Follow the Money
by Vijay Prashad
Little India, January 16, 2003 original
Do you know where your charitable contributions are going?
Each year, I give money to various organizations. I always
give to the progressive media, whether magazines or radio,
mainly because they refuse to take corporate funds that, generally,
distort the coverage. A bunch of money goes toward organizations
that struggle for racial, economic and gender justice in the
US, most of whom again are underfunded for the task they have
undertaken. Finally, because I was raised in India and feel
a deep sense of patriotism to the country that bred me, I,
like most of us, donate money to US-based groups that raise
funds for good work in India. Its not like I have vast amounts
of money, but I do like to make sure that a chunk of my surplus
gets recycled in this age when government's cease to fund
the public good. Our taxes took over from institutions like
the daan (among Buddhists) and the tithe (among Catholics),
this so that it was not left to the wiles of individuals to
create social justice. The state was to be that instrument.
With its failure to do the work, the non-profit sector moved
So the checkbooks come out and we write our modest contributions
to one or another US-based group that sends funds to India.
It is not easy to find these groups, and we mainly rely upon
word of mouth. Fortunately groups like CRY and ASHA organize
frequent events about, which we read in our papers or else
to which we get invited via the flyers left in our local desi
store. My first encounter with long-distance philanthropy
was through these two groups. Then there are local organizations,
such as V. Raman's Hartford-based Volunteers for Service and
Education in India, an excellent organization run by the hard
work and dedication of one man. Finally, many folks rely upon
websites, word of mouth or else corporate matching programs
to find organizations that take our dollars to make development
One of these organizations is the India Development and Relief
Fund (IDRF). An innocuous name, for those who run across it,
it attracts attention because NRIs are all interested in the
"development" of the country and the "relief"
of those hit hard by natural calamities.
Earthquakes and droughts require especial help, and we are
ready with our money to help a state exchequer routinely in
the red. Since most of us benefited from state-funded educational
systems that are now slowly withering away, we welcome donations
toward education institutions that target the oppressed (dalits
and advasis) as well as programs for women's empowerment.
On the surface this is unimpeachable stuff and we tend to
give money to any group that purports to do good in India,
whether CRY, ASHA, VSEI or IDRF. Our international philanthropy
is laudable and should be promoted.
In mid-November a group of U.S.-based artists, scholars and
activists released a landmark study called The Foreign Exchange
of Hate. IDRF and the American Funding of Hindutva. The report,
published by the Mumbai-based Sabrang Communications (publishers
of Communalism Combat) and by the France-based South Asia
Citizen's Watch [...], alleges that IDRF raises money on false
pretenses. It claims to take our money and do charitable work
in India, when it fact it directs it to pro-Hindutva organizations
who sully the body politics, conduct communal pogroms and
destabilize the social life of India. The money may indeed
go toward "development" and "relief,"
but the report argues, it "develops" Hindutva's
agenda and not that of the Constitution of India. The material
is largely based on a study of IDRF's own filings to the Internal
Review Service as well as IDRF's annual report. From these
documents, the report tracks the organizations to which IDRF
gives money. Then, it studied the reports of the New York-based
Human Rights Watch as well as activist groups in Gujarat to
show that the groups to whom IDRF gave money are groups that
have been fingered as participants in the mayhem since the
Faced by a barrage from the Indian press, IDRF responded
on Nov 22, labelling the accusations "pure concoction,
untruthful and self-contradicting," "a string of
allegations," since "IDRF does not subscribe to
any religious, political or sectarian agendas. Furthermore,
IDRF does not discriminate against any religion, sect, or
race in either the collection or distribution of funds."
Apart from this general disavowal, IDRF, founded by an ex-World
Bank economist, Vinod Prakash, did not get into the specifics
of the allegations against it.
That is a pity, because it would have been useful for our
community to hear IDRF rebut the evidence in The Foreign Exchange
of Hate. Here is a taste of what is in the report (available
An Analysis of the Money
The report studied IDRF transfers of $5 million from 1994
to 2000, which found that 83 percent percent of the money
went to organizations affiliated with the RSS, such as: Jana
Sankshema Samiti (Vijayavada, Andhra Pradesh), Seva Bharati
Purvanchal (Guwahati, Assam), Vikas Bharati Bishupur (Gumla,
Chhattisgarh, Bihar), Birsa Seva Prakalp (Hazaribag, Jharkhand),
Hindu Seva Pratishthana (Bangalore, Karnataka), Yogakshema
Trust (Cochin, Kerala) and many more. The report says that
these organizations can be shown to be RSS-affiliation "through
their own literature or other secondary sources." Or
else, if you want, you can tally the names with the RSS publication,
Amrut-Kumbha written by RSS pracharak S. H. Ketkar (published
in Pune, 1995).
What is of interest is that most of the donors, 90 percent
of them, in fact, did not designate these organizations. Only
ten percent of those who gave money to IDRF specifically designated
that IDRF must give their money to a specific RSS organization.
Nevertheless, IDRF gave more than 80 percent of its disbursements
to the groups associated with the RSS. In other words, the
report concluded, IDRF has an agenda to support the RSS activities
and to reshape India in the RSS image. In addition, more than
90 percent of its money went to Hindu groups with a small
fraction given to secular organizations, with no organization
identified with any minority community in receipt of any funds.
According to the report, most of the money (70 percent) went
toward education and to Hinduization (shuddhi) programs. The
education, as well, is not secular education, but religious
education. Less than ten percent went to health and welfare
work, while only four percent went to rural development. It
is, therefore, not outrageous to suggest that the money goes
toward the reconstruction of India from a secular democracy
into the image of the RSS. If this is not the case, then IDRF
needs to account for how it is not so.
If you're into the RSS agenda, then go ahead and write your
checks to the IDRF. At least the IDRF should be honest about
its intentions and not hide behind a harmless name to do its
Swami Ashim Anand
On 9 September 1999, the U.S. State Department released its
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. In the report,
we find the following:
"On January 27, 1999, 12 Christian villagers were "reconverted"
forcibly to Hinduism under threat of the loss of the right
to use the local well and the destruction of their homes.
The "reconversion" was carried out by youths working
with Swami Ashim Anand, a Hindu active in "reconverting"
tribals in the area. However, the villagers stated that prior
to becoming Christians they had not been Hindu."
In 1998-99, the Dangs district of Gujarat felt the iron fist
of Hindutva. The Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams and other organizations
in the state mobilized their cadre to go amongst the oppressed
adivasis and create mayhem. The point was to "reconvert"
adivasis to Hinduism by force and to ensure that Christians
be held at bay. The violence that ensued should be seen as
the prologue of the recent anti-Muslim pogrom in the state.
In a series of reports Indian Express offered evidence that
Swami Ashim Anand had organized young people into bands to
spread the terror. Ashim Modi, Bajrang Dal president for Surat
district (which neighbors Dangs) told the Indian Express that
the Swami had been part of the "Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad,
an organization affiliated to the VHP." In a February
1999 story in the Indian Express, the journalist wrote, "After
coming to Waghai a couple of years ago, the Swami had spearheaded
the formation of Bajrang Dal units in every village. The recent
violence against the Christian community was reportedly led
by activists groomed by the Swami."
The IDRF, it turns out, was one of the foundations that supported
the work of the Swami. Chetan Gandhi, a Vice President of
IDRF, visited the Dangs region of Gujarat and filed this report
to IDRF: "Swami Ashimanandji is in charge of the Ashram's
activities in the district though is as some [sic] only before
18 months he is well known as respected by the community."
The Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad is an "IDRF supported project
in Gujarat," according to the IDRF itself.
None of this is history. During the 2002 riots, three organizations
that participated in the pogrom, the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad,
the Vivekananda Kendra and the Vanvasi Seva Sangh continue
to receive IDRF funds.
The IDRF could have been duped by these organizations, posing
as development groups that only later went out to kill in
a sectarian manner. This is possible. However, the statistical
trends depicted in the report suggest that either the IDRF
itself is coddling the RSS or else the laws of chance have
worked to smear its reputation. Either way, the IDRF needs
to explain its funding practices.
It turns out that not only did ordinary NRIs may have been
surprised at the funding profile of IDRF; so were several
major corporations of the New Economy: Cisco, Sun, Oracle
and HP. These firms match employee contributions to US-based
non-profits and they are also urged by their employees to
contribute additional funds to especially good charities.
The large number of Indians in these firms makes it less of
a surprise that a charity that works on India is one of the
highest earners of New Economy largess. This is not to say
that all the Indians who work at these firms are pro-RSS,
but that the organization has been able to convince the workers
and the firms that it is the only bona fide group that does
good work in the Indian countryside. In 1999, IDRF received
$140,000 from Cisco, and entered the top five charities for
the company. Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders got only $2500.
Since the publication of the report many of these American
corporations have stopped their matching program for IDRF.
What of the NRIs who want to promote the development of India,
although not the Hindutva vision of it? Channel your resources
to secular groups ASHA and CRY, or else use the money to transform
the US government so that it is less invested in the deprivation
of Gujarat than in its genuine social development.