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 in.

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 rupees.

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 1990s.

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 at

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 work.

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.