Are US corporations funding Hindu extremist violence in India?

Sunday 7 December 2003, by Subuhi JIWANI

February 28, 2003 marked the first anniversary of the outbreak of the most horrendous religious violence in India since the subcontinent’s 1947 partition. February and March 2002 witnessed the orchestration of what human rights groups have called a "genocide" against minority Muslims in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

This genocide—which cost the lives of 2,000 people and displaced over 150,000—was executed by the Hindu chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government and its affiliate militant outfits, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, collectively known as the Sangh Parivar.

In the past year, several non-governmental and grassroots initiatives have sprung up, striving to force the Indian state into accountability for this pogrom. One US initiative, the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate, released a report last November entitled "A Foreign Exchange of Hate". It contends that the Maryland-based India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF)—a charity claiming to enhance the development and welfare of India’s rural areas, tribal populations and urban poor—is, in fact, financing the violent activities of Hindu chauvinist outfits in India. Its primary donors include unsuspecting US corporate giants such as Cisco, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, AOL Time Warner and Hewlett-Packard—and some not-so-ignorant employees. According to Biju Matthew, spokesperson for Stop Funding Hate, some employees of major corporations in the US are also "swayamsevaks" or volunteers of the RSS who promote IDRF as a non-sectarian, apolitical charity.

Stop Funding Hate analyzed tax documents that the IDRF submitted to the IRS at its inception in 1989. All sample beneficiaries presented on these documents are affiliated with the Sangh. IDRF disburses 75% of all funds received to organizations it chooses when donors waive their right to do so. Some 83% of these funds eventually settle into the accounts of Sangh-affiliated NGOs in India, amounting to 15-25 percent of the Sangh’s overseas income. In 1999 Cisco donated close to $70,000 to IDRF, which, when added to employee contributions, amounted to $133,000 for the 1999-2000 financial cycle.

No IDRF beneficiary is associated with any minority community—Muslim or Christian—and only 2% of the 184 organizations analyzed are secular. Only 15% of all IDRF funds are directed into humanitarian relief—and even this relief work seems to be sectarian in nature. For instance, IDRF enthusiastically raised funds for Hindu victims of sectarian violence in Bangladesh, Hindu Kashmiris subject to Islamic terrorism and survivors of the 9-11 attacks. However, it made no such attempts to collect funds to aid Muslims displaced by the Gujarat massacres.

Stop Funding Hate claims that IDRF-funded NGOs working to educate the tribal poor provide a Hinduized education, indoctrinating tribal youth in sectarian mindsets. One Gujarat-based organization called the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram was responsible for inciting mobs of Hindu militants during last year’s pogroms, providing them with arms to carry out the attacks.

Stop Funding Hate’s petitions to corporations have resulted in a temporary freeze on IDRF donations from Cisco, Sun Microsystems and Oracle. IDRF has responded in a bellicose fashion. Recently, an article appeared on, official website of the militant Bajrang Dal, calling Biju Matthews "anti-Hindu", "a sympathizer of fanatic Christian Missionaries and Islamic jihad organizations in India" and a "Communist." Readers were urged to contact the US Immigration and Naturalization service to report the "illegal" presence of a foreign Communist in the US.

IDRF has issued a petition called "Stop Hatred and Let India Develop" in an effort to undermine Stop Funding Hate’s petitions. A cursory look at the list of signatures reveals a complete lack of minority supporters. Stop Funding Hate’s petition, in contrast, has been signed by Indians and non-Indians of diverse religious, cultural and regional backgrounds.

Despite the Indian government’s discouragement of any international scrutiny in Gujarat, the International Initiative for Justice in Gujarat (IIJ)—a panel of academics, lawyers, jurists, activists and writers from all over the world—met in New Delhi last December to address questions concerning the sexual violence committed against women. After talking to victims in Gujarat, it concluded that the violence constituted a crime against humanity and fit the legal definition of genocide.

Last December’s state-wide elections in Gujarat reinstated the Bharatiya Janata Party. A year has passed since Gujarat’s cities and villages burned, and India’s failing democracy has yet to take concrete steps to hold Gujarat’s BJP government responsible for its complicity. Corporations and private donors in the West similarly need to take responsibility for their complicity in these crimes.

This article was published in Zmag, March 07 2003

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