Posts Tagged ‘Vishwa Hindu Parishad’

RE: SONAL SHAH – ‘Transition official rejects ties to controversial Hindu group’

December 13, 2008

http://www.nextgov.com/nextgov/ng_20081210_7973.php

Transition official rejects ties to controversial Hindu group

BY GAUTHAM NAGESH, GNAGESH@NEXTGOV.COM 12/10/2008
After weeks of questions, Obama transition team member and former Google executive Sonal Shah renounced on Wednesday her former connection to a Hindu organization accused of fomenting violence against Muslims and Christians in India.
In a statement obtained exclusively by Nextgov and National Journal, Shah said if she could have anticipated the role of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in the 2002 outbreak of communal violence in the Indian state of Gujarat, she never would have associated with the group’s U.S. branch a year earlier:

“In 2002, Gujarat suffered one of the most profound tragedies in its long history when extremist political leaders, including some associated with the VHP, incited riots that resulted in the deaths of thousands. Had I been able to foresee the role of the VHP in India in these heinous events, or anticipate that the VHP of America could possibly stand by silently in the face of its Indian counterpart’s complicity in the events of Gujarat in 2002 — thereby undermining the American group’s cultural and humanitarian efforts with which I was involved — I would not have associated with the VHP of America,” Shah said in her statement.

The controversy escalated in early December when Shah asked supporters for their help in stopping the spread of allegations that she had been a member of VHP.

In an e-mail sent to her political supporters on Friday, Shah asked for help combating the allegations and expressed fear that the Obama transition team would ask her to resign as a result of the story.

“I need your help,” wrote Shah. “This is gaining legs as the National Journalalso picked it up and likely Fox. I need to moblize [sic] people against the leftists and the right wing. There is a likely chance that they will ask me to resign as team does not need my publicity.”

The controversy has been gathering steam in the Indian press and South Asian blogosphere for weeks, but it went mainstream on Thursday when former GOP Senator Rick Santorum published an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer questioning the appointment of Shah to the transition team — prompting a post in the Government Executive and National Journal’s Lost in Transition blog on Friday.

Shah, a Google executive who previously worked for Goldman Sachs and served as a Treasury Department official in the Clinton administration, wasappointed to the Obama transition team in November and has since been tapped to be part of the three-person team to develop technology policy. She also is reportedly being considered for Energy secretary. But her appointment to the administration has drawn strong reactions from the South Asian community. Many prominent Indian-Americans have stood behind Shah, but others have raised doubts about her past. Shaikh Ubaid is part of a group including several Muslim and Sikh associations and dozens of college professors that sent letters to Shah and President-elect Barack Obama, requesting further information on Shah’s past associations.

“When she was appointed, it was initially a proud moment for us, her being an Indian-American,” said Ubaid in an interview given before Shah’s latest statement. But reports about her past ties to the VHP gave Ubaid and others cause for concern.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad is an international Hindu organization that is a part of the Sangh Parivar, the Indian nationalist movement organized around Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism. The Bharatiya Janata Party is the political face of Hindutva; VHP is the social wing of the movement.

The nonprofit group Human Rights Watch and the State Department have condemned the BJP-led government and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi for not stopping the 2002 violence in Gujarat following the burning of a train containing Hindu pilgrims by a Muslim mob. In rioting that followed, more than 1,000 people were killed — most were Muslims.

“I’m not saying Sonal Shah is involved in that,” Ubaid said. “But we have questions.”

On Nov. 11, Shah released a statement calling the allegations “baseless and silly reports” stemming from her charitable work for victims of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake. She denied any involvement in Indian politics, but her critics quickly pointed out that nowhere in the original statement did Shah formally acknowledge her role in VHP-America or specifically condemn the violence in Gujarat and the actions of Narendra Modi.

Ubaid and Vijay Prashad, a South Asian history professor at Trinity College who wrote a November article for the CounterPunch Web site questioning Shah’s ties to VHP, pointed to a recent interview in which a VHP-America leader indicated that Shah was more than tangentially connected to the group. Prashad, interviewed before Shah’s latest statement, called her a leading figure of the organization from 1998 to the early 2000s and said her claims of having participated only in the organization’s earthquake relief efforts were disingenuous.

“I can understand someone raised in a suburb, whose parents are apolitical, coming to college, seeing the earthquake, finding an organization and getting involved in raising funds [without knowing any better],” said Prashad. “But here is someone not from an apolitical household. She was well-aware of the politics. And she had been in a leadership role. It was not just happenstance.”

Shah’s brother, Anand Shah, said she was co-opted by the organization’s leadership who were eager to show a younger face to the public.

“If the situation wasn’t what it is, if it was someone else, I would be asking these questions,” said Anand Shah. “It’s not a nonserious issue; the questions being raised are legitimate ones.” But he added that he hoped people would judge his sister by her own words and actions, and not by her associations.

The text of Sonal Shah’s full statement is as follows:

I was recently maligned by a professor at a college in Connecticut who wrote an article in CounterPunch accusing me of association with Hindu extremism. Then, a few days ago, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, published an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer, to which this site linked, that echoed the CounterPunch accusations. These attacks sadden me, but they share one other thing in common: the accusations are false.

In reaction to these attacks, my closest friends — and many strangers — have rallied to my side. I am touched by this outpouring of support. And as painful as this episode has been for me personally, I welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue with the seriousness that it deserves, but the conversation should proceed on the basis of verified facts and reasoned argument, not innuendo and defamation.

Indian politics and history are contested and emotive, but also unfamiliar to most Americans. I understand why so many Indians and Indian-Americans feel strongly about religious extremism in India, because I share the same concerns.

I am an American, and my political engagements have always and only been American. I served as a U.S. Treasury Department official for seven years, and now work on global development policy at Google.org. And I am honored to serve on the Presidential Transition Team of President-elect Obama while on leave from Google.org.

I emigrated from India at the age of four, and grew up in Houston. Like many Americans, I remain proud of my heritage. But my engagement with India has been exclusively cultural and humanitarian. After the devastating earthquake in Gujarat in 2001, I worked on behalf of a consortium of Indian-American organizations to raise funds for humanitarian relief. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHP-A), an independent charity associated with the eponymous Indian political group, was among these organizations, and it was the only one to list my name on its website. I am not affiliated with any of these organizations, including the VHP-A, and have not worked with any of them since 2001.

The experience with the Gujarat earthquake did, however, teach me an important lesson. It pointed up a lack of dedicated infrastructure to help alleviate suffering in India, so together with my brother and sister, I founded Indicorps, an organization modeled on the U.S. Peace Corps that enables young Indian-Americans to spend a year in service to marginalized communities in India. The fellows come from every religious background, and have worked among every religious community in India. Indeed, some Indicorps fellows focus on inter-faith dialogue as part of their projects.

In 2002, Gujarat suffered one of the most profound tragedies in its long history, when extremist political leaders, including some associated with the VHP, incited riots that resulted in the deaths of thousands. Had I been able to foresee the role of the VHP in India in these heinous events, or anticipate that the VHP of America could possibly stand by silently in the face of its Indian counterpart’s complicity in the events of Gujarat in 2002 — thereby undermining the American group’s cultural and humanitarian efforts with which I was involved — I would not have associated with the VHP of America.

Sadly, CounterPunch and Senator Santorum have suggested that I somehow endorse that violence and the ongoing violence in Orissa. I do not — I deplore it. But more than that, I have worked against it, and will continue to do so. I have already denounced the groups at issue and am hopeful that we can begin to have an honest conversation about the ways immigrant and diaspora communities can engage constructively in social and humanitarian work abroad.

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Kandhamar Nun Showed How, It is for Us to Learn The Lesson – By

October 27, 2008

Kandhamar Nun Showed How, It is for Us to Learn The Lesson

 

By Seema Mustafa

 

It took a lot of guts for the Orissa nun to come out with her testimony. I had visited the exact spot in Kandhamar district, just days after she was raped, and the burnt jeep, the desecrated statues of Jesus Christ, the broken windows bore testimony to the gruesome violence in the name of religion. Villagers looked on from a distance but when we went and spoke to them the story came pouring out. Yes a priest and nun were caught by the mobs, they were stripped and beaten, they were paraded through the village to the market place where the police stood and watched, and yes the nun was raped.

And what has happened since? Nothing. For days and weeks the Navin Patnaik government stood by and did nothing to protect the poorest of the poor as they were killed, and turned out of their houses just because they were Christians and refused to give up their faith. The attackers speak of conversion, but there has been no forcible conversion, only conversion under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution that gives every single religion in this country the right to preach and propagate. The force was being used then, and is being used now, to beat Christians into renouncing their religion and embracing the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and RSS version of Hinduism.

The nun was not in hiding, she was in hospital, physically and mentally traumatized. She was treated for not just the bleeding wounds but also for the mental trauma, and has only just about recovered sufficiently to come out in public with her story. It took courage, and she should be respected for what she did. Not just for herself, not just for the Christians but for women and humanity. Her right to privacy has to be respected, and it is now for this UPA government that somehow still claims it is secular to ensure that she and the other victims of the horrific violence in Orissa and Karnataka must not be dragged through the coals. The nun is right, and any one who has visited Kandhamar can vouch for this. It is not safe for her to even step inside that state, let alone the district and be questioned by a police force that has done great disservice to the uniform by allowing the mobs to terrorise and brutalise a community.

Some sections of the Christian community, probably in sheer desperation, opened dialogue with the RSS and its ilk. Others criticized them, for they know that this dialogue is false insofar as the RSS and its front organizations are concerned, and its leaders use it to project themselves as one, secular and two, as alternatives to the state with the power to restore peace. Some time ago, religious Muslim leaders too opened this dialogue with the RSS and even attended BJP conferences and meetings to prove their “we are all one” point. In some ways they are, because fundamentalism regardless of the religion gets together at some point, particularly when it has to counter its real opponent: secularism.

Secularism is an ideology that works around the fundamental principle of equality and justice. It is unfortunate that those in power today cynically exploit this to suit their ends. The BJP is more honest, it does not even bother to pay lip service to the cause, and basically denounces all those who do not agree with its divide and rule policy as pseudo secularists or anti-nationals. The Congress remains as hypocritical as always, and has become an expert at fiddling while mobs destroy lives and homes. The regional parties are not exactly communal but are totally opportunistic using specific vote bank policies with more dexterity now than even the Congress did in its better days. The regional leaders do not hesitate to join up with communal parties as and when it suits them but to give them their due, the Nitish Kumars, Chandrababu Naidus and Mayawati’s do manage to preserve some levels of communal amity. After all today the unrest amongst the minorities is greatest in Congress ruled states and not inBihar, or for that matter Uttar Pradesh (except for Azamgarh that had a direct link with Delhi) where despite the large Muslim population, the atmosphere is more peaceful and harmonious.

Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil has disappeared from view. His greatest achievement has been to escape the axe after he assured Congress president Sonia Gandhi that his loyalty to her could never come under question. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is wandering the world, earning accolades for the nuclear deal and for growth gone wrong. Parliament in a parliamentary democracy has been diminished as an institution. The government is directly responsible. It has done away with the monsoon and winter sessions. It has reduced the sittings this year to just 40 days. The country is reeling under the impact of violence, inflation and a collapsing economy. But the government does not feel that there is any need for Parliament to discuss these and any number of burning issues, as it does not want to be held accountable for non governance. It does not care for either Parliament or for parliamentary democracy as under the Congress, the executive has been given the full mandate to be reckless.

India is a pluralistic state. It is any number of states and any number of peoples all rolled together under one nation, one flag and one Constitution. Its oxygen is freedom based on justice and equality. It will disintegrate and die if it is deprived of any of these, and is compelled to adopt a monolithic mantle that is totally unnatural to its existence. Fundamentalist groups insist on imposing their ideologies, their religions, their thoughts, their justice, their vision on people, even as they create the concept of the ‘other’ and try and unite their supporters to combat the opponents. If India has to survive and flourish as a healthy, breathing, vibrant democracy, secularism has to be protected and nurtured.

The nun from Kandhamar has shown us how. It is for us to learn the lesson.

‘No tangible proof of Muslims’ involvement in terrorism’

September 29, 2008
‘No tangible proof of Muslims’ involvement in terrorism’

Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan, head, Majlis-e-Mushawarat 
September 29, 2008
 
Upset at what they consider the deliberate implication of the Muslim community in terror attacks, varoius Muslim organisations last week formed an umbrella body — Coordination Committee for Indian Muslims — to raise their voice against the development. 

After a meeting at the Jamaat e Islami Hind in New Delhi [Images], held in the wake of the Jamia Nagar encounter in which two youth were shot dead and a police inspector was killed, they formed a five-member panel to counter the campaign against the community.
 
Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan, head of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, who is a member of this five-member committee, tells Special Correspondent Vicky Nanjappa that anger among the Muslim, especially among the youth, is building up over the continuing demonisation of the community.
 
All the organisations with you seem to completely disagree with the Delhi police on the Jamia Nagar encounter.
 
There are many question marks about this “encounter”. Three fact-finding reports to date have raised questions about the incident and the police narrative. All pointers indicate that it was a fake encounter. The police team did not go there to kill but to investigate and arrest. They bungled the operation; their officer was killed by his own men. As a result, in a fit of rage they killed two so-called “terrorists” and injured a third. To justify the killing, they invented this whole story making them “masterminds” and extending the conspiracy to their home district Azamgarh where dozens of youths have been picked up both from Azamgarh and Delhi on mere suspicion.
 
Outlandish stories are being churned out by the police and lapped up by a stenographic media like the claim that the slain youths had received crores of rupees in their accounts while bank managers in Azamgarh said on camera that these youths had paltry sums in their accounts; or the fantastic claim that these same youths had planted bombs in Varanasi, Jaipur [Images], Hyderabad, Ahmedabad [Images] etc. This logically means that since all the masterminds have been now killed or arrested, India from now on will not witness a single terrorist attack.
 
Why do you think that those youth in particular were targeted?
 
According to the Mumbai police, they had passed on some information about these youths to the Gujarat police and asked them to observe them. The Gujarat police, highly discredited as it is for its communal bias and criminal role in the riots, jumped the gun and informed the Delhi police that these people were planning to carry out explosions. These youths must be one of many under observation in the country. It was their bad luck that a police officer was killed while trying to arrest them and they paid the price for this.
 
Subsequently, the entire Muslim community is made to pay the price of this khaki crime which is not new to Delhi. We have already experienced fake encounters at Ansal Plaza and Connaught Place in the past.
 
If the encounter was fake then what do you have to say about the death of M C Sharma?
 
It is pretty clear that Sharma was killed by his own men at very close range from behind. It was the mistake of the police to rush 2500 policemen into the narrow lanes of Batla House. They were deployed on various floors and rooftops of the same building as well as on the adjoining buildings. Such a mishap was bound to happen in such a situation.
 
Invariably, after every terror attack, Muslim youth are being accused of involvement. What does the community have to say about this?
 
It is true the finger is pointed at Muslims after each act of terror, but without proof in every single case. The same security and intelligence agencies which did not know anything about an impending attack a minute before it took place, suddenly and within minutes know every detail of the persons, organisations, funders etc behind the incident. They want to cover up their abject failure, and as the Muslims are the weakest section at this moment, the blame is safely pinned on them.
 
There are umpteen terrorist organisations in various parts of our country working for a variety of secessionist and political aims. It is possible that there may be a few Muslims too who are taking to terrorism, but till today we do not have tangible proof of this. There is no proof that the Students Islamic Movement of India, despite its extremist views, ever had any armed wing or imparted any armed training to its members. All we have is tall claims by various people and agencies which were trashed by their own hand-picked judge of the tribunal formed by the Union home ministry. Moreover, close to 50 SIMI [Images] activists have been acquitted to date by courts across the country.
 
It is natural that anger is building up among our youth for two reasons: justice is not done in cases of blatant pogroms, riots and demolition of Babri mosque, while Muslim youths are routinely killed in encounters or arrested on baseless charges which are not proved in a court of law.
 
Do you suspect the role of right-wing Hindu outfits in some of the blasts that have occurred in the country?
 
We do not only suspect. Rather, we firmly believe that many acts of terrorism blamed on Muslims are in fact the handiwork of Hindutva terrorist outfits like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, Shri Ram Sena, Hindu Munnani, Hindu Jagran Manch, Yuva [Images] Hindu Vahini, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti and Durga Vahini etc. Members of these outfits have been caught red-handed in many places like Nanded, Tenkasi, Thane and more recently at Kanpur but these terrorist acts/explosions are hushed up. So much so that the government has conceded that the Hindu outfits are not under its scanner.
 
How do you think the community should handle such a situation?
 
There is a high sense of both anger and insecurity in the community in all parts of India. Our message is always that we should not take the law in our hands and that we must use all the legal and constitutional channels to get justice, but I am afraid that this continued victimisation and denial of justice will push many of our youths to the path they are unjustly blamed of today. Perhaps this is the gameplan of the Hindutva organisations in the first place.
 
What about the ban on SIMI for terrorist activities?
 
The Muslim community believes that though these people were extremists, they were not terrorists and did not actually commit terrorist crimes, though it an unproven possibility that a few former members of SIMI may have indulged in acts of terrorism, but for this the whole organisation or the whole Muslim community cannot be blamed just as for crimes of the BJP and Congress, all members of the party cannot be blamed.
 
What you think about the government’s handling of the SIMI issue?
 
The Bharatiya Janata Party government which clamped the first ban on SIMI in September 2001 did so because it found SIMI to be the weakest point in the chain of a weak community. At the time SIMI was a marginalised group which had little sympathy or following in the community. Now it has sympathy in the community because it is perceived as a victim of State terrorism.
 
The United Progressive Alliance government had a good opportunity to get rid of this problem by accepting the Geeta Mittal tribunal’s verdict which threw out the home ministry case as it was based not on facts and evidence but on mere claims. But the government chose to appeal to the Supreme Court which acted fast to continue the ban. The same Supreme Court is sitting on three appeals by SIMI since 2002 against judgments by three earlier tribunals and did not find a few minutes to look into them.
 
With SIMI in the dock, which youth outfit do the Muslim youth look up to?
 
The Students Islamic Organisation is very strong. The Muslim youth can always join this organisation.
 
Will SIO too go the same road as SIMI?
 
What happened with SIMI will never happen with SIO. SIMI never had the supervision and guidance of elders. However, with SIO that is not the case and elders in the community are constantly monitoring and guiding it.
 
SIMI prior to being banned used to act on its own and somewhere things went haywire. SIMI never had the sympathy of the community prior to being banned, but now we do sympathise since we feel the outfit is being (falsely) implicated.
 
The nation’s focus has now shifted to the Indian Mujahideen [Images]. What are your views on this outfit?
 
No one knows what this Indian Mujahideen is. All we have is three emails sent to some media organisations. Curiously the first email was sent from the computer of an American evangelist based in Mumbai who was later allowed to flee the country. Under some bargain he was allowed to come back later perhaps to clear his name and that of the security agencies too that allowed him to flee. Before he fled he had claimed that the police were asking him a bribe in order to close his case. It is anybody’s guess why this American was never arrested and why no charges were levelled against him. Is there is an international dimension to what is happening in India?
 
You say several innocent youth are being targeted by the police in the name of terror. What role are you going to play in securing the release of these persons?
 
We are highlighting cases where we have reason to believe that injustice is being done. We issue statements, we write to the highest officials, we hold dharnas and conferences and we approach the courts. All these are within the laws and liberties granted to Indian citizens.
 
Lastly, your views on Saturday’s Mehrauli blast.
 
I condemn it and my heartfelt condolences to those victims and their families. But I would like to ask the following question. According the Delhi police following the Jamia Nagar incident, all the dreaded masterminds had either been killed or arrested. If this was the case no blast should have taken place. But the fact remains that such attacks continue to take place in the very capital. What happened to the claims by the Delhi police?
 
 http://in.rediff.com/news/2008/sep/29inter1.htm