The India Development Relief Fund and Hindutva
by Angana Chatterji
December 5, 2002
Majoritarian communalism and religious intolerance holds captive human rights in South Asia. Shared commitments to democracy and civil liberties do not yet connect us as nations. It is, instead, repressive forces of religious nationalism and cultural intolerance that incapacitate nation building in the region. In Pakistan, draconian blasphemy laws persecute minorities and appease Islamic fundamentalists. In Sri Lanka, inequities of religion and ethnicity haunt Sinhalese, Tamil Hindus and Muslims. In Bangladesh, enduring conflicts brutalize minority Hindus and Christians. In India, the fascistic ascent of Hindutva ravages society.
Tolerance and inclusion is the sine qua non of Indian democracy. Hindu extremists contend that national commitments to secular religious tolerance have been a tactic for undermining the “truth” of India as a pure, glorious and exclusively Hindu tradition and culture. This “truth” demands an unquestioning commitment to India as a Hindu nation. The Hindutva, Hindu supremacist, movement uses the vehicle of the state to cement Hindu religious majoritarianism into the foundation of a national culture. Such enterprise rewards the dominant community and is intolerant of minority groups and faiths. Hindutva understands itself as “secular”, in that it is not based on faith, but the conversion of faith into culture. It declares tolerance for minority faiths to be “pseudo-secularism”. It undermines the cultural and religious profusion that is central to conceiving the nation, and asserting the separation of religion and state.
The contradictions between Hinduism and Hindutva must be emphasized. Hinduism is an ancient religion. Hindutva is the utilization of Hinduism to foment a supremacist movement. Hindutva, like other extremist movements, uses terror to dominate. Non and dissenting Hindus are perceived as threats to the unity of the nation. Hindutva is supported by organizations that fund raise abroad. The India Development Relief Fund (IDRF) is one such registered charity in the Untied States that sustains the Sangh Parivar, the network of Hindutva organizations. IDRF was established in 1989, ostensibly to fundraise for organizations in India that assist in development and tribal well-being. IDRF has emphatically maintained that it has no connections with the Sangh Parivar. A scrutiny of financial records, and the profile, actions and associations of the organization disclose instead IDRF’s intimate connections to the Parivar. The Parivar uses religion as a nationalistic weapon to empower the Hindutva movement. IDRF, through its relationship with the Sangh, fortifies the hatred and violence that divides India.
The use of force is not restricted to Hindu extremists. The Indian State is vigilant in policing and repressing oppositional activities, especially those of minority communities. The Government of India introduced the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, a security law that empowers the state to torture and detain political opponents, revoke civil liberties, and suppress actions it deems threatening to the nation. Yet the national government tolerated the Sangh Parivar’s crimes in Gujarat this year. The Citizens Tribunal on Gujarat has held the Sangh Parivar co-responsible for the orchestrated post-Godhra massacre of Muslims. It must be incumbent on IDRF to prove that it is not in support of such depravity. In a climate where Hindutva is sanctioned and vindicated by an increasing army of henchmen and the state, it is imperative that citizens speak out against the collaboration between government and Parivar organizations in the promulgation of terror. Citizens initiatives must demand accountability of international groups that finance the apparatus of Hindutva.
It is deceptive for IDRF to claim on its website that it raises money to "serve economically and socially disadvantaged people irrespective of caste, sect, region or religion," and utilize such funds in a sectarian manner. IDRF has raised about 5.5 million dollars during the past decade. Nearly 69 percent of IDRF’s funds go to organizations in adivasi (tribal) and rural areas. A large segment is allocated for educational projects of Hinduization, the disintegration of adivasi (and other non Hindu) cultures through their incorporation into Hindutva. Sewa Bharti, an associate of the Sangh, funded by IDRF, organized a Hindu Sangam in Madhya Pradesh in January 2002. The Citizens Tribunal has charged that such efforts facilitated the mobilization of adivasis against other minorities in Gujarat. Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad and Vivekananda Kendra, funded by IDRF, were both held complicit in the communalization of adivasis. The sporadic participation of Hinduized adivasi and Dalit communities in the brutalization of Muslims was a sad and unexpected distinction of the recent violence in Gujarat. Divide and conquer, effectively realized. IDRF has been conspicuously silent about Gujarat, Godhra and after, and did not raise funds in support of the victims.
Development is critical to India’s empowerment. It cannot be undertaken by organizations that promote hate. IDRF allocates 80 percent of its funds to Sangh Parivar organizations and those affiliated or controlled by them. Of the 67 IDRF affiliate organizations, 52 are associated with the Sangh. Secular freedoms confirm the right to proselytize, but do not permit the use of religion or culture to cultivate hate. IDRF does not directly orchestrate campaigns of violence. IDRF’s funding to Sangh organizations aids the spread of the ideology and practice of Hindutva. Such activity produces the very conditions for social violence that are detrimental to India’s national interest.
The practice of conscience, not of genocide, must determine who belongs to a nation. India is made most vulnerable by the Hindutva movement’s xenophobic commitments to tear apart the promises of history. In Gujarat, a fetus of an unborn Muslim, carved from a pregnant woman’s stomach, was tossed in the air. Triumphant annihilation, reminiscent of Nazi Germany. Tomorrow as a day of justice and peace is made impossible. The state of the nation demands sustained interventions in dissent of religious extremism. It is irrelevant to claim innocence. Until we prevent rape, horror, and unnecessary death in the name of nation building, history will find us complicit. Amidst the complex desires that fuel India’s becoming, habitual contempt for minorities must not power our future. Nor must we allow religion to be held captive to violent nationalist agendas.
Angana Chatterji is a professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. http://www.ciis.edu/faculty/chatterji.htm