What I Want from Sonal Shah

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. Shah's participation and leadership in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America to fade and be forgotten as she assumes her place in the Obama administration.

What I want from Sonal Shah is a full explanation of her participation in the VHP-A: her reasons for joining, her activities within the organization, her reasons for leaving, and what she thinks of both the VHP-A and the VHP.

As Ennis points out at Sepia Mutiny, it was after her first statement - in which she distanced her personal politics from those of the VHP and RSS, and referred to her connections to these organizations as "tenuous" - that evidence emerged of her membership in the VHP-A's governing council. Since then there has been no public statement from her, and I think it's absolutely fair to ask her to clarify, since her participation in the VHP-A was more than she indicated in her original statement.

If she acknowledges her participation in the VHP-A, and recognizes that the VHP-A and the VHP are part of a larger movement whose existence is based on the politics of division and hatred which she condemns, I will support her in whatever follows. But given the dismissive tone of her original statement, and the contradictory evidence which subsequently emerged, I don't see how I can support her unless she makes such a clarification from which we can all move on.

I'm sure some of you will find it unconvincing, and others of you disappointing, when I say that I'm waiting eagerly to be convinced.

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Comments

this is exactly how i feel!

this is exactly how i feel! i wonder if it's okay because this line - between wanting an exaplanation and wanting her out - i think is the line between what she means for south asian america and what she means for the victims of vhp-a and indian politics. but i do feel this very strongly - it makes me hopeful too - i want her to break with the politics of her family and her past, i want her to set herself free and help the rest of us be free as well. it might cost her a particular kind of political life, but then, is it really worth it with this kind of ugliness?

anyway, thank you so much for writing this - i was trying and failing to do the same :)

Vivek, thank you for this

Vivek, thank you for this thoughtful statement.

I think this is also a chance for her to set an example for others with connections to the Sangh, to keep an open dialogue with those that have been hurt and threatened and are critical of the Sangh, and strengthen democratic processes of transparency and accountability through innovative technologies (since that's her working group: Technology, Innovation and Government Reform)?

In this way there can also be a broader discussion on Hindu nationalism in the U.S., so that the focus is not so much on her beliefs and political orientation, but more on what can be done to respond to the concerns of the many stakeholders and those affected, those still in camps and under threat every day from the Sangh.

Nayagan, after the numerous

Nayagan, after the numerous times you have called yourself a libertarian and invoked "guilt by association" you're now going to defend state actions that not just label people guilty, but actually deport them, throw them in jail, subject them to extrajudicial punishment, etc., all because the state has designated particular non-state groups as unacceptable but not others? How is this consistent with anything that you have said about Shah's involvement with VHP-A, which has contributed money, support, labor and credibility to VHP and its friends, particularly when there is no threat of prosecution involved for her at all - it's really just a question of political job/career or not. Many of the people prosecuted under the laws I cited didn't get high profile corporate jobs after these claims were brought against them ;)

dr. A, without those lists,

dr. A,

without those lists, believe it or not, the TRO would still be allowed to raise funds (and allegedly extort money) from credulous tamils worldwide (along with supporting their head of ops in his pursuit of a potentate's living conditions). I don't agree with how the prosecutions are handled, or how OFAC is compiled, but the single most effective measure put into place after 9/11 was the restrictions on wire transfers and the use of commodity-trading accounts as checking accounts by foreign despots, terrorists and war criminals (which would have been impossible without OFAC).

Also, please demonstrate how an organization funded by the Syrian and Iranian govts, composed of shadow-gov't operations (military, political and social services) and enforcer of antediluvian social proscriptions regarding dress, action, life-ways and commerce is 'more progressive' than the VHP and VHP-A.

My father was stationed on one of several ships in the Med when the Marine Barracks were bombed, killing hundreds. Perhaps you could explain to me how this was act of modern progressivism or fits into the cannon of the modern movement (all efforts to keep the poor sick, destitute and unable to travel where work is available aside.)

There are two despicable organizations being discussed here and the comparison being drawn doesn't seem to further any sort of conversation.

Vivek,

tongue-in-cheek. I was actually hoping you'd write something along those lines--if one is making motions suggestive of a citizen's arrest, it's nice to know the legal test being applied.

Werd.

Werd.

But did you ask yourself what

But did you ask yourself what Vijay Prashad would want from Sonal Shah before writing this post?

Of course. And I ask myself such questions when I decide what to wear in the morning, when to eat lunch, and what time to go to sleep.

But it was actually you I had in mind when I wrote the last sentence.

Also, if she says "I’ve

Also, if she says

"I’ve always condemned any politics of division, of ethnic or religious hatred, of violence and intimidation as a political tool"

Then she should be happy to condemn some of the worst actions committed by Sangh organizations in India. However, the fact that she has not yet done so makes me wonder.

What I would also like to see

What I would also like to see - is a commitment to removing the guilt by association tactics that are used by the United States government -- material support laws, lists of state sponsors of terrorism etc - otherwise, it would be immensely. This is one of the things that bothers me about this debate- someone looing for power associated with "acceptabe" bad organizations can claim she is being targeted unfairly while others who are very low on the rungs and have lent support in some way or another, perhaps unknowingly, are subjected to brutal treatment because their causes are "unacceptable" bad organizations. blatantly unfair and i see no commentary on this anywhere. Hezbollah is arguably far more progressive than VHP or VHP-A.

not vivek, Point taken, but

not vivek,

Point taken, but I'm more interested in a concrete truth. The TRO example is useful--until Canada formally banned the group and froze it's assets, people in the Tamil community gave with what seemed like impunity. Once it was established that TRO was not transparent and could not fully account for funds collected, you had a concrete truth--whomever they negotiated with in their Killinocchi HQ, they were not being responsible with donations and didn't care to do due diligence on the disbursal of funds in SL. Now there is absolutely no excuse to give the TRO any money or associate with their western hemisphere operations.

with Sonal, it would be immensely satisfying to have a concrete truth--during her years of affiliation with the VHP and VHP-A, was there absolute transparency in the collection and distribution of donations intended for disaster work, specific projects, etc.

People are acting like she’s

People are acting like she’s being held to either a new or an inconsistent standard. That’s not true.

I think I must have been unclear in what I was saying or the repetitive aspects of this debate have obscured what I was trying to say. She is being held to a lower standard in many respects than, say, the people at Holy Land Foundation. So if "guilt by association" is to be rejected - as it should be and has been, to the credit of almost everyone involved in this debate - let it be rejected! And let it be rejected where its effects are most severe if they are going to be rejected here. This is not JUST about Hindutva.

Sonal has a new statement

Sonal has a new statement out. She directly criticizes the VHP and VHPA, but implies that her only association with the VHPA was as part of working with a consortium of groups to raise money for Gujarat.

The question becomes how much further to pursue this. I think it's short sighted of her not to simply be frank and open. She has a lot of good will because she has done a lot of good things. I don't know why she wont simply speak directly to the issue of whether she held a leadership role in the VHPA.

not vivek, it would be better

not vivek,

it would be better to wait until PTR posts the full text (as was done on SM)to pull this statement apart.

Personally I feel she was about as frank and open as someone who has something to lose (which in her mind is the chance to ride the Obama wave) could be--Prasad has nothing but hot air and a habit of feeding on the systems of oppression he decries in print.

As many articles have stated

As many articles have stated since this story first broke, Sonal Shah should have known better. As an Indian-American who hails from a line of Gandhian freedom fighters and who has done anti-fundamentalist education with youth in the U.S., this is a case I have followed carefully since 2002 when the genocide in Gujarat broke out. Both Vijay Prashad and the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate have pointed out that Sonal runs a (secular) organization at the grassroots level in India - she can't claim to be unaware of the nuances of Hindu fundamentalism as it plays out in India.

I want to see a South Asian in the Obama administration as much as any of her supporters, but I don't want someone JUST by virtue of their ethnicity, or even the good service work they have done (through Indicorps for example). To me, Sonal's ties to the VHP-America, and more importantly her clear decision to stay silent about the genocide for so many years until it was detrimental to her political ambitions, are abhorrent. There are many, MANY other young talented South Asians in my generation who have already served their government in admirable ways and who would be good additions to the Obama administration. We should not settle for Sonal.

As for her "relief" work in 2001, there is a report by the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate that shows how VHP earthquake relief funds were collected abroad (both in the US and UK) and distributed in a fashion that discriminated against religious minorities in India:

http://www.stopfundinghate.org/sacw/

http://www.stopfundinghate.org/resources/news/UK/030704PeoplesDemocracy.htm

"According to the report, around £2 million raised from the British public on grounds of the Gujarat earthquake alone went to fund the expansion of sangh parivar organisations in India. The overwhelming bulk of funds raised by Sewa International UK from the British public for Orissa Cyclone relief also went to RSS fronts. They were used for building sectarian sangh parivar schools, even though the British public was never informed of this intention, and for building the RSS networks all over the country. The organisations funded include not merely those ideologically inclined towards Hindutva, but also groups directly involved in large-scale violence and the promotion of hatred.

Both the Gujarat earthquake (2001) and the Orissa cyclone (1999) demonstrate a pattern in which a natural, human tragedy is used to enable the dramatic expansion of RSS institutions through the use of overseas funds

Needless to say, there are serious allegations that the RSS discriminated against Muslims and dalits in earthquake relief, and that the RSS and its allies attacked and intimidated secular NGOs undertaking relief work.

AWAAZ recommends that the charitable status of HSS and other associated charities should be withdrawn…and that politicians, public and voluntary sector organisations, religious and community groups publicly dissociate from the HSS, the VHP UK and their allied organizations. It also proposes to initiate an enquiry by the British Parliament into these concerns."

Yes, I've read her statements, including the latest one. I'm just not convinced that she didn't know about the ties. And actually, even if she didn't, it still rubs me the wrong way that she stayed mum on the horrors of the Gujarat genocide until she clearly had something personal to lose. She says she just wants to do good work for the people of India - where was her indignation in 2002 at the way religious minorities were being targeted and attacked? Where was the cry for justice?

I still believe there are other South Asians who would represent our community better than Sonal Shah. Her silence until now is cause for alarm and raises serious questions for me about her integrity, character, and commitment to justice.

desi grrrl: I am curious

desi grrrl: I am curious about Sabrang/Stop Funding Hate's position on organizations which support militant action by followers of Abrahamic religions in India.

1. Violence in Kashmir (e.g. LeT/JuD, JeM): The UK with its large Pakistani population and weak laws is a huge source of funds for them. The goals of these organizations to establish Islamic rule in India is not a secret. How many campaigns has Sabrang run to stop that?

2. Armed Maoist/Naxalites in India: In case you are not aware, PM Man Mohan Singh, called Maoist as the biggest threat facing India. Apart from obvious Chinese help, their biggest source of funding and arms are missionaries who are very active in the remote, underdeveloped, tribal parts of India. Every year, more than a thousand policemen, lose their lives, most of them in fighting Maoist violence in remote parts of India. Does Sabrang have any view on that?

But did you ask yourself what

But did you ask yourself what Vijay Prashad would want from Sonal Shah before writing this post? *ducking*

But I will grant you- my

But I will grant you- my choice of words was poor - how about "Hezbollah is arguably less reactionary than VHP?"

please guys, way off topic.

please guys, way off topic. elsewhere, if you please.

did I assign any positive

did I assign any positive qualities to the phenomenon of innocent people having their civil liberties violated as a result of these lists? read my comment again. I'm talking about OFAC and financial risk management and how it relates to people who extort money out of my relatives so Prabhakaran can execute a few more fisherman for taking bags of rice from the gov't because their family is starving.

Though I suppose you would rather we throw the doors open to Modi and his cronies, so that they may more easily squeeze funds out of the NRI community under the pretense of humanitarian assistance.

i challenge you to find the section where I defend 'state actions' that limit civil liberties.

also, are you taking a different tack from Vivek? That you would send the jack-booted to deprive Sonal of her liberties?

please guys, way off topic.

please guys, way off topic. elsewhere, if you please.

Okay, sorry :) However, I stick by my initial point, which is that I don't think the issue is solely of how Shah interacted with Hindutva, but also a commitment that whatever standard she is applying to herself she will seek to apply to other people - from different religious or political affiliations - that are targetted. I don't think that part is offtopic and it is rarely discussed in connection with this - but I will leave it at that. I'll see you on another thread, Nayagan.

a commitment that whatever

a commitment that whatever standard she is applying to herself she will seek to apply to other people - from different religious or political affiliations - that are targetted

But there is a standard and precedent already. If somebody was in a leadership position of "Friends of Likud" or in an American IRA affiliate or in American affiliate of the PLO or in a Tiger affiliate, and they hadn't disclaimed the violence associated with these groups, this would be a political issue. That standard is already in place.

People are acting like she's being held to either a new or an inconsistent standard. That's not true. It's simply that Indian Hindus have never had to think about this issue. If you'd asked somebody Irish-American 20 years ago, they would have laid out the same standard I just spelled out now.

p.s. I'm "Not vivek" not

p.s. I'm "Not vivek" not because I disagree with Vivek, but for lack of a better handle.

People are acting like she’s

People are acting like she’s being held to either a new or an inconsistent standard. That’s not true.

Agreed completely, Not Me.

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