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 Parivar’s 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 Parivar’s 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 Muslims.

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 license.

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 Parivar’s 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.