Countering Yankee Hindutva

Print edition : December 20, 2002

TEN years ago, in the wake of Ayodhya, pro-Hindutva non-resident Indians (NRIs) felt confident enough to take out full-page advertisements in the Indian-American press full of praise for the acts of their confederates against the Babri Masjid. Money from the Indian diaspora certainly flowed back to the coffers of the Sangh Parivar as "bricks" for the new temple to Rama. Indeed, the pro-Hindutva NRIs at the time had no compunction about telling us that they had played a monetary role in the onslaught on the Indian polity.

In response, across the United States at least, well-meaning and outraged NRIs formed secular and democratic organisations. Meant to deal a blow to Yankee Hindutva, these organisations held regular public meetings and protests to engage the Indian community in a dialogue about the danger of Hindutva both in India and in North America. The danger in India had become apparent with the anti-Muslim actions that followed the destruction of the mosque, but the dangers in the U.S. had not yet emerged. Yankee Hindutva made its way in the thickets of the NRI community as the saviour for the migrants' dilemma: how to alleviate guilt at leaving the homeland, how to ensure that one's children remained true to the cultural worlds of the homeland, how to gain solace against racism on this new land and how to remain here to make decent if not extraordinary sums of money. Yankee Hindutva's organisations provided summer camps for young people and several organisations to tackle some of the everyday problems of the migrant community. Certainly, Yankee Hindutva also distorted several of our problems (such as violence against women and anti-Black racism), but in sum its organisations did appear to do some good, "merely cultural", work.

One of the avenues for the rapid growth of Yankee Hindutva came in the area of fund-raising for the development of India. Founded in 1978 by an NRI who worked at the World Bank, the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) set to work on the generally apolitical NRI population. Wealthy not because of natural selection, but because of the state selection of the U.S., NRI engineers, doctors and scientists lived with the guilt that they had abandoned their nation whose taxes educated them at least in the Indian Institutes of Technology and other such major research institutions. They became fodder for the IDRF because of their guilt for the Brain Drain. "India is our mother, not just a nation, and it is our duty to serve her" the IDRF offered this as its motto. How many mothers had our intrepid migrants left behind, how much guilt emanated from just this suggestion? The money from this apolitical mass went into the IDRF for "development" and "relief". Given that the IDRF already had strong ties with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the money went toward the development of Hindutva.

Ordinary people gave money through the web site, through creative events across North America (such as "Cricket for a Cause") and through contacts with IDRF volunteers. But vast sums of money also came via corporate philanthropy, as firms asked their employees to designate charities to which they would give money. Silicon Valley giants such as CISCO, Sun, Oracle and Hewlett-Packard ended up giving tens of thousands of dollars to the IDRF. "The swayamsewaks within U.S. corporations push the IDRF as the best and only way to provide funding for development and relief in India," says the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate, "thus causing not only other unsuspecting employees but also the corporation itself to fund the Sangh in India."

AFTER Ayodhya, the IDRF remained secure in its agenda. The voices of the secular and democratic forces did not make much impact on its fund-raising, as the NRI community made a quiet accommodation with the growth of Hindutva in India.

But with the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat, much of that changed. For the first time, the Indian American media reported the facts of the Sangh Parivar's campaign of death without much distortion. Its reporters went into the field and came back with graphic stories of what had happened in the State that sends a considerable chunk of its people into the diaspora. Kanwal Rekhi, the important guru of Silicon Valley, wrote a famous opinion piece in The Washington Post that resonated across the Indian American media and into the homes of the as yet apolitical, if a bit opportunistic, NRI community. "Many overseas Indian Hindus, including some in this country," he wrote, "finance religious groups in India in the belief that the funds will be used to build temples, and educate and feed the poor of their faith. Many would be appalled to know that some recipients of their money are out to destroy minorities (Christians as well as Muslims) and their places of worship."

Until the report by the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate most of what we knew had been by innuendo and through interviews with exiles from the land of Yankee Hindutva. Now we have information and documentation that largely proves the culpability of guilty dollars in the barbarous acts of the Sangh Parivar.

Gujarat provides the most grisly examples. IDRF funded the RSS-run Vanvasi Kalyan Kendras (VKKs) in the State for decades, and most of those who have studied both the 1999 anti-Christian pogrom in Dangs and the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom Statewide show us that the VKK was an active participant in the violence. In Waghai, the IDRF funded the ashram of Swami Ashim Anand, who consolidated the Bajrang Dal units across the States, groomed them for carnage, and disappeared once his role in the 1999 violence became clear. The IDRF continued to support his ashram and others like it.

The Campaign's report has brought dolour to the forces of Yankee Hindutva, hit as they are by hard facts and a razor-sharp analysis. Already word comes that some of the major corporations might opt out of giving money to IDRF. If this is so, the Campaign has already succeeded. But the real success will come when the NRI community in sum detaches itself from the likes of the IDRF. We look forward to that day.

Vijay Prashad is Associate Professor and Director, International Studies Programme, Trinity College, Connecticut.

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