefs, a conjunction of individuals with divergent ideologies is rarer than the phenomenon described above.  It is even more unusual for persons with disparate professional, personal, and academic backgrounds to coalesce into a team working for a common cause. 

We, the Friends of India, are privileged to call ourselves members of such a team.  Travelers of different orbits, we were drawn together purely to investigate the truth behind the choreographed hysteria unleashed by Sabrang Communications and the Forum of Indian Leftists (FOIL) last year against the charity India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF). 

In this, our patiently crafted rebuttal to Sabrang/FOIL’s melodramatically titled report  “The Foreign Exchange of Hate: IDRF and American Funding of Hindutva,” we offer verifiable facts.  We examine the truth behind the veils of innuendo, specious logic, and extrapolation presented by the Sabrang report as “meticulous research.”  We unequivocally establish IDRF’s record of accomplishment as a transparent aid agency providing critical succor. 

We are sure that this report will provide a better lens through which to gauge the motives and methods of Sabrang Communications and the Forum of Indian Leftists.  This combine has relentlessly pursued every avenue to choke off funds to IDRF based purely on the presumption of guilt.  In that arbitrary stampede to judgment, there was no thought spared for the innocent beneficiaries of IDRF, a strange inconsistency from a group that claims to be against “hate.”

 

WHERE’S THE “HATE”?

If someone in the middle of a crowded ballroom on the 75th floor yelled “Fire!” one might expect the genteel assembly to turn into a writhing, clawing mass fighting to get to the nearest exit.

It is a little harder to understand the pious outrage of over 300 academicians who signed the petition endorsing the Sabrang /FOIL report without thoughtful examination and verification of its contents.

In Chapter III of our rebuttal, we invite the reader to take a close look at the beneficiaries and developmental partners of IDRF.  We offer an in-depth portrait of their activities stripped of the alarmist hysteria.

For instance, Sabrang/FOIL’s report portrays single-teacher schools or “Ekal Vidyalayas” in tribal areas as virtual petri dishes of “Hindutva” indoctrination.  Our rebuttal shows that this educational approach appeals precisely because it is not didactic but assimilative and respectful of local cultural norms and belief systems.  The teacher typically chosen is a local, who teaches through story-telling sessions and folk drama in an informal, supportive environment.

This nurturing educational model is based on the inclusive precepts of eastern philosophy. It is diametrically opposite to the tribal education initiatives pursued by evangelical religions that proceed from the belief that the social and moral advancement of a student can proceed only if the student is taught to despise and reject his or her native culture and way of life.  Ironically, what the Sabrang/FOIL report criticizes as “Hinduization” – is the same approach semantically reincarnated in the West as “holistic/integral education” by Western philosophers.

In their singularly shallow characterization of the Vikasan Foundation’s activities, Sabrang/FOIL equates the “gurukul” system of learning with Islamic madrassas.  One can only guess at the reaction this might provoke in a reader who has neither set foot in a gurukul nor a madrassa, a reader who entertains only the stereotype of the madrassa as a center of rote learning and breeder of terrorism.  In Chapter III of our rebuttal, we present excerpts from a first-hand look at the gurukul system of education.  The complete article by Professor Ramesh Rao appears as Appendix E.

A typical gurukul is an environment free of caste restrictions, conventional examinations and textbooks, fostering discipline and self-reliance.  It offers an atmosphere of serenity and intellectual growth in which a student’s questioning nature is never stifled.  A respect for nature and the environment, patriotism, and the value of simple living are just some of the values instilled. After their course at the gurukul, students are free to pursue higher education of their choice at the university level.

Yet another IDRF-funded service organization indicted by Sabrang/FOIL is Sewa International.  Sabrang/FOIL presents this organization as a front to “convert” people who are “insufficiently Hindu.” They claim this is done by means of “sectarian ideological training” masquerading as “developmental activity.” This charge could be more appropriately laid at the feet of the better-organized and munificently funded Christian missionary activities in the country.  It is ludicrous to point to the celebration of Hindu festivals by Hindus as indicative of some sinister purpose.  In response, our report writers make the following eloquent point:

“Here is what a rational individual should ask: Is being for something always being against something else?  Does loving your wife lead to hating other women?  Is loving your nation an indication of hating other countries?  Is helping those closest to you an attempt at undermining others?  This logical fallacy perpetrated consciously, willfully, and vulgarly by sophists and political grandstanders should be condemned unequivocally by any sane reader of the Sabrang report.”

Appendix G of our rebuttal details numerous national and international awards won by IDRF–supported Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs).  Appendix H demonstrates that IDRF-funded NGOs also receive funding from other US-based Indo-American charities such as ASHA and AID, leading to the easy dismissal of the allegation that these NGO’s engage in “Hinduization.” Besides, the term “Hinduization” is an absurdity, since indigenous tribal religions are part and parcel of the Hindu ethos.

THE SABRANG/FOIL REPORT: A HOUSE OF STRAW BUILT ON SAND

The first chapter of our rebuttal establishes the fundamental premises that underlie the claims made by the anti-IDRF report of Sabrang/FOIL. These premises are based on two major presumptions.

The first presumption involves caricaturing organizations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as exclusive promoters of sectarian violence.

This stereotype is false and fails to acknowledge the RSS’s peerless record over the decades in providing timely, selfless and courageous disaster relief work.  The RSS, as the world’s largest NGO, is often first on the scene of a crisis and the last to leave. RSS workers are a class apart in their tenacious commitment to public service and getting the job done, and in their non-partisan approach to providing help.

Chapter VI of our rebuttal examines the history and evolution of the RSS.  It demolishes Sabrang/ FOIL’s characterization of RSS as “Shadowy and Elusive,” and tackles head-on the charge of  “Hinduization” as an agenda pursued by IDRF-funded organizations.

The second presumption describes “Hindutva” as Hindu supremacist ideology.  “It advocates use of violence, confuses nationality with culture and religion, is supremacist and exclusionary,” claim the Sabrang/FOIL authors, who go on to say  “It believes only people who support it should have first-class citizenship in India.  All others should be second-class citizens.”

Sabrang /FOIL appear to base their definition of Hindutva on proclamations by a handful of zealots.  Residents of democratic nations ought to recognize that the granting of free speech does not automatically translate into thought control by the speaker.  India remains a nation governed by laws. The reader is invited to consider the following definition of Hindutva by the Supreme Court of India.

“Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism.  A Hindu may embrace a non-Hindu religion without ceasing to be a Hindu and since the Hindu is disposed to think synthetically and to regard other forms of worship, strange gods and divergent doctrines as inadequate rather than wrong or objectionable, he tends to believe that the highest divine powers complement each other for the well-being of the world and mankind.”

For a point-by-point rebuttal of the misrepresentations by Sabrang/FOIL of IDRF-funded work please visit Chapter V, Section C, of our report.

THE ATTACKERS UNMASKED

Our team came together with the sole objective of replacing conjecture with facts.  We are not in the business of initiating witch-hunts.  However, in the course of our work, we could not avoid certain facts that hit us in the face.

These include: The visceral antipathy of the Sabrang/FOIL report and subsequent anti-IDRF media blizzard; Sabrang/FOIL's single-minded focus on making a tourniquet to stem the flow of corporate matching funds; the authors' narrow application of moral standards; and their selective data gathering methods. All of which beg the question: Who are these people, and what do they really want?

An essay by Drs. Narayanan Komerath and Ramesh Rao included as Appendix M to the report, answers these and other questions about the authors.

Appendix B provides detailed analysis of the authors’ methodology (or lack thereof) by Dr. Beloo Mehra. Considering the five-year gestation of the Sabrang/FOIL report, Dr. Mehra's analysis shows that the end product betrays a profound lack of attention to standard social sciences methodology.

EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE: SEEING IS BELIEVING

Chapters IV and V of our report take an inventory of the scope of work funded by the IDRF, its administration and disbursement of funds, and its unique commitment to near - zero overhead costs to maximize donor impact. 

IDRF serves economically and socially disadvantaged people irrespective of caste or religion; it does so in a manner that promotes self-reliance over welfare dependence; it manages and monitors project activities entirely through its dedicated volunteers.  IDRF volunteers meet their own out-of-pocket expenses and spend their own money to visit the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) administering aid.  This ensures that almost every cent of donor-designated money (99.1%) is routed to the beneficiary.

As for donors, any doubts that they are a gullible lot susceptible to being “duped” into funding IDRF is laid to rest by Appendix N.  This is a column by Harsh Verma published earlier this year in the Indian Internet magazine Sulekha.  The article reflects the vibrant debate sparked by the anti-IDRF report over the online community IndDiaspora, of which Verma is the founder-member.

Yvette Rosser, a research scholar at the University of Texas at Austin, is among a small minority attempting to sound the steady metronome of reason to fellow academicians.  Through numerous emails, she appealed to members of H-Asia, an e-group for Asia scholars, for objectivity and dispassionate consideration of all the facts.  An analysis of those emails appears in Appendix K.

Readers will find Yvette’s firsthand perspective particularly noteworthy.  As a scholar of education, she attests to the efficacy of Ekal Vidyalaya programs.  She also describes her recent visit to India, when she visited a program in Assam run by the Sabrang-vilified Vivekananda Kendra.  Here is an excerpt:

“The ladies who ran the after school program told me that eight years ago, 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 the program was because they did not like the fact that at the after school program at the church their children were told repeatedly that their traditions were superstitious and their deities were devils…If IDRF funds find their way to this precious little self-help group, is that communalism?  How does that promote fascism?

“The children at the after school program sang me a song when I visited.  I understood parts of it and asked for a 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.”

We the Friends of India, offer this report as a measured and fearless response to the campaign of calumny undertaken by Sabrang/FOIL.  A careful reading of this report will establish not only the excellent credentials of IDRF, but also the following central truth:

It does not take money to promote hatred.  Simple ignorance will do.

 

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