US firms linked to extremist Indian cause
By Sudha Ramachandran
Asia Times, January 10, 2003 original
BANGALORE - While the Indian government has been tightening
rules for non-government organizations receiving foreign funds,
especially those run by religious minorities, front organizations
of the Sangh Parivar (of which the ruling Bharatiya Janata
Party - BJP - is a part) continue to receive millions of dollars
from abroad. It is not just expatriate Indians who contribute
to the Sangh Parivar, though. According to reports, corporate
America, too, has, perhaps unwittingly, been funding the Parivar's
activities in India.
The Sangh Parivar is a fraternity of Hindu right-wing organizations
that espouse Hindutva, that is, Hindu supremacist ideology.
Besides the BJP, the Parivar includes the Vishva Hindu Parishad
(VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bajrang
Dal, among others. The Parivars constituents are not
distinct entities. There is a division of labor, perhaps,
but membership overlaps. Several member of the BJP, such as
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Deputy Prime Minister
Lal Krishna Advani and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi,
for instance, were/are RSS members.
For some years now, secular sections of the Indian community
in the United States have been drawing attention to the subterfuge
used by US-based "charity" organizations to channel
funds to outfits in India that have links with the RSS. It
is only after the Gujarat riots early last year in which the
Parivars hand was implicated that Indian expatriates
and US corporations started waking up to the strategy.
The Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (SFH) is a coalition of
professionals, students, workers, artists and intellectuals
in the US, which brought out a report last year detailing
the way in which funds are channeled from the US to outfits
in India that are inciting anti-minority (Muslim and Christian)
hate and violence. The report focuses on one such US-based
charity organization - the India Development and Relief Fund
(IDRF), "which has systematically funded Hindutva operations
in India". The report says that the IDRF "is not
a secular and non-sectarian organization as it claims to be,
but is, on the contrary, a major conduit of funds for Hindutva
organizations in India".
The IDRF operates in the US under the rules governing tax-exempt
charitable organizations. These rules prohibit such organizations
from participating in political activity of the kind that
involves funneling money overseas to violent sectarian groups.
Although the IDRF claims that it supports NGOs engaged in
"strengthening the roots of a democratic, secular ...
India", the reality is quite different. The SFH report
points out that "of the funds that the IDRF transfers
to India, almost two-thirds go to organizations that can be
identified as RSS organizations. About half of the remaining
funds go to organizations that can be identified as sectarian
Hindu organizations. In other words, less than 20 percent
of the funds sent to India by IDRF go to organizations that
are not openly non-sectarian and/or affiliated with the Sangh."
Besides, "More than 50 percent of the funds disbursed
by the IDRF are sent to Sangh-related organizations whose
primary work is religious 'conversion' and 'Hinduization'
in poor and remote tribal and rural areas of India. Another
sixth is given to Hindu religious organizations for purely
religious use. Only about a fifth of the funds go for disaster
relief and welfare - most of it because the donors specifically
designated it so. However, there is considerable documentation
indicating that even the relief and welfare organizations
that IDRF funds, use the moneys in a sectarian way. In summary,
in excess of 80 percent of IDRF's funding is allocated for
work that is clearly sectarian in nature."
The beneficiaries of IDRF funding include, among others,
the Vanavasi Kalyan Parishad, Sewa Bharati, Ekal Vidyalayas,
Keshava Seva Samithi and the Vanavasi Seva Sangh. These organizations
are known affiliates of the RSS.
Parivar members often argue that these organizations are
working for upliftment of adivasis (tribals) and that there
is nothing wrong in funding organizations that are affiliated
to the RSS. The problem is that several of these organizations
are involved in communalizing the tribals, in spreading hate
against religious minorities and promoting communal violence.
The anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat this year saw the active
participation of the adivasis in the violence against the
And it is not only in Gujarat that the IDRF-funded organizations
are engaging in communal violence. The SFH report points to
a similar role played by IDRF-supported organizations such
as Sewa Bharati, Ekal Vidyalayas and the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashrams
in violence against Christians in the central Indian state
of Madhya Pradesh. Activists with the IDRF-supported Vanavasi
Kalyan Parishad in Kotda led a campaign of terror against
the Muslim families in the Juda village, leading to their
large-scale migration to neighboring villages. The implication
of the Sewa Bharati, Madhya Pradesh, in anti-Christian violence
prompted the Congress government in the state to revoke its
The Parivar has significant support among Indian Hindus overseas.
The US chapter of the VHP - the VHPA - which was started in
the early 1970s, has witnessed a phenomenal expansion over
the past two decades, as has its student wing, the Hindu Student
Council. Several Indian Hindus who live abroad hold views
that are far more conservative and narrow than those held
by Hindus in India. Many of them are wealthy and willing to
use their money to further the Parivar's agenda. They consciously
contribute to hardline Hindutva groups.
But several Indian Hindus living abroad donate money to charity
groups, including religious groups, in the belief that that
the funds will be used to educate and feed the poor, to build
temples and schools and other such constructive work. They,
by and large, are ignorant that their donation is going towards
nurturing extremism in India.
The SFH report goes on to show how US corporations are funding
the Parivar's violent anti-minority agenda. Many large US
corporations, such as Cisco, Sun, Oracle, HP and AOL Time
Warner match employee contributions to US-based non-profit
organizations. It is said that Indian professionals with leanings
or affiliations with the Parivars ideology who are working
in these firms have lobbied to put the IDRF on the corporations'
list of grantees. They have promoted the IDRF as the "best
way" to channel funds for "development and relief
work in India". Unsuspecting corporations end up forking
out large sums of money as matching funds to IDRF as employees
of these firms direct funds to IDRF.
The report says that Cisco Systems donated US$70,000 in just
one year to the IDRF. If the contributions of company employees
are added, a total of $1,330,000 went to IDRF from Cisco alone
in one year. It is the same story with several other companies.
The IDRF is just one of the innumerable front organizations
in the US that bankrolls the Parivar's extremist agenda in
India. There are several other organizations in the US, UK
and other countries that act as conduits for the Parivar.
The IDRF could well be just the tip of the iceberg.