Ten years ago, on 6 December 1992, a fascist spectacle was on show in northern India. In the small town of Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, a well-organised band of Hindutva activists demolished a 16th century mosque erected by Mir Baqi. Soon thereafter, blood flowed from the outskirts of Delhi to the centre of Bombay. The Hindutva forces’ contempt for law and order matched the disregard for the Indian constitution shown by Indira Gandhi and the Congress party in the mid-1970s. Neither cared for the rules or for peace; both were interested in the exercise of power.
When asked why they thought the site of the mosque was the site of the Ram Janmabhoomi (translated, the birthplace of the Hindu god, Ram), some Hindutva cadre told the filmmaker Anand Patwardhan that they were “just sure” that it was. Patwardhan then asked them what century Ram had been born in, but they had no answer. The need for empiricism tends to muddy the certainties; besides, the excitement of religious activism far outweighs the basic protocols of historical method.
Ayodhya propelled the Hindutva agenda to the centre of Indian politics and, even as the religious right remained a minority force it was elevated to the controls of the nation-state. Influential Non-resident Indians (NRIs) recognised the trend before many and decided to swim with the tide. A group called ‘Concerned NRIs’ took out full-page advertisements in the Indian- American and Indian press, lauding the acts of the fascist band, enthusiastic that this display would energise India towards that ineffable process called ‘progress’. Failing that, at least their advertisements and their cringing servility would, they hoped, earn them a few contracts and investment deals when Hindutva began the ‘privatisation’ fire-sale of India’s public sector assets.
Many of us across the NRI world, distressed by the tone of Hindutva and its disregard for human dignity, formed secular and democratic organisations. Along the Atlantic seaboard, there were dozens of such groups, meeting each week, planning events, bringing speakers from India, trying desperately to counter the Hindutva juggernaut that was rolling through the overseas landscape.
One of the most important facts learnt in the early months after Ayodhya was that the Sangh Parivar (more appropriately, given its predilection for war, the jang parivar) had raised significant funds overseas for its activities in India. The bricks that went towards the construction of the temple, and the shilapujan ceremonies, where the building blocks of the planned Ram temple were put through ritualistic worship, were funded with rupees converted from dollars. The problem in those years was finding proof. Now we have it.
In mid-November 2002, a full decade after Ayodhya, an NRI group called the ‘Campaign to Stop Funding Hate’ released a report in New Delhi entitled The Foreign Exchange of Hate (available at www.stopfundinghate.org). The report targets the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), a non-profit organisation started by a World Bank official in 1978. IDRF raises millions of dollars in the US and ships it to organisations in India affiliated to the Sangh Parivar whose work, it turns out, is directly related to such murderous acts as the spate of attacks on Christians in 1999 and the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002. The evidence against the IDRF is incontrovertible, and the rather tame response from the organisation shows as much. It turns out, as well, that corporations such as Cisco, HP, Oracle and Sun have been donating money to the IDRF, although now at least Cisco has vowed to stop thus funding hate.
Why do we, as NRIs, give funds to these organisations without care for how our money is used? The most common reason why we donate for the development of India is: we love the country that produced us. But, because we live elsewhere, our patriotic feelings are coloured with guilt. The Indian exchequer bankrolled our education (especially of those who went to institutions such as an Indian Institute of Technology, the graduates of which make up much of the NRI upper class today), and the Indian ethos shaped our personalities – and we abandoned the territory via one massive brain drain. Some may argue that the lack of development chased us away to better climes, but even those who adopt this extreme position admit that we have to give something back.
Hence, our desire to donate money for the relief of those Indians in desperate circumstances – either survivors of earthquakes or droughts, or else of starvation, abandonment. Or towards the development of the country in sum – through the support of education, cottage industries, women’s rights, the promotion of better agricultural practices. Many of us give our money to unimpeachable organisations such as ASHA or CRY, or else through small effective overseas outfits such as V Raman’s Connecticut-based Volunteers to Service in Education in India. Such international philanthropy is laudable and should be promoted.
To tap into this desire to support the home country, the forces of Hindutva have set up innocuous sounding development and relief organisations whose real agenda is to wreak mayhem back home.
Few NRIs are kattar (doctrinaire) Hindutvawaadis, and most indeed have an aversion to this brand of politics. Some businessmen may opportunistically turn to them to secure access to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in India, but even these people bow before saffron only for immediate gain and not out of any real belief in the project. In all my interactions, I have found only a small minority that favours the values of the Sangh Parivar. Five years ago, many NR1s opposed the Congress, but only because corruption scandals had tainted the party. Often, these people supported the BJP, but only because they wanted a change and could not brook support for the socialism of the United Front. There is no substantial support for Hindutva overseas; the money that the IDRF procures, therefore, has been taken under false claims.
Hindutva is like the mythical golden deer in the Ramayan, actually the disguised rogue, Mareech, come to lure Ram and Lakshman away from the forest homestead. Sita is overawed by the deer: magical, many-coloured and strong-limbed (“naanaa varna vichitra angah”), and sends the brothers out to capture it. Ravan then enters the picture to kidnap her. The Sangh Parivar is like that golden deer – shape-shifting, able to connive to get to our hearts, only to do its own devious work with our money.
Excerpts from www.stopfundinghate.org:
“IN THE years from 1994 to 2000 for which the data is available, roughly 75 percent of the IDRF’s total disbursements (over USD 3.2 million) went to the IDRF-designated organisations.
“A vast majority (in excess of 80 percent) of the IDRF designated funds were sent to Parivar organisations, especially those affiliated with or controlled by the RSS, the VHP and the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA). This should be contrasted with the finding that for the same period, only 10 percent of the donor-designated funds were earmarked for Sangh charities”…
“As with other charities, donors to IDRF can earmark their gifts for specific organisations in India (these are called donor-designated funds), or leave it up to IDRF to disburse the funds in ways its deems appropriate (IDRF-designated funds). In the former case, the IDRF only accepts donations of USD 1000 or more, and assigns 10 percent of the donation to Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (a Sangh organisation)…
– “In the years from 1994 to 2000 for which the data is available, roughly 75 percent of the IDRF’s total disbursements (over USD 3.2 million) went to the IDRF-designated organisations…
– “A vast majority (in excess of 80 percent) of the IDRF designated funds were sent to Parivar organisations, especially those affiliated with or controlled by the RSS, the VHP and the VKA. This should be contrasted with the finding that for the same period, only 10 percent of the donor-designated funds were earmarked for Sangh charities.
– “Further, it is clear the IDRF disburses its funds in a highly sectarian manner favouring the Hindu community. None of the organisations funded can be identified with any minority community, though 8 percent (in addition to the 83 percent that are Sangh affiliated) are clearly identifiable as Hindu or Jain religious organisations. Only 2 percent of the organisations funded can be recognised as secular organisations….”
“An analysis of what the primary aim of the IDRF-designated organisations reveals that the majority of them are indeed, not involved in what is commonly understood as ‘relief’ and ‘developmental’ work. “Nearly 70 percent of the IDRF funds go to organisations dealing with education (largely in adivasi/ rural areas), hostels, ‘shuddhi’/reconversion programs, and Hinduisation efforts; about 8 percent goes for health and welfare work; 15 percent goes for relief work, and only 4 percent towards what is normally understood in the NGO world as rural development”.