An open letter to Sonal Shah
AN OPEN LETTER TO MS. SONAL SHAH, MEMBER OF PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA’S TRANSITION ADVISORY BOARD
“Your recent statement on Hindu nationalist groups raises more questions than it answers.”
November 20, 2008
Dear Ms. Shah,
We are a coalition of Indian-American groups and individuals representing diverse faiths, interests, and political affiliations, who are looking forward to working with the administration of President Obama to ensure that the interests of all Indian-Americans have a place in its policies. We represent families who have grievously suffered from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) led pogroms against Muslim minorities of Gujarat in 2002; Christians, whose communities and places of worship are under assault by VHP and its various creations for no other reason than the faith they were born in, or chose; Hindus and human rights activists who have been fighting, often at great peril to their persons, against religious bigotry and violence being fanned by the VHP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and their various incarnations in India as well as in the United States (the Sangh Parivar).
As you can understand, we are legitimately concerned about reports of your personal links with the VHP — whose social values, politics, and actions are antithetical to President-elect Obama’s message of hope and inclusiveness — and how those links might possibly influence your role in the transition team and the new administration’s policies towards India and Indian-Americans.
Your recent public statement, therefore, that your “personal politics have nothing in common with the views espoused by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or any such organization” is a welcome one, and we fully expect that your actions on the transition team will be faithful to that assertion. However, your statement does not allay all of our concerns, given the irrefutable public record of your and your family’s linkages to the VHP and other Sangh Parivar organizations, as confirmed in recent utterances by RSS circles in India and by VHP America. We would like to share those concerns with you in the hope that you will respond to them:
To begin with, like you, many of us were engaged in relief work in the aftermath of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, when we came away with admiration for Gujarat’s civil society, despite persistent allegations that VHP and RSS were cynically using the disaster relief efforts to further their sectarian agendas. Many of us returned to Gujarat promptly in 2002 to provide relief and succor to battered Muslim (and Hindu) families, following the unprecedented violence directed against them — this time despite the openly obstructionist tactics of the Gujarat government. This period was followed by systematic intimidation of activists by the state: e.g. frivolous lawsuits against Ms. Mallika Sarabhai, a renowned artist and community activist, which prompted the Supreme Court of India to intervene on her behalf. And more recently, emboldened by their impunity in Gujarat, the Sangh Parivar has been orchestrating wide-spread violence against Christians in several BJP and BJP-partnered states of India, which has renewed the public demand for a ban on the VHP and its affiliate, the Bajrang Dal.
We remind you of this recent history to express our dismay and disappointment that at no time during this terrible period are we aware of any statement from you dissociating yourself from these dreadful acts of VHP and RSS, especially given your proximity to these organizations: As a person associated with VHP/RSS’s earthquake relief efforts in 2001, we are not aware of any acknowledgment from you of their widely reported sectarian bias in providing relief. We are not aware of any assistance from you or by Indicorps to the thousands of families affected by the 2002 communal pogroms, nor are we aware of your speaking out against the funding of organizations implicated in these hate campaigns by charities in the United States, with some of whom you have been partnering. And, more recently, we have not heard any condemnation from you of the spate of violence against Christian Adivasis being orchestrated by VHP, for which the BJP-partnered government in Orissa has been severely indicted by India’s National Commission for Minorities.
In the face of these facts, your bold assertion that you have “always condemned any politics of division, of ethnic or religious hatred, of violence and intimidation as a political tool” is deeply troubling. Furthermore, the revelation that you were part of the inner circle of VHP America at the time of the Gujarat earthquake indicates that your role was not confined only to humanitarian relief — an important detail that you did not address in your statement. And your consistent support for Ekal Vidyalayas (a VHP-founded movement with the major objective of countering Christianity among Adivasis), which has been found by the Human Resources Ministry of Government of India to be conditioning the minds of young children against religious minorities, adds to our fear that you have not fully distanced yourself from VHP’s intolerant, anti-minority ideology.
As you know better than most of us, President-elect Obama set a high standard of openness and personal accountability for himself during the campaign. We note from recent events that he is setting a similar standard of transparency for the transition team. In that spirit, we hope that you too will take personal responsibility for your undeniable past links with the Sangh Parivar and reconcile your recent statement against the VHP and the RSS with your silence amidst the most egregious human rights violations by them in Gujarat and elsewhere. We further hope that you will unequivocally disown and repudiate your and your family’s past and current associations with the VHP and all other Sangh Parivar organizations.
And, as a prominent Indian-American, we hope that you will join us in our call to the governments of India, Gujarat, and Orissa to speedily bring justice and rehabilitation to the thousands of victims of the Sangh Parivar’s anti-minority violence and to take immediate and effective measures to prevent such violence in the future. These steps will lend much credence to your statement that you do not subscribe to the views of Hindu nationalist groups.
As for your comment that you have been the subject of “ridiculous tactics of guilt by association”: Being everyday victims of guilt by association in the US as well as in India for being Muslims, especially in Gujarat, many of us can and do recognize the insidious nature of blog postings that you may be the subject of. Others among us have been the target of preposterous accusations by supporters of VHP and RSS and have been labeled as anti-Hindu, anti-Indian, pro-terrorist, etc., for seeking justice for India’s minorities.
In contrast, your family’s connections with the Sangh Parivar have been long, deep, well documented, and presumably continue to this day. So we must respectfully reject any parallels drawn between attempts during the campaign to find President-elect Obama guilty by association and legitimate questions about your past affiliations.
In closing, the Indian and Indian-American media have widely covered your appointment to the transition team with justifiable pride, and have spoken very highly of your credentials. We join them in congratulating you and in applauding President-elect Obama for demonstrating his commitment to true diversity by appointing an Indian-American woman to his closest advisory board. We have no doubt that you will bring your expertise to bear upon the many difficult decisions that the transition team will have to make in the next few weeks. But we also sincerely hope that your actions on the team will be mindful of the welfare and aspirations of all Indians, including minority communities, which are under unprecedented attacks by Hindu nationalist groups.
We wish you all the best in your endeavors and we look forward to your response.
A Coalition of Concerned Indian-Americans
American Muslim Physicians of Indian Origin (AMPI)
Association of Indian Muslims in America (AIM), Washington DC
Friends of South Asia (FOSA), San Jose, California (www.friendsofsouthasia.org)
India Foundation, Michigan
Indian Muslim Council (IMC), Morton Grove, Illinois (www.imc-usa.org)
Indian Muslim Education Foundation (IMEFNA), North America
International Service Society, Michigan
Non-Resident Indians for a Secular and Harmonious India (NRI-SAHI), Michigan
Sikh American Heritage Organization, Wayne, Illinois
South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD), Greater Vancouver, Canada (sansad.org)
Supporters of Human Rights in India (SHRI)
The Coalition for a Secular Democratic India (CSDI), Chicago. Illinois
Vaishnava Center for Enlightenment, Michigan
Shahid Ali, M.D.
Dr. Chinmoy Banerjee
Dr. Angana Chatterji
Wasim Khan, MD, MPH
Alex V. Koshy
Kursheed A. Mallick, M.D.
Dr. Svati Shah
Dr. Hari Sharma
Dr. Shaikh Ubaid