Excavating The (PTR) Past

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. my experience is so exactly the opposite of sudha’s. i hope sudha is still reading - i think you would find this really interesting. it was at sunday school, one afternoon, and the man who did the presentation was someone our family had known for years - i grew up playing with his kids. he did the presentation, and everyone acted like what he was talking about was completely normal. i remember people talking about making donations for “memorial” type bricks that would be used to build the new temple. an alarm bell went off in my head. here were people that i’d grown up with, my parents, the parents of my childhood friends - all people i respected, knew to be smart, capable, and seemingly sane - talking about destroying a mosque and building a temple in its place. something sounded terribly wrong to me, but since i had no context to place it in, no opposing viewpoint to compare it to, i didn’t know what to think. but i trusted my gut feeling - even though i questioned it at times! because these were people i trusted! - that something was very very wrong with what the VHP was supporting.

it was really bizarre for me to have to slowly realize the truth of the situation - that the VHP, the group i grew up in, and equated to my “indian culture connection”, was actually the US wing of a virulently racist and right-wing organization in india, the BJP. it took a few years, a lot of reading other news sources - and those were the pre-internet days, when all i had was the LA times to refer to when trying to find other viewpoints on even just the babri masjid situation.

and of course, from person to person it’s never totally black and white, which made it weirder. my dad, who was *extremely* active in VHP for years and years, and (i eventually found out, by carefully engaging him in discussions about it) is a big supporter of the BJP, and was even an RSS member as a kid (! i could not believe it when i found out) is the same person i knew growing up to be politically liberal here in the US (pro-union, votes democrat, even volunteers for the democratic party) - and, when it comes to palestine vs. israel is supportive of the palestinian side.

anyway, i digress. i just mention my dad’s grab-bag of political views because i initially thought, my dad’s a liberal democrat, there’s no way he would support such crazy right-wing stuff! but i was wrong. and when it comes to HSC sudha, unfortunately, you really need to read up on the roots of the organization. vijay prashad is right. actually when i was in my later high school years my dad started getting involved in the VHP’s push to get the HSC to expand at colleges across the US. (and tried to get me to start it at my college too.) i was so creeped out by it - because i could see exactly how they were trying to dupe people like you and me, unfortunately - second-generation indian-americans who would love to have a forum in which we can connect to our religious heritage. they totally strive to make HSC seem like a perfectly normal organization. but make no mistake, sudha, or anyone else in HSC, the HSC is definitely the youth arm of the VHP, which is the US arm of the BJP, which is the (less militant?) arm of the RSS (. i saw it from within myself, i suppose you could say.

this is actually the first time i’m saying this publicly (even though it is anonymously) - i have expressed to my parents (somewhat) that i question the things that they support, but never to any of the people i grew up with (i’m not really in touch with any of them anymore) or anyone else for that matter. i’m not especially religious, or especially interested in indian politics, being that i do consider myself american (i was born here). and you gotta pick your battles right? so i haven’t really seen if there are other people who grew up “in” VHP not knowing the full story. but i would imagine there are, and i would be so curious to hear from others like me.

well that’s all i have to say. like i said, i’m not particularly into indian politics, so i may have gotten some of the details wrong, but i know hate when i see it, and i know that what the VHP supports is hate. despite whatever else good they might do. they support hate.

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Comments

So where's the Prashad

So where's the Prashad expose? The breathless assertions of hypocrisy and ideological impurity? So he prospers by stomping on the back of poor POCs the world 'round, those who could more efficiently and with greater consequence, use the capital erroneously allocated to his selfish quest against oppression writ large. What's wrong with that? He's 'raising awareness' and causing National Journal writers to consult the Cockburns on political appointees' political entanglements.

How do you know who Sonal is now and how do you know her thought process at the time she actively engaged in the organization? Are you possessed of the very same clairvoyance serendipitously visited upon many of her other detractors?

Dr. A, "Glimmers" is right.

Dr. A,

"Glimmers" is right. That is part of the point I am making. If I ever ran for public office or was mentioned as a high-level appointee, I would probably face scrutiny over the community in which I was raised and the company some of my relatives kept--given that empathy is at a premium in the blogosphere, I thought it only charitable to extend to Sonal the treatment I would hope to receive.

Thanks for keeping the focus

Thanks for keeping the focus on Sonal Shah alive, Dr. Anonymous, and thanks for sharing the reflective story above, much to think about.

FYI: There is also a factsheet on Sonal Shah's connections to the Sangh at:
http://hindutvacritique.net

The focus on Sonal Shah will hopefully also energise public awareness re: the Sangh Parivar, both in India and abroad. The VHP has promised violence again in Orissa this Christmas (http://www.telegraphindia.com/1081116/jsp/nation/story_10117380.jsp)...

Nayagan, I don't know who

Nayagan, I don't know who you're referring to, but if it is Vijay Prasad as I expect, there's a lot more to work with than who's endowing his chair ;)

In any case, the comparison is inapt - in capitalism, people need to work - they don't need to affiliate with rightwing movements involved in stirring up communalism and violence or make much-delayed apologias for their participation in vicious political movements at a time and place when it suits them, and still manage to appear Clintonian in the process. As you can see from this post - which directly refutes any idea that someone should be judged only by the company they have kept or what they have done rather than by who they are now and how they respond.

Dr. A, Have you ever pondered

Dr. A,

Have you ever pondered the richness of the joke that involves a professor, occupying a post endowed by George Kellner (of the distressed-assets buying Kellner-DiLeo), accusing another individual of moral turpitude by association? Hey, they just make it possible to lay off workers at struggling firms, in places where the jobs aren't immediately replaced. That's not immoral, it's free markets!

So where’s the Prashad

So where’s the Prashad expose?

Here. Of course it's irrelevant - because the issue is Hindutva, the U.S., and the U.S. government not Vijay Prashad, who is one of many critics / questioners. But enjoy.

How dao you know who Sonal is now and how do you know her thought process at the time she actively engaged in the organization? Are you possessed of the very same clairvoyance serendipitously visited upon many of her other detractors?

I don't. That's the point. I would like to know. I can only go by the what glimmers I can get from her public actions over the past four years and Internet records and whatnot. See vivek's post - a convincing and fuller explanation that doesn't involve clintonian parsing of words and near or actual lies and accusations that attempt to undermine the credibility of perfectly legitimate questions would go a long way for her, you, me, all of us.

Dr. A, “Glimmers” is right.

Dr. A,

“Glimmers” is right. That is part of the point I am making. If I ever ran for public office or was mentioned as a high-level appointee, I would probably face scrutiny over the community in which I was raised and the company some of my relatives kept–given that empathy is at a premium in the blogosphere, I thought it only charitable to extend to Sonal the treatment I would hope to receive.

What her relatives did: long term involvement in the Hindu right in the U.S. and India, including (allegedly) having Modi as a houseguest.
What she did: served on the governing board of VHP-A for three years - participated in decisionmaking, helped raise money, etc.; started an organization that worked with the Ekal Vidyalayas and accepted an award from Narendra Modi (unclear to me whether she was running it at that point--but don't think she was there); keynote speaker at HSS event; responded inadequately (imo) to questions raised about these activites; later responded by telling half and mistruths.

Again, we have long since moved past any question of guilt-by-association - i feel pretty much the same way you do which is why it's both a) important that this debate get sorted out by US and not John Podesta and Rick Santorum and b) why I feel angry that Shah has done nothing to help that happen. The only thing I have heard is that Indicorps does good work, that her personal politics are not the same as the sangh's (but it's unclear what that means given the above and that she omitted entirely that she helped run VHP-A), and that anyone who asks a question about the political activities of someone looking for a position in the u.s. government under an allegedly progressive president should be quiet and is relying on mistruths.

Just compare Shah's actions to the process the person in the post above - there are many other paths that could have been, and still could be taken (see vivek's post). it would help all of us were she to take one of them - probably most of all herself, but that's for her to decide.

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