The foreign hand

Published : Dec 20, 2002 00:00 IST

A report details the means adopted by the United States-based India Development and Relief Fund to collect funds from U.S. corporates and channel them to Hindu fundamentalist organisations.

AFFILIATES of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) have been receiving millions of dollars from corporates in the United States to instigate communal violence and propagate the Hindutva ideology in Gujarat and other parts of the country. This was exposed by the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (SFH), a group of professionals, students, workers, artists and intellectuals. They have identified the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), a Maryland-based charity organisation established in 1989, as the key fund-raiser for the Sangh Parivar in the U.S. SFH says that the IDRF, which was set up to provide funds for `relief and development work', has been funding RSS-initiated projects all over India. In 2000, around $1.7 million was channelled to Sangh Parivar organisations such as the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA), which has been linked with anti-minority violence. Between 1994 and 2000, the IDRF disbursed close to $4 million to Sangh Parivar organisations all over India.

Some other long-term recipients of IDRF funds include the Vikas Bharti (Bihar), the Swami Vivekananda Rural Development Society (Tamil Nadu), the Sewa Bharati (New Delhi), the Jana Seva Vidya Kendra (Karnataka), the Girivasi Vanvasi Sewa Prakalp (Uttar Pradesh) and the G. Deshpande Vanvasi Vastigrah (Maharashtra). While organisations like the Sewa Bharati are openly identified with the RSS, others like the Swami Vivekananda Rural Development Society profess to work for the development of tribal people, though in reality they lay stress on teaching the tribal people the `Hindu way of life'. Collectively, these organisations have been supported by the IDRF since its establishment.

The SFH launched a `Project Saffron Dollar' to end the activities of the IDRF. On November 20, the group released a 91-page report titled "A Foreign Exchange of Hate: IDRF and the American Funding of Hate" in New Delhi. The report reveals how the IDRF obtained considerable amounts from leading U.S. technology companies such as Cisco, Sun Microsystems, AOL-Time Warner and Hewlett Packard and distributed it among RSS affiliates. While 83 per cent of the funds went to the RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other Sangh Parivar organisations, only 2 per cent went to secular organisations.

When collecting money, the IDRF professed that it was doing so to `fund relief and development work'. Actually, the funds were distributed among RSS organisations dealing with reconversion programmes and efforts to Hinduise society. For example, the IDRF's website claims that it is a charity organisation that has helped the victims of the Gujarat earthquake of 2001. However, the fact remains that it used the funds to help only Hindu victims.

The anti-minority stand of the IDRF is not new. In the past, it collected funds for Bangladeshi Hindus, Kashmiri Hindus and for those whose family members died in the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York. In all three cases, the people allegedly responsible for perpetrating the disasters belonged to the Muslim community.

In contrast, the IDRF has not announced any relief for victims of the communal violence in Gujarat. In fact, it contributed to the violence by channelling its funds to the VKA and the Vivekananda Kendra, which have been working to communalise the tribal people and create an anti-Muslim ethos. (The SFH report noted that a "surprise element" in the anti-minority violence in Gujarat was the "active participation" of tribal people in it.) A similar role was played by the IDRF in supporting organisations like the Sewa Bharati and the VKA, which is accused of using violence against Christians in Madhya Pradesh in 1998. It also supported projects like Ekal Vidyalayas (One Teacher Schools), a VHP-run project aimed at the indoctrination of students in remote villages inhabited by tribal people.

Biju Mathew, Professor of Information Systems at Rider University, said: "We are now disseminating the results of our investigations amongst the NRIs [non-resident Indians] and U.S. corporations. Our report clearly establishes the link between the IDRF and the RSS." The report is based on primary sources, including documentary evidences from tax documents filed by the IDRF; articles from Sangh Sandesh, the newsletter of RSS; and reports published by Sangh Parivar organisations in India and abroad.

According to the report, the links between the IDRF and the RSS go beyond financial support. Several office-bearers of the IDRF are associated with Sangh Parivar organisations in India. The founder-members of the IDRF include Bhishma Agnihotri, an RSS ideologue and a leader of the Hindu Swayamsewak Sangh (HSS), the equivalent of the RSS in the U.S. and the United Kingdom. He was last in the news when his candidature for the position of the point man for NRIs was opposed by the New York-based Indian National Overseas Congress, an organisation which represents the Indian community in the U.S. Agnihotri had said that he was proud of his association with the Sangh Parivar.

How does the IDRF operate in the U.S.? The most active fund-raisers of the IDRF are the Indian migrants to the U.S., especially professionals working in the software sector. Such IDRF sympathisers encourage their companies to put the IDRF on the corporation's list of grantees. The swayamsewaks working in U.S. corporations project the IDRF as the `best' and the `only' way to provide funds for `development and relief' work in India.

One company that unwittingly funded the IDRF is Cisco. One criterion of Cisco for eligibility to receive donations is that the organisation should be involved in non-religious work. It explicitly states that the company does not wish to encourage organisations that promote one culture, race or religion. However, over the years, the software swayamsewaks working in Cisco ensured that the company contributed to the IDRF. Cisco's contribution to the IDRF was as much as 5 per cent of the IDRF's total cash corpus in 1999. After the release of the report, Cisco suspended its funding to the IDRF and decided to investigate the allegations against the IDRF. The report has been sent to 10 leading corporations with a petition to disallow the IDRF from using the companies' facilities for direct and indirect fund-raising.

Replying to the allegations of the SFH on its website, the IDRF clarified that it follows a well-defined process to select non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for receiving funds. It said: "IDRF employs professional and recognised methods to identify, qualify and distribute funds to NGOs. As a part of this process, each NGO is required to submit a Statement of Work (SOW) before IDRF grants funds." For the time being, it is clear that its donors are not going to take these assurances on face value. Besides Cisco, Sun Microsystems has also said that it had put donations to the IDRF on hold.

THE SFH's report has once again placed the spotlight on the larger question of growth of Hindutva outside India. In the U.S., the Sangh Parivar and its affiliates have grown over the years, entrenching themselves in the West Coast, the North East and the southern States of Florida and Texas. These are pockets where the Indian diaspora of professionals is concentrated. Besides disseminating its nefarious ideology, the Sangh Parivar concentrates on collecting funds from the NRI community. What is a cause of growing concern is the systematic infiltration of U.S. universities by the Sangh Parivar organisations. The organisations target members of the second-generation Indian Americans, who are approached with the objective of bringing them under the influence of Hindutva.

The meetings of the Sangh Parivar organisation, National Students' Forum in the U.K. and the Hindu Students' Council (HSC) in the U.S. have grown from innocuous get-togethers to meeting places for right-wingers. The HSC, which has branches in more than 50 universities in the U.S., was launched in 1988, when its first chapter was set up in the University of Maryland. In this context, it is not surprising that voices against the propagation of the Hindutva ideology have also come from the universities of the U.S. Members of Saffron Dollar project emphasise that the presence of a vociferous group is imperative to stem the RSS' growth outside India.

Other organisations and groups too have criticised the activities of the Sangh Parivar outside India. For instance, the Indo-U.S. Entrepreneurs, an organisation of business people from south Asia, has asked the U.S. corporate world to be careful when contributing to charity organisations. In fact, when the organisation's president, Kanwal Rekhi, wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal about the money being sent to anti-minority organisations, he had to face criticism from right-wing groups. However, such moves have not deterred others from speaking out against the Sangh Parivar. Biju Mathew said: "What we have investigated is the day-to-day working of the RSS in the U.S. This will help change the perspective that it exists as an empty shell."

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