Re: US Policy on Hindu Nationalist Groups in India and the US
Dear President-Elect Obama,
As Indian-Americans working for human rights, peace and justice, we are elated with your agenda on civil rights, which includes expanding hate crimes statutes, ending racial profiling, and combating workplace discrimination. And we welcome the diversity of talents in your transition team, including the appointment of several fellow Indian-Americans.
As a coalition representing India’s diversity, and committed to promoting the secular and pluralistic nature of its democracy, we are particularly sensitive to the status of Muslim and Christian minorities in India, who have been facing growing hostility from Hindu nationalist groups such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and their various affiliates, in several states of India. Unfortunately, every terrorist incident directed against the people of India, like the heinous attack on Mumbai last week, seems to only strengthen the hands of these groups, who relentlessly propagate religious stereotypes and commit violent acts against minority communities with impunity. We are writing to you to share our deep concerns in this regard, before your administration shapes its policy priorities towards India.
The alarming rise of Hindu nationalists and the consequent increase in bigotry, violence, and violations of religious freedom have been extensively documented by human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International as well as by the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Reports. To cite just two glaring examples:
RSS and VHP led widespread pre-planned attacks against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, ostensibly in ‘reaction’ to the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims in which sixty people died. In the ensuing days, with the full connivance of the state, rampaging mobs gruesomely murdered over 2,000 Muslims, destroyed their businesses, gang-raped women, and expelled thousands of Muslims from their villages. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Gujarat has been widely held responsible for the worst communal violence in post-independent India. Mr. Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister, who scornfully justified the massacres as a “lesson” to the Muslims, has been censured by India’s Supreme Court as a “modern day Nero” and denied entry into the US by the State Department on grounds of “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
VHP and its affiliates have been orchestrating a systematic hate campaign for years against India’s tiny Christian minority, in response to what they allege are ‘forced’ religious conversions of Hindus and tribal people, despite the fact that even in states with anti-conversion laws on the book there have been virtually no complaints of coercion. The violence against Christians and their places of worship touched new heights recently, when Hindu militias in the state of Orissa (with a BJP supported government) forcibly evicted thousands of tribal Christians from their villages, molested nuns, targeted pastors/priests, and coerced people to ‘reconvert’ to Hinduism. India’s National Commission for Minorities has indicted the state government for failing to curb the violence. The central government too has done very little to prevent the spread of anti-Christian violence to other states and has ignored calls for banning the VHP and its violent street militia, the Bajrang Dal. Members of VHP have been recently accused of terrorist attacks against Muslims in 2006 in the state of Maharashtra and are being investigated by India’s Anti-Terrorism Squad, some of whose members lost their lives in the recent Mumbai attack.
We cite these two examples to underscore the role of the Hindu nationalist groups in endangering human rights and peace in India, through their insidious combination of politics and the threat of violence. When faced with the escalating terrorist attacks from within and outside India, such as the recent carnage in Mumbai, they tend to further target the most vulnerable sections of the minorities. Indeed, the two types of terror seem to constantly feed off each other. The crucial difference, however, is that violence instigated by Hindu nationalist groups against minorities often have not led to fair investigations or justice. As your administration works to strengthen US-India relations and develops strategies to combat terrorism, it is imperative that it exerts all its diplomatic leverage with the Government of India to stem the politics of hatred, through clear signals such as continuing the current policy of denying entry to Mr. Modi.
Our second concern relates to mounting evidence that Hindu nationalist groups have been receiving considerable patronage from certain Indian-American NGOs and related charities in the U.S., ostensibly for legitimate social and educational work, which brings them considerable recognition and support from the community. We are specifically concerned with organizations such as VHP America, India Development and Relief Fund, and Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation, all of which claim to be independent of RSS and VHP in India, but are indeed connected with them through shared ideology and project partnerships. We urge your administration to closely scrutinize these organizations for their linkages to forces spreading communal hatred and violence in India.
In this context, we would like to bring to your attention the case of Ms. Sonal Shah, whose appointment to the Transition Board was widely applauded by sections of Indian and Indian-American community, but who has been less than candid about her connections with the VHP. We have written a letter to her (attached) seeking answers to a number of questions raised by her recent public statement and are awaiting her response.
In the meantime, we sincerely hope that your Transition Board will put in place a process to fully vet all South Asian appointees to the new administration for any direct or indirect association with hate mongering, violence-prone groups; and, if they are found to have had such connections, to restrict their role in any South Asia-related policy matters and as interlocutors of their community (along similar lines as the ethics rules laid out for lobbyists on the team).
In closing, we would like to reiterate our full support for your plans to enhance equal opportunities at home and to end human rights abuses abroad. And we particularly hope to be of service in your efforts to further strengthen bilateral ties with India by addressing mutual national security goals in a way that safeguards civil liberties, especially those of minorities. We wish you all success in meeting the extraordinary challenges ahead and we look to working with your incoming administration.
A Coalition of Concerned Indian Americans
American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin (AFMI), Farmington, MI
American Muslim Physicians of Indian Origin (AMPI), IL (http://ampionline.org)
Association of Indian Muslims in America (AIM), Washington DC
Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (CSFH), CA (www.stopfundinghate.org)
Friends of South Asia (FOSA), San Jose, CA (www.friendsofsouthasia.org)
India Foundation, Okemos, MI
Indian Minorities Advocacy Network (ImanNet), New York
Indian Muslim Council (IMC), Morton Grove, IL (www.imc-usa.org)
Indian Muslim Education Foundation of North America (IMEFNA), (http://imefna.org)
Indian Muslim Relief and Charities (IMRC), Palo Alto, CA (http://www.imrc.ws/)
International Service Society, MI
Network of Progressive Muslims
Non-Resident Indians for a Secular and Harmonious India (NRI-SAHI), MI
Sikh American Heritage Organization, Wayne, IL
South Asia Forum, Madison, WI
South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD), Greater Vancouver, Canada (http://sansad.org)
Supporters of Human Rights in India (SHRI), MN
The Coalition for a Secular Democratic India (CSDI), Chicago, IL
Vaishnava Center for Enlightenment, MI
World Tamil Organization, Inc., Cary, NC
Habeeb Ahmed, Long Island, NY (member Long Island Peace coalition)
Dr. Syed S Ahmed, Chicago, IL
Dr. Waheeduddin Ahmed, Milwaukee, WI
Shahid Ali M.D, Chief, Dept of Medicine, Schuyler Hospital, New York
Aliuddin Azam, Binghamton, NY
Dr. Chinmoy Banerjee, Secretary, SANSAD
Dr. Angana Chatterji, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, California Institute of Integral Studies
Nishrin Hussain, Daughter of congress MP Ehsan Jafri killed in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat
Imtiazuddin, D.I.C. London, Consultant and Social Activist
Dr. Pushpa Iyer, Assistant Professor, Monterey Institute for International Studies, CA
Hyder M. Khan, MD, Ph. D.
M. A. Muqtedar Khan, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations, Director of Islamic Studies, University of Delaware
Wasim Khan, MD, MPH
Dr. Alex V. Koshy, Founder General Secretary of World Malayalee Council and Board Member of MLK Commission of New Jersey
Khursheed A. Mallick, M.D.
Gulamrasul Mansuri, Former President Gujarati Muslim Association of America, Chicago, IL
Biju Mathew, Associate professor of Business, Rider University, NJ
A. R. Nakadar, M.D.
Raju Rajagopal, Entrepreneur and Social Activist
Shaik Saad, Long Island, New York
Dr. Sornam Sankarapandi, Ellicott City, MD
Dr. Shaik Sayeed, Milwaukee, WI
Dr. Svati Shah, Postdoctoral Fellow, Duke University
Dr. Hari P. Sharma, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Simon Fraser University and President, SANSAD
Syed Azmatullah Quadri, Founding Chairman, ImanNet, Chicago, IL
Dr. Shaik Ubaid, Founding President, ImanNet, Chicago, IL
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
[Note: Here is a description of the Governing Council from the VHPA website: [It] is the main policy making body of the Parishad. Meets annually to review the progress of programs and projects, and plan for the future. Members elected from different regions for a period of three years. With over 50 elected members this is the body that sets the direction for the Parishad.]
# VHP Governing Council & Chapter Presidents/Coordinators List
# Updated on 04/30/1998 (GGV)
# Added Barai, Gajjar, Gajanan Joshi,Waghmare. Changed S. Gupta, S. Shah (GGV).
# Updated on 06/03/1998 (GGV)
# Added Shiv Agarwal
# Ajay : changed Babubhai Gandhi’s address 11/22/98
# Ajay : changed Jitendra Goel’s address 12/14/98
firstname.lastname@example.org (Shiv Agarwal)
email@example.com (Anand Agarwala)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Abhaya Asthana)
email@example.com (Chandan Bandopadhyay)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Kanchan Banerjee)
email@example.com (Bharat Barai)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Yashwant Belsare)
email@example.com (Dilip Desai)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Bharat Gajjar)
email@example.com (Babulal Gandhi)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Girish Gandhi)
email@example.com (Sharad Gandhi)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Veena Gandhi)
email@example.com (Brij Garg)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Sunil Gokhale)
email@example.com (Ram Sewak Goswami)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Uma Gulani)
email@example.com (Arun Gupta)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Subhash Gupta)
email@example.com (Gajanan Joshi)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Vinod Jhunjuhnwala)
email@example.com (Vrushali kene)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Jwalant Lakhia)
email@example.com (Yash Pal Lakra)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Renu Malhotra)
email@example.com (Mihir Meghani)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Mahesh Mehta)
email@example.com (Nayana Modh)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Sushim Mukerji)
yogi_naik@py_cyanamid.com (Yogesh Naik)
email@example.com (Vijay Pallod)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Anjlee Pandya)
email@example.com (Harish Pandya)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Jyotish Parekh)
email@example.com (Virendra Parikh)
rajpatel@ix_netcom.com (Rajesh Patel)
Ameya@worldnet.att.net (Vijay Ruikar)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Ajay Shah)
email@example.com (Sonal Shah)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Nand Kishore Sharma)
email@example.com (Vimal Sodhani)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Satu Somani)
email@example.com (Mandayam Srinivasan)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Shyam Tiwari)
email@example.com (removed 06/03/98)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Rajiv Varma)
email@example.com (Prakash Waghmare)
# Chapter Presidents & Coordinators
firstname.lastname@example.org (Jitendra Goel)
email@example.com (Subhash Gupta)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Hasit Parikh)
Girish.Gandhi@stn.siemens.com (Girish Gandhi)
While Sonal Shah’s email address suggests an affiliation with sprint.com, in 1998 treas.sprint.com was a treasury department email address. (See, for instance, this PR from the Treasury.) As further confirmation, VHPA general secretary Gaurang Vaishnav has admitted Sonal being a part of the Governing body. With a paternalism typical of the Sangh Parivar, he claims “she was taken into our governing body … [while] she was just coming out of college”.
NDTV caught up with Gaurang G Vaishnav, general secretary, VHP-America who confirmed that not just was Sonal Shah a member of the organisation she was also on the governing body of the VHP-A.
Q. What was your reaction to the news of Sonal Shah’s induction into the transition board of the Obama administration?
It was a feeling of joy and pride that my country person, from Bharat is in that position.
Q. But, this is also a person who is a member of your organization the VHP, so was there more reason to be proud?
She used to be member of the VHP-America but more than that I have known her for many years. Father was my personal friend so it is a very joyous occasion.
Q. In what capacity was she a member of the VHP-A? How involved was she in the organization?
She was just coming out of college. We were trying to get the younger generation involved in the VHP-A. So she was taken into our governing body. Then the earthquake happened in Gujarat and she worked on that. She was there for 3 years.
Q. What is your response to the criticism that says she should not be part of the Obama team because of her connections with the VHP. Your response?
My response is that this is absolute hogwash. First of all is it a crime to be associated with the VHP or VHP-America, or the RSS? VHP America is an independent body of this country. It is not part of VHP-Bharat. Sonal Shah, from what I know was not a part of VHP-Bharat. Even if she were I would say there is nothing wrong with that. Even if she were I would say why should she be stopped. Has the VHP B or A been convicted of any crime? This is nothing but reverse McCarthyism.
Q.So, will there be more reflection of your ideology in the US administration?
I do not think so because she is an economist. That is what she is hired for, not for her Hindu values. In the United States, the President takes his oath on the bible. The President has weekly breakfast with church leaders. Obama goes to church. Would that disqualify him from being President? Religion is something very personal to a person. Without religion we would all be animals.
Q. She gave a statement where she says she does not identify with the ideology of the VHP. Does that hurt you?
No, everybody does not have to stand up for everything. You have to see the forces running against you. There is something called wisdom. It is very clear what is going on. Known characters from the Left. Leftist, Communist, Marxist well-known Hindu baiters, Hindu haters are coming out of the woodwork. So you do not have to fall in their trap. No matter what you tell them they are going to sing the same song so I think what Sonal has done is correct.
Thanks to VHPA general secretary Gaurang Vaishnav, media secretary Shyam Tiwari, and the archived vhpgc-l list (three Sangh Parivar sources!) it is clear that Sonal was a member of the VHPA Governing Council at some point. It’s not clear how long she was on the Council, but it could have been for any duration between her graduation and now. The primary concern of many who are protesting Sonal’s presence in the Obama team is this: if she can seamlessly transition from a membership in the highest decision making body of the VHPA to the Obama team, does it not serve to mainstream/legitimize Hindutva ideology? To let it pass would be to sanitize the criminal past and present of the Sangh, as Gaurang seeks to do when he asks: Has the VHP B or A been convicted of any crime?
All this is on one side. On the other side, it is not fair to hold anyone a prisoner of their past. Our views evolve with time, and we should allow for the possibility that having observed the Parivar from up close, Sonal perhaps was grossed out and got out of the Parivar. Sonal’s recent statement distancing herself from the Sangh is encouraging, but is hardly sufficient given new revelations of her long linkages with the Sangh Parivar. Speculations about her Sangh affiliations — how extensive they were, how long they lasted, when & why they ended etc. — are bound to continue until she decides to put a stop to them. As to what she can do, for now I’ll just repeat the suggestions laid out in the CSFH statement:
- acknowledge her past organizational associations with the Sangh Parivar
- distance herself from the public reception reportedly planned by the RSS in her native village in Gujarat
- categorically condemn the role played by Hindutva forces in anti-minority violence in India, and the facilitation of this violence by funds sent through various Sangh Parivar affiliates in the United States
[read the original statement at stopfundinghate.org]
A virtual melee has ensued in print and digital media over the selection of Ms. Sonal Shah, an American of Indian origin to the Obama transition team’s advisory board. Shrill accusations of Ms. Shah being a “racist and Hindu chauvinist” are being reciprocated by equally shrill attempts to portray anyone who raises serious questions about the selection as being anti-India, anti-Hindu, anti-progress, and recently, as against “liberal civility.” We condemn such baseless and unfair statements.
At the outset we wish to acknowledge that Ms. Shah has had a record of being a visible and an important face of the “desi American” community – a successful professional, and a politically and socially engaged citizen.
We are also happy to note at least one positive effect from this debate. Even as this issue gets played out on public fora, the din of militant Hindutva drumbeats has suffered some dampening. Almost all participants, including those who have come out in support of Ms. Shah, have said that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — both integral to the Hindutva movement, are part of the “politics of hate” that must be resisted. We wish such statements had come much earlier, such as the time when people were being butchered in Gujarat, or when Indicorps (an organization Ms. Shah co-founded) was felicitated by Mr. Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat.
Ms. Shah has become something of a point of pride for many Americans with origins in India. But Ms. Shah does have feet that leave tracks, has written words that have been archived, and has occupied offices of responsibility. We wish to explore this material record below by examining two of the most persuasive claims made by supporters of Ms. Shah. These are:
- That accusations of Ms. Shah being a closet Hindutva ideologue amount to “guilt by association“, a reference to the fact that her father Mr. Ramesh Shah has well documented leadership roles within the Sangh Parivar (Collective Family, the name for the set of organizations of Hindutva).
- That Ms. Shah’s only association with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) was in the context of the Gujarat earthquake; surely, she cannot be faulted for not picking the right organization when urgent action was the need of the hour.
Our claims of Ms. Shah’s Hindutva associations are not based on guilt by association. Instead, we ask: What organizational and ideological work did Ms. Shah perform for and as part of the VHPA?
We have archived records demonstrating that Ms. Shah was a part of VHPA’s leadership group–the governing council and chapter presidents/coordinators. She participated in strategy discussions with prominent leaders of the Sangh Parivar. Ms. Shah was not just a bystander, she was considered important and trustworthy enough by the Hindutva leadership to be included in a core group with Ajay Shah, Gaurang Vaishnav, Mahesh Mehta, Yashpal Lakra, Vijay Pallod, Shyam Tiwari, and others. Does Ms. Shah deny that she played such a role? Even in light of the recent public statement by Gaurang Vaishnav, General Secretary of the VHPA, that Ms. Shah was made a member of the governing council as she came out of college?
We are glad to hear Ms. Shah assert that her “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“, and that she does not “subscribe to the views of such Hindu nationalist groups.” However, in view of her close association with VHPA, as summarized above, Ms. Shah’s claim to have “never” subscribed to such Hindu nationalist views strains credulity.
Ms. Shah’s participation in the VHPA Governing Council predates by a few years her position as National Coordinator of VHPA’s Gujarat earthquake activities in 2001. The position of earthquake relief coordinator doesn’t seem to be an easy one to ascend to — VHPA’s website states that “national projects are executed by a committee of members drawn from the Governing Council and the various chapters.” Thus, Ms. Shah’s coordination of VHPA earthquake relief seems to have built upon her earlier leadership role within the VHPA. We do not know when/if her affiliation with the VHPA ceased, but VHPA media secretary Shyam Tiwari has recently claimed: “Sonal was a member of VHP of America at the time of the earthquake. Her membership has [now] expired.”
A note about Ms. Shah’s earthquake relief work. Calamities such as the 2001 Bhuj earthquake often bring out the best in humans, but the Sangh Parivar is notorious for using such moments instrumentally and cynically for advancing its violent ideological agenda. An ordinary donor or fund-raiser can be excused for not knowing the Sangh agenda, but for someone like Ms. Shah, who grew up in a family deeply rooted in the Sangh Parivar, it is more than a little disingenuous to claim that such fund-raising was apolitical or neutral. There are numerous documented instances of the Sangh Parivar’s religion- and caste-based discrimination in doling out relief. Therefore we are shocked that Ms. Shah has expressed pride in coordinating relief work (under the ambit of VHPA) following the Gujarat earthquake of 2001. The relief work coordinated by the VHP is known to have rebuilt villages in the Kutch region exclusively for caste Hindus while marginalizing lower caste Hindus and Muslims to the periphery. The VHP thus took the opportunity of the earthquake to re-create multi-ethnic villages into exclusive Hindu spaces. In addition, given the pivotal role played by the VHP and other Sangh organizations in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom, we fear her pride is entirely misplaced.
Although we appreciate the positive influence Ms. Shah has had on many second-generation desis, we have a hard time forgetting the many victims of Hindutva. If Ms. Shah really wants to dispel doubts about her linkages with the VHPA and other Sangh Parivar outfits, we urge her to be more forthcoming in her condemnations of the Sangh Parivar, especially its branches in the United States since that has been the site of her involvement. Some ways for Ms. Shah to do this would be to:
- acknowledge her past organizational associations with the Sangh Parivar
- distance herself from the public reception reportedly planned by the RSS in her native village in Gujarat
- categorically condemn the role played by Hindutva forces in anti-minority violence in India, and the facilitation of this violence by funds sent through various Sangh Parivar affiliates in the United States
In Peace and Justice
Campaign to Stop Funding Hate
A TOI report (reproduced below) hypothesizes on why Modi justified the killing of a Gujarati Muslim businessman, Sohrabuddin, and his wife, Kauserbi.
On Monday, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi owned up to killing Sohrabuddin, saying he “got what he deserved”, to packed crowds at a rally in Mangrol, in south Gujarat. Within 24 hours, on Tuesday, the issue — an emotive one and seen as a return of the communal agenda — vanished from his speeches as he addressed rallies in central Gujarat, including Godhra.
But, this was no aberration: There is a method in Modi’s apparent madness. While in rebellion-ridden Saurashtra or Surat, where he has failed to cast a spell, he threw the Sohrabuddin bait; but once out of rebel strongholds, he bypassed Sohrabuddin and talked in general terms about terrorism.
In short, Sohrabuddin was the rallying point in places where Leuva Patels have risen in rebellion against Modi, and which didn’t see much bloodshed, post-Godhra. He resurrected Sohrabuddin, the man his government branded a terrorist and killed in a fake encounter, according to its own admission before SC.
Sohrabuddin’s dead wife Kauserbi has become Modi’s biggest weapon to fight the Congress/ rebels with, who are now fighting on Congress tickets mainly from Saurashtra and South Gujarat. Modi knows only too well that development won’t sell in these parts because the rebels have already burst his development bubble.
Places like Visavadar, in Junagadh, where a Keshubhai Patel man is fighting on a Congress ticket; Wadhwan in Surendranagar where rebel BJP MLA Dhanraj Kella is contesting as an Independent; Jamnagar and Mangrol in South Gujarat, are the places where Modi has told the crowds how his police killed Sohrabuddin. His speeches usually end with a submission: “The Congress is ruling at the Centre, it can hang me!”
But watch him in Panchmahals — where the intensity of riots in 2002 has ensured a clear polarisaton and there’s no sign of dissidence — and Modi is back with his tirade against terrorism, aimed a wooing back the estranged VHP members.
Social scientist Achyut Yagnik seems to concur:
In the 2002 elections, Hindutva forces were united. But during the past five years, three shades of Hindutva emerged — hardline, Modi’s own brand and soft Hindutva. Modi carried on with Gujarati pride factor for a long time, but he has now realised that his development plank is not working and he would have to speak the language of the hardliners. After all the cadre are mostly hardliners.
A few weeks ago, the Tehelka expose shocked many when Baju Bajrangi enthusiastically described slitting pregnant Muslim women. Now, by justifying the cold-blooded murder (archive) of a Muslim couple, Modi has once again shown himself to be no different. More suave than Bajrangi, of course, but that’s about it.
While the Arun Jaitleys of the Sangh would rather have Modi fulminate on Mohammad Afzal, Modi understandably preferred something local that he could take credit for. With the likes of Uma Bharti calling him a pseudo-Hindu, what better way to buttress his Hindutva credentials than asserting that his hands are bloodied? And now that he has been forced to back-track by the Election Commission, he has volunteered to hang Afzal!
Blood and gore are constant companions of Hindutva, more so in election times.
In the case of Sohrabuddin et al, the Gujarat government had admitted (archive) in the Supreme Court (on March 23, 2007) that there was prima facie evidence to suggest that the encounter in which alleged LeT operative Sohrabuddin Sheikh was killed in November 2005, was a ‘fake’. Two months later, Gujarat Inspector General of Police Geetha Johri’s report on the fake encounter pointed to the collusion of [the] State government in the form of Shri Amit Shah, MOS for Home and noted that the episode makes a complete mockery of the rule of law and is perhaps an example of the involvement of [the] State government in a major crime. (Also see the Wiki page and the chronology on NDTV)
Modi’s audacious claims on Sohrabuddin need to be seen against this backdrop:
“What should be done to a man who stored illegal arms and ammunition ?” Modi reportedly said. “You tell me what should have been done to Sohrabuddin ?… Hang me if I have done anything wrong.”
It’s almost as if Muslims are guilty until proved innocent, and if killed, guilty by definition. That he could whip up communal frenzy portends an ominous future for Gujarat:
He managed to whip up such a communal frenzy with his words that the crowd begin to chant “kill him, kill him” in response to Modi’s question on what should have been done to Sohrabuddin.
And when the people shouted “kill him”, Modi said: “Well, that is it. Do I have to take Sonia Gandhi’s permission to do this? Hang me if I have done anything wrong.”
As the elections approach, NRI sanghis have sought to aggressively market Modi as a visionary leader who has been subjected to malicious propaganda. The more enterprising ones even wear Hindutva as a badge of honor. Unfortunately for them, the likes of Modi and Bajrangi continue to reveal the seamy side of Hindutva. Ratan Tata might want to invest in Gujarat — You are stupid if you do not invest in Gujarat, he allegedly said (archive) — but can Muslims live free from fear in Gujarat?
Even as Modi continues to stoke the Hindutva fire in the run-up to the Gujarat Assembly elections, his Sanghi buddies seem to have put behind their differences and ensure his re-election. A VHP press release dated Nov 21, 2007, which surprisingly has not made it to the Net yet, reads:
The Standing Committee of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, in a meeting held at New Delhi, on November 21, 2007 declared the position of VHP with regards to the forthcoming assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
The meeting was presided over by Shri Ashok Singhal. Also present in the meeting were Shri Vishnu Hari Dalmia, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, Shri Vedantamji, Dr. Pravinbhai Togadia, Dr Maheshbhai Mehta (Global Coordinator) and 35 other members. All the members present in the meeting expressed unequivocal support to Hindu forces in the coming elections leading the pro-Hindu candidates to a landslide victory, giving crushing defeat to all anti-Hindu candidates.
The VHP further emphasized the need to keep Hindu votes undivided ensuring stable governments in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh and give a befitting reply to the anti-Hindu and “So-called Secular” forces.
Mahesh Mehta, listed as Global Coordinator of the VHP, is a founder and past President of the VHP-America (archive). That the VHPA works in close coordination with the Sangh in India should come as no surprise, despite VHPA’s claims to the contrary (archive):
Though inspired by the same ideals as those followed by Vishwa Hindu Parishad of Bharat, VHP of America is distinct, legally separate and operationally independent Non-Profit organization in its own right within the USA.
Hmm, operationally independent perhaps means the contrary in Sangh-speak. All said, I think VHPA still has some wiggle room left. It’s not clear whether Mahesh Mehta is still a VHPA officebearer, so it could possibly — if need be — distance itself from the PR (and Modi). Of course, it’s not as if the media is keeping tabs on the VHPA, so this instance of cross-border Sanghi coordination will most likely go uncommented.
It has been proved beyond doubt by the Tehelka investigations into the 2002 massacre of Muslims in Gujarat that Narendra Modi, the then Home Minister Gordhan Zadaphia, the then Ahmedabad Police chief P. C. Pandey actively colluded in killing Muslims and planning their mass murder and destruction of the property. The Chief Minister, Home Minister and their whole administration not only planned, provoked and encouraged the massacre of Muslims and destruction of their property but also ensured that mass murderers and rapists got a safe hiding.
Active subversion of the fundamental principles of secular governance is a continuous and running theme in the Gujarat governance as has been comprehensively demonstrated on camera that all the arms of the state of Gujarat willingly abdicated their constitutional responsibility to safeguard the life, liberty, dignity and property of the citizens even after the killings, rapes, loot and destruction subsided. What is even more reprehensible is that the whole system of Judiciary stands exposed as it has been claimed by the government counsels that the judges at different levels were actively subverting the course of justice.
The Tehelka tapes present incontestable evidence of the involvement of state machinery in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. It captures several confessions including that of:
- The state prosecutor Arvind Pandya who stated that the mass killings of Muslims in Gujarat should be celebrated every year as a victory day and that Every judge was calling me in his chamber and showing full distance… the judges were also guiding me as and when required… how to put up a case and on which date… because basically they are Hindus sympathy for me… giving full cooperation to me, but keeping some.
- Maza aata hai na, saheb [I enjoy it]… I came back after I killed them, called up the home minister and went to sleep — Babu Bajrangi
- Another confession came from Babu Bajrangi who stated that to get me out of jail, [Chief Minister] Narendra Modi changed judges thrice.
- Yet another MLA acknowledged that Modi gave him three days to do whatever violence they wanted.
We the undersigned endorse the above statement are calling upon the The President of India, The Chief Justice Supreme Court, The Election Commission and The Prime Minster of India:
- The immediate dismissal of the Narendra Modi administration and imposition of President’s rule in Gujarat.
- Cancellation of the present election dates as elections cannot be held in Gujarat in the present circumstances.
- Requesting the Election Commission to ask the Supreme Court to constitute a CBI probe under a supreme court judge and if there is prima facie case then BJP should be barred as a political party.
- Govt of India should sign the Genocide convention and Modi needs to be tried by a tribunal
- The immediate arrest of the all criminals who have confessed their crimes in the Tehelka tapes.
- RSS, VHP , Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena be declared unlawful organizations and a high level enquiry under the aegis of the Supreme Court of India be set to uncover the designs of these organizations whose top leaders have proudly claimed on camera that they were involved in rapes, looting, making of bombs, rockets.
- Re-investigate Nanded bomb blast case and following bomb blast cases where activists have pointed out the involvement of the RSS. Now there is clear evidence on tape that the Sangh is involved in large scale Bomb making exercise and killing innocent people.
It is a test case for the Indian state and if the Supreme Court and the Central Government fail to act they would sow a seed of destruction of secular polity.
and many more
In our report, Lying Religiously (LyR): The Hindu Students Council and the politics of deception, we have documented in detail the links between the HSC and the Sangh Parivar. We have relied primarily on sources internal to the Sangh Parivar so as to ensure that the evidentiary basis of the conclusions drawn is of the highest standards. This week, we look at contradictory claims made by the HSC and the VHP of America about their relationship.
The National HSC claims to be independent of the Sangh Parivar. The facts page on the National HSC website says:
When HSC was started in 1990 by few students, they got very little support from adults in the Indian-American community. There was no national Indian/Hindu organization that could provide HSC with resources like intellectual speakers/Swamijis, books, etc. The only non-sectarian Indian organization with a pan-American presence that offered to help them was the VHP-America (VHPA). The leaders and members of the VHPA offered to support HSC as a project, helping HSC with resources like speakers/swamijis, books, etc. Once HSC was started up, it become an independently run organization within 3 years, in 1993.
However, this is contradicted even by HSC’s own statements. Last week, we presented as evidence two sources:
- A HSC announcement in 1994 for the Yuva 94 conference which included the admission that HSC is sponsored by the VHPA.
- A HSC announcement in 1995 for the Northeast Regional Youth Conference which also admitted that HSC is sponsored by Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America and requested applicants to Please make checks payable to VHPA.
Despite all disavowals by the National HSC leadership about their relationship to the Sangh Parivar, the VHP of America has repeatedly, and most recently in 2003, said that the HSC was its project. Here is an extract from an archived VHPA page from 2003:
The programs and projects are defined by the local community needs within the broad framework of the Parishad mission. The ongoing projects are: Hindu Student Council: It is the youth wing of VHPA functioning in 50 universities and colleges in the USA.
Given the official HSC position that it severed all links with VHPA in 1993, this amounts to a minimum of ten years of deception. Does the National HSC deny that this link existed at least until 2003 officially? The VHPA website still lists the HSC as an Organizational Component that it facilitates and promotes. Is the VHPA website based on inaccuracies and outdated information?
Our question to the National HSC for Week #4: How does the National HSC explain such links with the VHPA, years after it claimed to have become an independently run organization?
More recently, in Fall 2004, a core team with representatives from both Hindu Students Council and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh joined in spirit, strength, and resources to coordinate the Midwest Hindu Youth Retreat in Illinois. Again, in Fall 2005, the HSC of Florida Institute of Technology and the HSS jointly conducted a Yuva Sangam. One of the themes of the conference was to promote Hindutva.
CSFH continues to urge all concerned individuals and groups to engage in a substantive public discussion on the issues we have raised in our LyR report. Such open discussions are important within the South Asian community, especially among Indian-American youth, who we believe have been deceived by the National HSC leadership. It is incumbent upon all HSC chapters to begin sorting out the truth from the lies by asking the National HSC leadership to respond to the concrete challenge we have raised above and not produce random distractions.
I just found that the Organiser carried the Hindu Students Council‘s second press release (laden with ad hominems). Besides the content, perhaps the style was also to its liking 🙂 The PR as such doesn’t merit a detailed response, but it was nice to see an official publication of the RSS ganging up with the National HSC. (Interestingly, the Stanford chapter of the HSC has called on the National HSC to retract this PR)
Just for the heck of it, I googled for other mentions of HSC in the Organiser. And sure enough, there was one more.
Last October, the HSC participated in a Grand Hindu Sangam in Silicon Valley. The Hindu Sangam was organised by Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh with the support from over 40 SF Bay Area organisations including Sunnyvale Hindu Temple as one of the grand sponsors … to celebrate the birth centenary of Shri Guruji, the second Sarsanghachalak of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
RSS Sarkaryavah Mohan Bhagwat was the chief guest. Keenly aware of his new ambience, he deviated from the Indianise/Hinduise Islam & Christianity mantra and extolled diversity:
Diversity is to be accepted, not just tolerated. This is what Bharat stands for seeing diversity as the expression of unity.
On terrorism, he toed the USINPAC line. Here’s what the Organiser report says:
He further said the world has been shaken by religious intolerance and the resulting effects of terrorism. The answer to this problem can be given to the world by the two great nations—India and America, together. “They have to come together, stay together and work together to address this issue,” he added.
N.V. Raghuram of SVYASA, one of the ideologues on board HinduYuva’s Speaker on Campus project, was the keynote speaker at the yoga track. HinduYuva, by the way, is a HSS project. Its homepage exhorts the reader to join a shakha and become a swayamsevak:
Shakha is the place where we practice our traditions, values, connect with the past, present and work for a better future. Join us in this sacred mission of ennobling the world through the traditions, values of SANATANA DHARMA. So, all you have to do is – just attend Shakha, because once a Swayamsevak, always a Swayamsevak!
It’s all in the family, eh? Wait, I’m not done yet. The Sunnyvale Hindu Temple, one of the grand sponsors, has hosted Sangh Parivar dignitaries in the past (Ashok Singhal in October 2004) and has held at least one joint event with the VHPA and HSS. Sri Sri’s Art of Living was also a participant in the Hindu Sangam, and so was the VHPA (which along with the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple and a local restaurant ensured a never-ending supply of food and water). Most interestingly:
Hindu Students Council (HSC) from UC-Berkeley and UC-San Diego chapters and Hindu Awareness Club (HAC) of Monta Vista High School presented some of the issues faced by Hindu students and the importance of maintaining ones Hindu identity.
What were these HSC members doing in a function organized by the Sangh Paivar to celebrate the birth centenary of Shri Guruji, the second Sarsanghachalak of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)? What exactly in Golwalkar do they find laudable? Or, were/are they not aware of his antecedents? Did they know the antecedents of those they were rubbing shoulders with (in the Hindu Sangam)? It’s questions like these that Lying Religiously seeks to pose.
Last week, we had pointed to the National HSC changing the domain registration details for hscnet.org and the contact page on Hindunet in an effort to distance itself from the Sangh Parivar’s electronic infrastructure that it had set up and continues to maintain (see our Week #2 question to the National HSC). This week, we look at yet another belated and unsuccessful attempt by the National HSC to hide its ideological affinity with the Sangh Parivar.
Before the world wide web became popular in the mid-1990s, Usenet newsgroups were used for communication and sharing information. Through the early 1990s, the Hindu Students Council’s announcements and discussions were carried extensively on the Usenet newsgroup alt.hindu. GHEN/Hindunet maintains an archive of alt.hindu, and this was one piece of evidence we used in our report to establish the ideological and/or material linkages between the National HSC and the Sangh Parivar. This archive was public when our report was published, but now it requires a password for access. If one goes by the dates on Google caches of alt.hindu messages, this change happened some time in May 2007. The timing of this change coincides with changes made to the WHOIS domain registration pages of the National HSC website (we discussed these in our last week’s question to the National HSC, but there has been no response yet).
Our question to the National HSC for Week #3: Why has the National HSC password protected the alt.hindu archives? Why has it NOW sought to hide discussions that happened in the public domain in the mid-1990s?
The most plausible explanation is that the National HSC is trying to hide virulent Hindutva content in the alt.hindu archives. As we scan through the archives, we find that even as HSC chapters posted announcements about meetings and so on, National HSC leaders and other Sangh ideologues posted Hindutva propaganda including strong statements of support on the destruction of the Babri Masjid, the programs of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and VHP of America, as well as glowing tributes to Hindutva (samples). Besides, alt.hindu messages in 1994 and 1995 acknowledged HSC as being sponsored by the VHPA, even as the HSC’s history page says that in 1993, “HSC becomes an organization by itself is run independently of VHPA.”
The alt.hindu archives going back to 1994 are available on the Internet archive and an incomplete archive of the newsgroup is also available on Google Groups. We will be glad to share the archives, as a zip file, with anyone interested.
P.S. Last week, the Stanford HSC held a discussion on our report. We thank them for inviting us to the discussion, and for reading out our letter. In days to come, we will address some of the issues raised in the discussion. A video of the discussion is available here.