Why I Will Not Let The Sonal Shah Thing Go

By: on 12 Dec 2008

I don't have much time, because I'm at a friend's house, but apparently a lot of things happen when you're not on the Internet for a day. I just saw Sonal Shah's statement on Sepia Mutiny and Amardeep's apologia for it and Vivek's statement below suggesting that we let things go. Again, we are not talking about a prosecution here - we are talking about whether this person is fit to hold power in the United States government at a fairly high level-- that is the standard that should be applied. This is a quick off the cuff response, and I hope it will be treated as such.

On Sonal Shah's Response

By: on 11 Dec 2008

While I join Amardeep in appreciating Ms. Shah’s statement on the role of the VHP in Gujarat in 2002, and am happy that she would not have associated with its counterpart VHP-A had she known, I can’t comprehend how she didn’t know.

What I Want from Sonal Shah

By: on 8 Dec 2008

I don't want Sonal Shah to resign. I think a silent resignation without any dialogue or engagement would make already bad blood and festering resentment that much worse. Nor do I want the issue of Ms.

Tidbit: Bhopal

By: on 4 Dec 2008

Today is the 24th anniversary of the beginning of the Bhopal incident, in which thousands of people have died.  I don't have much to say, other than that it hasn't ended yet:

BHOPAL: Twenty-four years have passed since the world's worst man-made disaster - Bhopal gas tragedy - occurred.

Open Thread

By: on 28 Nov 2008

Aside from expressing my horror at the ongoing events in Mumbai, as well as my thankfulness that a loved one was at a neighbouring hotel and not one that was attacked, I don't really know what to say. I find that the Information Age makes such awful and deplorable acts even more unbearable, combining a dearth of reliable information with the modern media's absolute need to dish out the inside scoop.

Here are a few stories from India which might fall off the radar in the aftermath:

Tidbit: What South Asians Should (Not) Do With Their Print Space

By: on 26 Nov 2008

Another group is stumbling into the American philanthropic scene. Young South Asians living in the U.S. (Pakistanis, Indians, and Bangladeshis are the majority). Some moved to America after college, and others (like me) were raised here. They are coming into significant personal wealth.

I recently brokered a discussion of six prospective donors.

Excavating The (PTR) Past

By: on 25 Nov 2008

Some more thoughts on the appointment of a former VHP-A governing board member to the Obama transition team.  It seems that Ms. Shah has made her choices for now, and has decided to pursue the same course as in the past - to respond just enough and  in a manner to make things go away.  But the issues will always come back as long as she seeks public prominence and refuses to put them  to bed- I guarantee it.

Anyway, moving forward, I was reading through the comments for Letter to A Young American Hindu, a post that Vijay Prashad wrote for PTR a while back.  It's an interesting dialogue and touches on many of the same themes that we have seen in recent conversations about Hindutva in America.  One of the comments, by jra, struck me because of how closely it parallels Ms. Shah's own story in terms of situation and how different it is in terms of personal reaction and development.  I thought I would post it here for your consideration as to how someone could alternatively react to being raised in a Hindutva environment and what choices  they might make afterwards in their thinking and their life:

sudha’s comment is really interesting. i would like to offer my own experience with these organizations as a complementary example.

i grew up in a family that was very involved in VHP. but growing up, all VHP meant to me was “sunday school” - we read amar chitra katha comic books, learned indian games like kabbadi, where our parents attempted in vain to teach us hindi, and have us read religious shlokas (to this day i cannot tell you what i was reciting or what it meant). we did yoga once, which i remember well - it was one of the few things i actually enjoyed. and we did yearly camps, which i remember mostly for, well, camping. all the religious stuff flew over my head. us kids did campfire skits without fail, every year, that offended our parents, and that’s what i remember most.

when i was young, i know there was VHP literature in our home that was probably politically related, but i had no idea what it meant, especially since i don’t know anything really, about the history of india and of indian politics. even in my early teenage years, when i actually attempted to read the stuff, i couldn’t place it in any context.

but slowly i started to piece things together. and the day that the babri masjid was discussed in our sunday school was the pivotal moment.

Updates: The Hindu Right and the Obama Administration

By: on 21 Nov 2008

1.The march continues forward.  Ms. Shah gets appointed to a tech, innovation, and government reform panel in Obama Transition Team.

2. Her bio in the TOI article says this:

She also worked at the Department of Treasury from 1995-2002 on various economic issues and regions of the world, including Bosnia, Kosovo, the Asian crisis and sub-Saharan Africa, and at the National Security Council from 1998-1999.

This means that Ms. Shah worked at the U.S. Government (Department of Treasury) and served on the governing council of the VHP-A at the same time. CSFH says she used a treasury department e-mail address for this and even backs it up.   There's a clear conflict of interest,  no?

3. Finally, a frequent complaint I hear is that there is no way Ms. Shah could be directly accountable for whatever role VHP played in the pogroms in Gujarat in  2002 given that she left the year their American branch the year before.  This is fair.

However, what about all that the VHP did before 2002.  Just as examples, here are some things that the VHP did or said prior to or during the time that the Obama appointee was on the governing council of their American branch:

Not My Friend: United States Hindu Alliance (Updated)

By: on 21 Nov 2008

Abhi, at Sepia Mutiny, has recently written a post about a group called United States Hindu Alliance.  The post draws attention to a letter that they sent to the FBI about what they say is a spurt in the killings of Hindus in the U.S. in the last year.   He also dug up a statement about the ideological orientation of the group.

This is useful, and contrasts with posts written by Amardeep at Sepia Mutiny in the past few weeks which tacitly, if unintentionally, created more space for Hindutva to make their arguments.  Best example here.  Note: I am NOT saying that Amardeep is a virulent Hindutva activist - I am just pointing out the ways that an overly abstract and off-the-mark approach can end up serving ends it did not necessarily intend to.  The danger of this - which many thoughtful people like me can fall prey to - is to  lose sight of the concrete and specific in an effort to capture nuance and complexity and breadth - as well as to provide a space to mask rightwing postmodern defenses of anti-modernists and illiberal ideologies like Hindutva.  We've seen this in mainstream U.S. politics as well with the appropriation of reactionary identity politics by the Republican party and the rightwing more broadly (see, for example, Lisa Duggan's Twilight of Equality).  So let us not forget that this broader debate in the South Asian American community was  most recently triggered as the result of an ongoing specific attempt to both understand and hold accountable a member of the Obama transition team.

That said, I will now proceed to do almost the same.  I hadn't heard about United States Hindu Alliance until today, so will give them the benefit of thought if not doubt before I come to a conclusion about what I  think of them and whatever role the may have in the Hindu right social movement rooted in India with arms in the U.S.  I am writing this post to give you the opportunity for the same: to provide some more information on UHSA and their links with other groups to investigation whether and how the sangh works in the U.S.- just based on internet research.   I  think this is an important issue for Indian anti-Sangh politics in terms of funding/credibility/international relations angles and I think this is an important issue for South Asian Americans in terms of which social forces, regional politics (both Indian and American), and individuals will inform our thinking and agenda on our own politics and our attitudes towards South Asia as well.  There is also, obviously, a sifting through of the different ideological orientations we might have and figuring out which one makes the most sense to us on a subjective basis. Below find info.

Update: odear finds website.  odear good.  ravi good too (see comments)!  Frontpaged pictures of alleged ram sethu bridge bad.  Anyway, I'm out of my league in terms of how to contextualize this in the nuances of Indian politics.  The overarching "It's a member  of Sangh" doesn't help understand the specifics or the lesser/greater responsibility and differences in tone among messages, while the "all  organizations are independent of each other" flies  in the face of how the Sangh is said to operate.  Where does it fall in between, given that it has adopted U.S. modes of communication?

Update 2: These sections from the website that are cached in  google are particularly useful in understanding the ideology and the issues of the group.  For example: Hindus are threatened everywhere but particularly in India; all other faiths are intolerant, more or less,  except Hinduism; the death penalty is bad; hate crimes legislation and enforcement is good; etc.  Strikes me as a little more sincere and less machiavellian - at least in the p.r. - than the more rabid statements I've seen: so they get a  point for sincerity despite that most of their views are highly connected to the same majoritarian  ideology of threatened  Hindus and blaming other groups with no economic or caste-derived analysis?

A Twist on Lagaan

By: on 20 Nov 2008

In today's One Day International between England and India in Kanpur, England's sixth wicket partnership featured Owais Shah and Samit Patel. So for 9.2 overs, everyone on the field was...

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