Activists want India Fund to accept rightist tilt

By Ashish Kumar Sen, The Asian Age, November 27, 2002

Washington, Nov. 27: The root cause of the opposition to organisations like India Development and Relief Fund is the fact that these groups operate under the garb of secular and non-political organisations when, in fact, they are fronts for radical Hindu organisations.
IDRF has, time and again, denied its links to the Sangh Parivar. In response to an article highlighting some of these ties, IDRF issued a statement denying any such connections. “It (the IDRF) is not affiliated to any group, ‘ism’, ideology or political party.”

Says Shalini Gera, a San Jose-based activist associated with the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate, “What we would like from them [IDRF] at the very least is a clear and open acknowledgement of their political leanings so that whatever funds they obtain are really intended for these causes.” Ms Gera was one of the researchers who helped put together the recent report— A Foreign Exchange of Hate.

Adds Raju Rajagopal, a social activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area, “The reason it [the IDRF] cannot confess it is an RSS outfit is that if it did, it may lose a lot of secular people who are donating money and may also lose corporate matching.”

Referring to documents submitted to the US Federal government in 1989 as part of its application for tax exempt status, A Foreign Exchange of Hate states it is clear that right from its inception the IDRF’s goal was clearly to support the Sangh Parivar in India. “That the IDRF supports Sangh organisations in India is thus not a matter of accident but is instead definitional of its very design,” the report concludes.

The “Campaign to Stop Funding Hate” is a coalition of professionals, students, artists and intellectuals who share a common concern that sectarian hatred in India is being fuelled by money flowing from the US.

The group has the professed mission of turning off this flow from the US to what it calls “Hindutva hate groups” responsible for recurring violence against minorities in India.

Prof. Biju Mathew, a professor at Rider University, New Jersey, played a significant role researching for the report. “If we look at the structure of what IDRF claims to support, there is a clear indication that a lot of organisations it supports are Hindutva groups in India,” he says.
For example, the IDRF supports the Keshava Sewa Samiti in Hyderabad. This organisation has the same address as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh headquarters in Hyderabad. “There is a clear link in that sense,” says Prof. Mathew.

IDRF, a registered tax-exempt charity in the US, claims to be a non-sectarian organisation raising funds for “development” and “relief” work in India. Prof. Mathew alleges that far from being secular, IDRF has been “funding sectarian groups in India from its inception” and has been raising funds to support Sangh activities from US corporations and NRIs.

To corroborate its case, the campaign’s report has set out the links between IDRF and the Sangh Parivar. Quoting US tax department documents, the report says even when applying for a tax-exempt charitable status from the US government in 1989, IDRF listed nine organisations of the type it planned to support, including Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat) and Sewa Bharati, all of which are linked to the RSS.

According to the report, Sangh-affiliated organisations account for 80 per cent ($2,684,915) or more of the total money disbursed at the discretion of the IDRF. In contrast, only 10 per cent of the donor-designated funds were actually earmarked for Sangh charities. Barely two per cent ($70,620) of the money went to secular organisations.

The authors of the report allege that 69 per cent ($2,250,685) of IDRF’s money goes for Hinduisation/education/tribal activities and less than 20 per cent goes for “development” and “relief” activities. Acting on a similar complaint against the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in the United Kingdom, the Charity Commission is, according to its spokesperson, “looking into potential links between the VHP and extremist organisations in India and alleged payments to these groups by the charity.”

Interestingly, in 1999, the VHP failed to be recognised by the United Nations as “a cultural organisation” because of its philosophical underpinnings. Started in 1970, the VHP of America’s first office in New York was registered as a cultural organisation with the goal of adding “cultural enrichment” and “awareness to American society,” based on “eternal Hindu values.”

The VHP(A)’s student wing, the Hindu Students Council, has grown rapidly in the early 1990s and has flourished in Ivy League institutions and universities such as Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University, Tufts, Boston University, Carnegie-Mellon and Princeton. Many HSCs are run by second generation Indian Americans with immediate family connections with the VHP(A).

While the VHP in India does not have the requisite clearance to collect funds from foreign countries, the Bharat Kalyan Pratishthan, a trust it set up, receives such funds. Another VHP affiliate, the Ekal Vidyalaya, started under the Bharat Kalyan Pratishthan and taken up by Sri Vivekananda Rural Development Society, is funded by the IDRF.

“The flow of cash to the mother country is not a novel occurrence among South Asians,” explains Prof. Vijay Prashad, an associate professor at Trinity College, Connecticut.

He points to Sri Lankan Tamils donating money to the LTTE as well as contributions by European, Canadian and American Sikhs to Khalistani groups. “If dollar funds dharma in India, the dollars for zakat raised by the Islamic orthodoxy are not very different,” Prof. Prashad adds.
In a statement issued in response to the report, IDRF refuted the allegations calling them “pure concoction, untruthful and self-contradicting.” It questioned the “credibility, motives and the political agenda of these splintered and virtually unknown groups that have launched the hate campaign against IDRF.”