NGO accused of funding RSS expresses concern for Hindus
Vasantha Arora (Indo-Asian News Service), HindustanTimes.com,
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The Indian American founder of a charity accused of funding
Hindu nationalist groups has denied the allegations but at the
same time believes that the Hindu share of India is shrinking.
In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, Vinod Prakash, the
founder of the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), denied
reports that his charity supports Hindu nationalist groups,
particularly the Rashtriya Swamasevak Sangh (RSS).
“Any allegation of sectarianism, perpetrating violence or
discrimination is absolutely and totally baseless,” said Prakash,
a retired World Bank economist.
“We may be pro-Indian culture, pro-Indian civilisation, pro-Indian
spirituality. But we are not against any sect, any religion,
Prakash, however, has also expressed concern at what he sees
as the shrinking Hindu share – presently around 82 percent
– of India’s one billion people.
“The sole foundation of India is Hindu,” he said in the interview.
“The US-India friendship is based on Hindu values, not Islamic
Prakash’s Maryland-based charity that raises money for relief
work in India has come under fire from Indian American academics
At a time when Islamic charities in the US are being scrutinised
for possible ties to terrorism, IDRF appears to be the first
US philanthropic organisation to be accused of financing Hindu
chauvinism, said the report in the paper.
Prakash, who has lived in the US for 37 years, and other
IDRF activists allege that the fund’s critics are leftwing
ideologues who have distorted facts.
They sent the paper a copy of a thank-you letter from a group
run by Indian Christians who receive IDRF support to house
and feed poor people in Tamil Nadu.
The fund has not registered as a charity with the Maryland
secretary of state’s office, as the law requires. Prakash,
70, said he had only recently become aware of the requirement,
and the registration should be completed soon.
Human Rights Watch and other international groups have accused
Hindu extremist groups and local government officials of participating
in the killing of at least 1,000 people in Gujarat after an
attack on Hindu passengers in a train.
The violence in Gujarat shocked many Indian Americans and
prompted a harder look at where their charitable donations
About a dozen Indian immigrants, including Hindus, Muslims
and Christians, collaborated on a report analysing the activities
of the 15-year-old fund, which raised nearly $4 million last
year for groups in India, according to tax return.
The Baltimore Sun report quoted Angana Chatterji, an anthropology
professor in San Francisco, and one of the authors of the
90-page report, as saying: “We’re not saying that IDRF is
directly involved in communal violence. We’re saying that
IDRF supports a movement that provokes communal violence.”
Chatterji added: “We believe donors are not aware where their
money is going.”
The report, “The Foreign Exchange of Hate”, was accompanied
by a petition drive appealing to US corporations to stop donating
to the fund.
Organisers said some 240 US academics of South Asian background
have signed the petition, located with the report at www.stopfundinghate.org.
Cisco Systems Inc., the Silicon Valley maker of networking
equipment, said Wednesday that it has matched employee gifts
to the fund in the past but has suspended contributions while
it investigates the allegations.
Two days after the release of the report, the Association
of Indian Muslims of America wrote to US Attorney General
John Ashcroft asking that the fund be investigated, its assets
frozen and its tax-exempt status revoked.
Engineer Kaleem Kawaja, general secretary of the Muslim association,
said: “This group (IDRF) started out to do development work
for poor people in India. But over the last seven or eight
years they have been supporting Hindu fundamentalists who
“You could call them, in American jargon, Hindu supremacists,”
The Baltimore Sun report quoted Kawaja as saying.