NRIs Face Moral Choice in Fighting Communalism

by Ali Mir and Satish Kolluri

The Indian American,Vol.1 No.5, December 6, 2002

The events in Gujarat earlier this year made all decent-minded people hang their heads in shame. The wide-spread looting, raping and murdering spree based on the notion of the collective punishment of a community should have no place in civilized society. That the leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad saw the riots in Gujarat as part of a self-proclaimed national experiment is bone chilling to say the least. The forthcoming elections in Gujarat are being seen as a referendum for a new kind of society envisaged by the Sangh Parivar where minorities are reduced to second-class citizenship, women relegated to house-work, and law and order subordinated to extra-constitutional authorities and the rule of the mob.

In India, an eight member inquiry commission (the Concerned Citizens'
Tribunal) headed by former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court V.R. Krishna Iyer recently released a report which is a damning indictment of the Gujarat administration which played an instrumental role in the barbaric killings of more than two thousand of its own citizens. The report specifically identifies Narendra Modi as "the chief architect of all that happened in Gujarat after the arson of February 27, 2002 ...his words and actions throughout the developments in Gujarat show that he has been openly defying the constitution and indulging in actions which are positively detrimental to the interests of the country." Simply put, the riots in Gujarat were state-sponsored.

At the same time, another report called "The Foreign Exchange of Hate"
(available at documents "the links between the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), a U.S. based charity, and certain violent and sectarian Hindu supremacist organizations in India." The impeccably researched report establishes a simple point. While IDRF claims to be a secular and non-sectarian organization, it actually serves as a conduit to channel money from NRIs to the Sangh Parivar. The IDRF collects money, ostensibly for development and relief from well-intentioned donors, solicits matching donations from U.S. corporations, and sends over 80% of this money to the Sangh. Based on this report, a group of NRIs have launched a campaign to expose this nexus and to ask corporations to halt its matching contributions to an organization that is cozily entwined with groups that have been implicated in hate crimes.

We are of the opinion that the contributions to the coffers of the Sangh, which feed a distorted vision of India, are reprehensible. The flow of money to those Islamic madrassas that advocate a divisive line or to those Christian missions that operate through a patronizing and condescending benevolence, is equally abhorrent. However, we strongly believe that, in a free society, people should have the right to determine their own actions and send their money to the cause of their choosing, as long as the collection and disbursal of the money is not done deceptively and under false pretences. The IDRF should formally declare its taste for the Sangh ideology and cease to pretend that its purpose is development and relief. Let the chips then fall where they may.

Although the work of the Campaign is very important, the fight against
communalism cannot succeed at this level alone. The only thing that will eventually make a difference is the desire among those of us who wish for a secular, inclusive and tolerant India to stand up and be counted. We cannot allow our ethos, our history and our aspirations to be hijacked by an extremist and supremacist movement.

For long, the NRIs have been able to make a comfortable distinction between their Indian "home" and their U.S. "location." The killing fields of communal violence, while disturbing, were sufficiently distant. This is the tragic irony: that we as Indians in the U.S. celebrate diversity in all its manifestations, and yet some among us have no moral qualms when India's pluralistic identity is literally being put to the sword. The "Stop Funding Hate" campaign demonstrates that the same theater is being inscribed on the diasporic landscape as well. We have seen the enemy and the enemy is within us. Our response will be crucial in deciding the future of our communities and our children. Will we leave behind a legacy of a divided nation or will we take a stand against the forces of hate mongering and exclusion?

Ali Mir and Satish Kolluri are scholars and activists living in the New York City area.