THE CAMPAIGN TO STOP FUNDING HATE

NGO accused of funding RSS expresses concern for Hindus

Vasantha Arora (Indo-Asian News Service), HindustanTimes.com, December 5
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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, any minority.”

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 values.”

Prakash’s Maryland-based charity that raises money for relief work in India has come under fire from Indian American academics and activists.

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 were going.
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 oppress minorities...”
“You could call them, in American jargon, Hindu supremacists,” The Baltimore Sun report quoted Kawaja as saying.


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