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Malign Money and Misguided Multiculturalism

When its either tolerance or simply charity instead of justice that guides political formation, hate can be buoyed. The recent revelations about the US-based non-profit India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF)’s connection to right wing Hindu groups in India brings this fact into bold relief –(documentation of these revelations can be found at www.stopfundinghate.org.)

The assertions made by the organizers of the Stop Funding Hate campaign are very clear: Through the creation of a seemingly benign non-profit organization which evinces a genteel (even noble) front, the Hindu Right in India has managed not only to get donations from overseas Indians, but also to cleverly use the IRS 501-C-3 provisions coupled with “Matching Gifts” programs from large US corporations to fund hate-directed largely at religious minorities in India. These assertions are extremely serious and concern issues of grave import: India has been witness to mass, coordinated, Government-sanctioned violence against religious minorities (including a pogrom against Muslims in the state of Gujarat.) The violence directed at minorities is increasing, as is the “acceptance” of this violence by the elite classes in India.

The second set of assertions made in the extensive documentation concerns the Indian diaspora, specifically the affluent Hindu minority in the U.S. This discussion should be broken into two components, the first concerning the affluent Hindu immigrants who display a particularly virulent form of Hinduism, and the second concerning fairly well-meaning Indian immigrants who donate money towards “development” and other seemingly uplifting causes. The real danger emanates from the machinations of the first set while the Stop Funding Hate campaign rightly conceives that the second group would in large part halt their funding of groups that, unbeknownst to them earlier, fund hate.

Right Wing Hindu Immigrants: There are several forces at work that together connive to create a virulent form of Hinduism and a tendency towards fascist thinking in the diaspora. The phenomenon is too complex and multivalent to probe deeply here, but it’s worth visiting a few of the trends. First of all, many members of this group, recently immigrated to the US, to occupy jobs in the notoriously libertarian high technology sector. Young, affluent, connected (through technology networks), many of these folks grew up in an India whose political landscape (for the last decade at least) has been dominated by the Hindu right. The virulence exists too in other members of this group (perhaps who immigrated decades ago) who have a very narrow view, typical to diasporic communities, of the religions and cultures of their birth countries: ossified views engender conservatism and a struggle with political, cultural, and racial identity in the new country creates religious and cultural forms that are fundamentalist, in the sense that they don’t benefit from the dynamism in views and conceptions that have occurred as society evolves in the birth country. In the case of both of these groups, the existence of “liberalized,” nuclear-capable, and increasingly Westernized India, in a sense a new incarnation of what they consider to have been a “backward, socialist, weak” country, emboldens them to adopt the macho and militarist ethos of the U.S. Since both of their countries seem to have a penchant for anti-Muslim violence, they are further emboldened.

The second broad group of folks that the Stop Funding Hate Campaign concerns itself with are the ordinary decent Indian immigrants who simply want to donate some money towards the development of India. These people can be influenced to be more circumspect if they were to be told about the direct connection between their donations and the hideous agenda that the Hindu right is playing out on the Indian body politic. One hopes that there is a critical mass of Hindu immigrants that have not succumbed to the virulent strain and will be outraged by their unwitting connivance in the propagation of anti-minority hate in India.

The Stop Funding Hate campaign will have a salutary effect on the political and moral landscape. This is true not only insofar as it addresses the active funding of hate in India and offers immigrants the information they need to make moral decisions about the use of their money. While this is incredibly important and while the rightward shift in the Indian political ethos and its connection with conservative immigrants must be exposed, the campaign also offers us a far more broad message, one that applies to far more than is specifically covered in the documentation provided by the campaign, much beyond its direct focus. Interestingly, this is brought to the fore by both groups of immigrants (both the ones practicing virulent, diasporic Hinduism and the ones being hoodwinked.).

There are two planks to this message, first that liberal notions of multiculturalism based simply on “tolerance” for others in our midst can be fundamentally damaging. Second, that paternalistic notions of charity that don’t consider questions of social justice can be extremely damaging to the polities that are supposedly being helped. In the example of right-wing Hinduism among immigrants in the U.S. and the concomitant funding of Hindu fascism (though for some unwittingly) through donation dollars from the U.S., it becomes clear that these two planks are connected.

Tolerant Multiculturalism: The foundation of tolerant multiculturalism is the notion of “respecting difference,” irrespective of the nature of that difference. While in an incredibly arrogant and uneducated society, there is certainly something positive about respecting difference, it is not the basis of a political movement that seeks distributive international justice. In fact, in the case of Hinduism in the U.S., it has had a deleterious effect: Thousands of otherwise well-meaning Hindu-American kids grow up celebrating their Hinduism by attending VHP camp and by joining, in their college years, the Hindu Students Council (HSC). These are formations of the Hindu right that impel these kids to equate their “Indian-ness” with a “Hindu” identity and to equate “Hinduism” in general with the particular form of virulent Hinduism practiced in the U.S. (to complete the logic, they thus equate their Indian-ness with virulent Hinduism). In their search for identity and for a marker of distinction in a racialized society, Hindu-American kids join these groups, get subjected to what is essentially propaganda (that they have no way of knowing to be untrue, unless they actually do some digging), and become advocates for Hindu power. What is more, tolerant multiculturalism actually allows these groups to get campus funding since they are simply expressions of “difference.” And in fact, well-meaning liberals of the majority community in the U.S. too support them, again because they believe in “diversity for diversity’s sake” and, in their ignorance, have no understanding of the malign nature of the Hindu right in India. Under girding all of these threads of analysis is the simple fact that kids inculcated in the politics of seeking justice and not some self-aggrandizing expression of their “identity,” would not join an organization that requires entry on the basis of and only of religion. Tolerant multiculturalism unfortunately has no problem with that.

Paternalistic Charity: This discussion too must be broken into two components, one a direct offshoot of the tolerant multiculturalism discussed above and the second relating to the broader question of donating money to causes in India.

For the people discussed in the multiculturalism section, Hindu-Americans, who grow up equating India with the propagandized, ossified Hinduism they’ve been exposed to, donating money to “help” India usually means donating to groups affiliated with Hinduism or, worse, directly with the Hindu Right. In the conception of many of these donators, they are doing something good by sending money to help India. But as we know, the money is often put to use in malign ways. Reasons for the incredible disconnect between what the donators mean to do and what is done include 1. The fact that charity of this sort is rarely meant really to create positive change; it’s generally about assuaging the donators’ guilt and, as such, once the check is written, why do I care about what happens with the money? 2. For most Indians living comfortably in the U.S., India is an abstraction that is used for one’s own needs, either as a place to visit during Christmas break or as the source of the “great culture” that all diasporic Indians are proud to be “heir” to. To the extent that this is true, Indian-Americans rarely know or care about what is happening on the ground in India. 3. Any notion that the majority of Indian-Americans care deeply about either the financial well being of the country or the maintenance of human rights in the country is simply not true. Two examples can be adduced here: First, with regard to the financial well-being of the country, the fact that Non-Resident Indians bought billions of dollars of India Development Bonds only because of high interest rates and the moment, in late 1990, that India’s foreign exchange reserves fell to critically low levels signaling danger to the investment community, these “patriotic” Non-Resident Indians starting withdrawing their funds instantly, precipitating a huge forex crisis, that eventually lead to India’s beggary by the IMF. Second, when earlier this year, Gujarat was plagued by anti-Muslim pogroms, the Hindu-American community was noticeably silent; in fact, a mini “victory” for the community was announced after a largely Hindu-American group successfully lobbied the U.S. Congress not to issue a statement denouncing the violence in Gujarat.

So for some, “helping India,” certainly a noble notion, is directly translated into funding the Hindu Right. No doubt with regard to others, the more malevolent and educated ones, they know precisely what they are doing just as people who fund the KKK know exactly what they are doing and what the funds are used for.

With regard to the broader topic of donating money to India, the wisdom and effectiveness of simple charity must be called into question. The point here is not original: donating money, while good and helpful, must be part of a larger political movement for social justice. This is not to imply either that everyone who donates money must involve themselves actively in such movements (thought it would be nice) nor to imply the absence of such involvement should turn off the money spigot. Instead, what is being gotten at here is that one must approach the question of donation, through the hallway of politics. The point of entry into the question should not be “I want to donate money to something” but “I believe in social justice and will donate money in accordance with these beliefs.” Approaching donation through this aperture puts responsibility on the donator: one must understand to what end the money is used. My experience in raising money for donation to causes in India and in donating myself is that groups that are fighting the fight in the grassroots, that are not affiliated with any religious group or obscurantist creed, that actively fight for communal harmony, and that hold the banner of justice as their main credo are the ones to which one should donate money.

According to the Stop Funding Hate campaign, in the case of the IDRF, well-intentioned people, who believe in simple charity, could possibly have seen their money be donated to causes that run afoul of their morals. Donators need to take it upon themselves to understand the money trail, to understand the basic forensics of groups’ accounting, so as to ensure that their money is not being used for hate.

After the campaign brought these assertions about IDRF into the public domain, several large corporations have cut off their matching funds to IDRF. One hopes that for people who simply want to help India and don’t want to push a right-wing Hindutva agenda, the process of politicizing charity will impel them to find other groups to fund.

Applause to the campaign for doing the work and exposing the money trail. When its either tolerance or simply charity instead of justice that guides political formation, hate can be buoyed.

Misguided multiculturalism and simply charity, when combined with narrow and virulent religious ideology, make for a dangerous brew. In the case of Hindu-Americans funding the Hindu Right in India, it is up to us to close the institutional channels of fund transfer. The victims of the virulence in India need us to be alert.

ROMI MAHAJAN can be reached at: Romimahajan2000@yahoo.com


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