On Sonal Shah's Response

Sonal Shah's new statement:

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.

-- -- --

If you haven't already, please read Ennis's post at Sepia Mutiny, which gives a comprehensive summary of events so far. I'm going to use it as a starting point so we don't have to reinvent the wheel. I'm also under the assumption, given the popularity of Sepia Mutiny, and given that the National Journal links to it directly, that at least someone who read through Sonal Shah's latest response would have also read Ennis's post.

So let's take a look at this response:

Having declared that the accusations of association with Hindu extremism are false, she goes on to offer an explanation of why her name appears on the VHP-A press release:

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.

While I appreciate her being willing to link the VHP-A to the VHP, there were two other pieces of evidence linking her to the VHP-A three years before the Gujarat earthquake. The first was a statement from the General Secretary of the VHP-A:

She was just coming out of college. We were trying to get the younger generation involved in the VHP-A. So she was taken into our governing body. Then the earthquake happened in Gujarat and she worked on that. She was there for 3 years (NDTV).

The second is a list of VHP-A governing body members from 1998. Sonal Shah is listed. This was while she was in the Clinton Treasury Department, so not only was she on the governing board of the VHP-A while serving in the administration, she used her Treasury e-mail address as a contact (hindunet.org) (You can find this in Dr. Anonymous's previous post).

At Sepia Mutiny, Amardeep acknowledges that Ms. Shah's statement doesn't address this issue, but is willing to overlook this because of her clear statement on the VHP:

Shah doesn’t specifically address the statements from a VHPA spokesman to the effect of “she was part of our leadership council for three years,” but there is a clear and convincing account of what she now believes about the VHP as an organization in India, as well as a clear statement about Gujarat 2002 (Sepia Mutiny).

I'm sorry to say that I felt insulted when I read Ms. Shah's paragraph about the VHP:

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.

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. The VHP had earned its infamy long before 2002 (again, see Dr. Anonymous's previous post), including in the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992. If she didn't know this already, I would have hoped that in the past few weeks when her association with the VHP-A had come under scrutiny, she would have been curious enough to find these things out.

Overall, I'm not impressed with the way that Sonal Shah has conducted herself during this process. While she wishes for a conversation that "should proceed on the basis of verified facts and reasoned argument, not innuendo and defamation," she has failed to address some verified facts, and I think she might still have something to hide.

That said, I am grateful that the past few weeks have led to a public figure of her stature in the US - who looks to have a role in the next administration - condemning the VHP and tying it to the VHP-A. I think this is a significant step toward the delegitimizing of the VHP, and I think that's good for everyone.

I'm inclined to let it go. If anyone wants to talk me down I'm listening.

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Comments

right now, this is all a

right now, this is all a storm in a teacup. this entire controversy has not even bubbled up enough to be covered in political blogs, such as kos or yglesias etc., let alone articles in the mainstream press (barring the santorum article in some philly newspaper - I don't know how big the newspaper is, and what its leanings are, although the fact that the article is by santorum pretty much means that many sane people will ignore or dismiss it). obama has picked stephen chu as his energy secretary, so the immediate issue is dead, but it is important to keep the pressure on, as i would like to see visibility in the mainstream national press, or at least in a wide swath of well-read political blogs, of the role of the vhp in india, as well as sonal shah's explicit acknowledgement of the vhp-a's complicity in vhp's indian actions.

so, no, i don't think we should let it go, as i really do not think of this so far as having done much for delegitimizing the vhp (sonal shah was never a front runner, or even the second or third priority pick for energy secretary, so it is no surprise that she wasn't picked, independent of this entire fiasco).

Babu, I didn't know that

Babu,

I didn't know that about her father -- it certainly does make it a bit more damning.

if the only organizations that hindu youth are attracted to are right-leaning ones like the vhp, wow, what a failure of hindu society and culture to provide moderate alternatives and leadership!

Well yeah, that's been a very frustrating part of being an American-born Hindu. There's not a lot of support for "progressive" Hinduism out there.

I think this is one big one reason why I've generally been fairly sympathetic to Shah. The fact is that in the United States, conservative Hindu orgs are by far the most involved in drawing in young Hindus, teaching them about Hindu values, and otherwise providing a forum for young Hindus to interact and learn. I have been looking for liberal -- or even politically neutral -- groups that provide that kind of community experience WITHOUT the ideological overtones for years, with little success. And these groups are insidious too. It's often not obvious that they're the real sponsors behind things advertised as neutral "Hindu heritage" events (for example, I was horrified to find out that my father had unwittingly enrolled my little sister in an RSS camp in Florida a few years ago).

So when those are the options for a practicing Hindu in the United States, I am not at all shocked that people sometimes make missteps. On top of that, the evolution of a widely accessible information network about the linkages, history, and involvement about all of these Hindu networks is a relatively recent thing. For most of my life (and, I'm assuming Ms. Shah's) the most common way to learn about the religion and its place in larger Desi culture was through one's parents and their friends. And when your father is so heavily involved with the Indian right himself, well, that would give anyone a skewed perspective.

You do make a really important and interesting point about the analogies with American Islam though. It is very unlikely that anyone with these links to an ultraconservative Islamic organization would still be in the running. I can only hope that this kind of bad press will lead to more support for more of a liberal presence in our mandirs.

BTW, did you all notice this

BTW, did you all notice this story? Child of an ideological extremist receives extra scrutiny after his parentage is discovered, he says he's not a supremacist, merely a defender of his own community.

Not at all the same thing, but it's still instructive to see how it unfolded.

Vivek -- aren't you bothered

Vivek -- aren't you bothered by the sheer evasiveness of her remarks and the fact that getting any acknowledgment of Sangh activities has been like pulling teeth? I know she was counseled to say something of this sort a while back, and she kept dragging her feet.

If she didn't know anything about the VHP's activities while she was a member of the VHPA, shouldn't that make it easier rather than harder for her to state what her role was?

If she understands now how bad some of the VHP's activities in India are, wouldn't she be a bit more willing to distinguish her noble, innocent, activities with the VHPA from theirs?

If she now understands that the VHPA is ideologically congruent to its parent, then why is she so surprised by the fact that it never decried the violence in Gujarat? I'm not surprised by the fact that American Bishops don't criticize the Pope, I get that their authority flows from the mothership.

I understand that you might not want to push it further, and demand yet another statement, but be honest now - doesn't this whole process make you a bit queasy?

It reminds me of Bush's inability to admit that anything he did was wrong, and how we was unable to even say that things weren't going perfectly in Iraq after things had gone very awry. With Bush he felt that the purity of his motives should absolve him from any blame.

If she would open up and be frank, I'd be willing to accept that she was naive. But what worries me is that I'm not sure she gets it even now. Instead, I wonder if she's in deep denial.

V S, You're not dealing with

V S,

You're not dealing with ToI and Rediff readers here, so if you're trying to make a point, put some effort in it.

Zenab Banu is an academic of unknown quality who teaches, I believe, at Udaipur university. The Politics of Communalism was published in 1989 (note the time-frame) and was never reprinted.

The publisher, Popular Prakashan, also published such rigorous studies as: "Indian Muslims: Where have they gone wrong?" Abstract: "The central question of this book is: Where have Indian Muslims gone wrong? Dr. Zakaria does not shy away from the answer: Whenever they have forgotten their Indian roots."

Credible! In fact, Banu's book seems to be such an undistinguished text that googling "Zenab Banu" + "Politics of Communalism" brings up this mention, on PTR, on the second page. Tel you what. Why don't you find us a single academic review of the book, from any journal; that tends to pass muster in a way that a 20-word blurb that has been copy-pasted across Hindutva blogs does not.

The same applies to Francois Gautier, a space cadet Auro-bhakt turned journalist, about
whom you'll be hard-pressed to find any appreciation from anybody other than (1) dazed European orientalists, (2) Hindu right-wingers who are thrilled to be validated by a foreign voice. He's the Right's White: a solitary voice of dizzy validation, without any academic ballast.

I don't seek my commentary on India's cultural-political heritage from someone who lives in Auroville and has also authored, ""Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a Guru of Joy." To me that's a sign of fatally crossed wires. Why don't you read the review of his book by Swapan Dasgupta -- a very popular right wing pundit -- who does his best to patronize Gautier, but even he is obviously not taking him too seriously.

b) you didnt insist several

b) you didnt insist several weeks ago as shah did that you were still proud of having done relief work for VHPA, despite the pattern of using relief fundraising for broader sangh activities (to the best of my understanding), keynote an HSS event two years after godhra, deny ties outright, leave vhpa governing council stuff unaddressed etc etc etc

Could she not have meant that she was proud of helping PEOPLE (and not for which organization she did the work)? I'm pretty sure that her relief work under the auspices of VHP-A did not consist of her shining Hindutvadi shoes.

In fact, shouldn't someone be interviewing the humans affected by her relief work (y'know, the stuff she actually did) without making spurious connections between SS and Bilqis Bano's rape?

and why the eagerness to exempt Saurabh from the moral bayoneting? Is there an age of consent to be complicit in the logistical/fiscal support of Hindutvadi violence?

Dr. Anon: Thank you for

Dr. Anon: Thank you for judging a message based on the messenger, and exposing your inability to critically analyze any counter-point. You have are unwilling to even consider an alternative perspective, and use the oldest trick in the book of shooting the messenger. So much so for your intellectual honesty and analysis capability.

It seems that unless something is politically correct or written or approved by 'the pseudo-seculars' it has no credibility? You have not read Dr Banu's work so start attacking the university she teaches or the publisher. What is so wrong with Udaipur University? She has authored a lot more on this and other social issue; at least go through a first five pages of Google search results.

If you really want to know the truth you would try to locate her books and read instead of denigrating her credibility. But of course that will shatter the comfortable illusionary cocoon you have ensconced yourself in.

Similarly, did you even READ the article by Gautier? Do you have anything to say about WHAT he wrote? Instead all you can do is criticize him as Gora with crossed wires and denigrate his appreciation of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. It seems that only the pseudo-secularists know the truth; and anything with Hindu or Indic roots, even some one as benign Sri Sri is BS.

What about the article by the Baptists about how Christian dominated areas of India should secede. A few years some legislature from a Southern state actually proposed a bill to support the secession of one of the N E States! How much do you know about East Timor?

You also criticized a publisher because it published a book, written by another Muslim, about what has gone wrong with Indian Muslims. Indian Muslims themselves are very concerned about the lack of economic progress, so definitely there is something wrong.

And what is so wrong about preserving your Indic cultural roots as a means of retaining your identity?

Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. Frogs in a well; nothing has changed.

Some more food for thought, published by a Pakistani newspaper with a 24% market share, the Express a few days after the Mumbai attacks.
http://express.com.pk/epaper/PoPupwindow.aspx?newsID=1100533603&Issue=NP...
http://express.com.pk/epaper/PoPupwindow.aspx?newsID=1100533604&Issue=NP...

Oh my god people LET IT GO.

Oh my god people LET IT GO. Seriously. As a desi, I first and foremost appreciate her genuine connection to India and her desire to reach out and use her western resources to enact some good. It's so damn hard to get anyone interested in India in a meaningful way (i.e. outside of bollywood) that what she's doing can almost be considered revolutionary. From what I can tell, people are maligning her for organizations that she is loosely affiliated with or that her parents are a part of. As someone who has witnessed members of her extended family (here and in India) say and do very racist things, I completely get that first-generation Indians can be very different from their second-generation children with respect to their worldview. This is something that the second-generation cannot be responsible for, nor is it something that we can necessarily do anything about except condemn it whenever these incidents take place before us. It really sounds like she's done plenty of that. Now let's move on.

saurabh, thanks for the

saurabh, thanks for the comment. it was very edifying. i guess it is hard for me to reconcile the idea that sonal shah was an accomplished individual with a sophisticated enough understanding of politics and international finance to work on the asian crisis, and be an important part of clinton's treasury department, but was simultaneously completely naive about the vhp's long history of communal violence and provocation in india. surely, the events behind babri masjid resonated powerfully among vhp members in america? did the demolition of a centuries old mosque by a violent mob that overcame (arguably minimal) police protection, and the active soliciting for funds by the vhp, both in india and internationally, to forcibly claim this land and build a temple not ring alarm bells? this was in 1992, a time when sonal shah would have been in her 20s, and certainly armed with an understanding of india?

despite all these questions, i only wish she would speak up honestly, clearly, and in full detail about her thoughts and ideas throughout her association with the vhp, so we can understand how somebody who clearly has a positive record in many areas could make these extremely troubling decisions.

Nayagan, it's extremely

Nayagan, it's extremely unfair to look at this without context. You can't understand why someone might be uncomfortable with relief fundraising for a Hindutva group without understanding the pattern of Sangh fundraising. Otherwise, why would anyone object to someone raising funds for earthquake relief at all?

If Modi wasn't a butcher who hadn't participated in or led state-sponsored pogroms against Muslims, women, children, then why would we bother talking about Anand Shah accepting an award from him? Doing so is an illustratiion of exactly why relief work that doesn't understand its own politics and "I'll take money from anyone to do my good work" are completely flawed ways of looking at the world. The point wasn't raised with reference to Sonal Shah, but with reference to the way that Amardeep treated an interview with Anand Shah and his perspective on these issues. I've said this a few times, I think, so to be honest, I'm starting to feel frustrated that I have to keep saying it. But if that's not the case, then you have it here.

You should read rhinocrisy. Then you'll understand why I have more trust for saurabh's perspective than Shah's.

Dr. Anon: 0. In case you do

Dr. Anon:

0. In case you do not know, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, is a Padam Bhushan (India's 3rd highest Civilian Award); I hope he is credible enough. He is the one who wrote about the propensity of Muslim youth to indulge in acts of violence, without any though of the potential repercussions.

1. Gujarat is the land of Gandhi. It has a huge Jain population. However the same folks have returned Modi to power TWICE after the Godhra riots. This in an age where the incumbent rarely, if ever, gets re-elected in India. However, you call him a butcher; some others call him Hitler and what not. Does the disconnect ever bother you? Do you feel that people of Gujarat are all Hitler inspired butchers or did you ever wonder that perhaps you might be overdoing in your fascist characterization of Modi?

2. Gujarat Riots: I was visiting India at that time, and this was perhaps the first major riot of the digital age, captured very well for the world to see. One picture which still sticks to my mind is that of the shattered window of George Fernandez' (Defense Minister) vehicle. Given the propensity of Indian leaders to travel with a small Army, the inability to even protect him was an eye opener; not only about the intensity of the anger of the rioters but also of the limited capabilities of law enforcement apparatus.

In the rush to blame Modi, very little attention is paid to what his administration did to get things right with the resources they had given the explosiveness of the situation. Almost all the energy is focused on what he did not do. I was in touch with some IPS officer's at that time, and they too were surprised at the degree of politicization in news reporting about that period, and subsequent denigration of Modi for inaction. I am sure there were passive acts of omission and some active acts of violence; but the link between them and Hitler is tenuous at best.

3. In all this talk of Sonal's association with Hinduvta, what very few people are doing is to develop a better understanding of these so-called fascist organizations. RSS came in to its own during the 1930-40s, right when the demand from the Muslim League for a separate country was becoming shriller, and threats of Civil War accompanied by organized riots (like the Direct Action Day) was becoming the norm. In some ways it was a reactionary organization, trying to defend a dream of undivided India which they saw going down under Gandhi/Nehru's leadership. Over the weekend I have seen anti-RSS authors cite some publications from the 1930-40s to label them as fascist; I find that intellectually dishonest since it completely ignores the context in which those statements were made.

What shocks me is that how vicious the campaign against Sonal is with all the usual suspects lining up to destroy a successful Indian women. What saddens me even more are the 'Jai-Chands', who are so secure about their intellectual superiority that they do not even wonder why the Gujarati's keep on electing Modi. I also wonder if these folks would have raised the ruckus if someone who had raised funds for JUD (that includes almost anyone who donates at aSouth Asian mosques) was in Sonal's position.

V S, You are quite the

V S,

You are quite the apologist :) To quickly respond to your points:

a) I don't see what relevance your point about Wahiduddin Khan has to anything discussed. If you could explain, I might be able to respond.
b) An electorate can vote for a fascist and other assholes, yes. Frequently. The American electorate voted for Bush. The Gujarat electorate voted for Modi. The Pennsylvania electorate voted for Rick Santorum. So, no, that doesn't make me temper my position towards him - though I would point out that there is a significant difference between who, what, when, where, how and why happen in an electionn and "the people" of a particular place and time. The ideal of even pure liberal democracy is implemented in a practical and social context, in other words.
c) Your points about the Gujarat riots are at best wholesale denial (I'm being polite). Of course mass violence of any kind is a situation that is difficult to contain. That changes nothing about the fact that there are compelling arguments that the Gujarat state government and Hindutva were involved, and have subsequently done very little to make t hemselves available for accountability, let alone to provide adequate remedies to all of the targeted people who were affected. This is because they are assholes who were, in all likelihood, actively complict in the murders and rapes of a lot of people. Even a lot of soft sangh supporters would agree to that, so why do you defend it?
d) I don't think the origins and development of Hindutva organizations is of particular relevance to this particular moment and incident, but I do agree that pointing to stuff that was said 60 years ago is not particularly useful unless it is shown to bear upon what has happened. I also think there is an artificial divide constructed bewteen "bad Hindutva" and "okay secularism" - the problem is state sponsored majoritarian or other violence - it was bad against the Sikhs in 1984 in Delhi, and it is bad here. However, that has little or no bearing on what we're talking about, which is an American official (or official-in-waiting) who has had significant involvement in Hindutva, which is a contemporary and active political force in India, as you can see from the news, and has failed to provide a compelling expllanation for why she chose to do this, what the effects were, how she feels about it now, etc., beyond simply doing the easy thing and abstractly condemning Hindutva and the Gujarat massacres without really understanding what people are talking about and why a mindless pragmatism is not in fact pragmatic at all but just facilitates the Modis and Cheneys and Kissingers of the world.
e) I think a gender analysis of this situation would be appropriate, but I am not the person to conduct it. However, I think you are raising a number of false parallels - if Sonal Shah had donated to Holy Land Foundation, she wouldn't be on the transition board for Obama and we wouldn't be having this conversation - and that would be f@#ked up. What I would like is an explanation that accounts both for the complexities of being a 2nd generation South Asian as well as a recognition that she thinks for herself and that that thinking has led her to understand that some of what she did, unknowingly or knowingly, led support to political forces that were, are, and presumably will be f@#ked up. I don't see that. This is hardly a vicious statement to make so if anything, I think she is being treated with kid gloves in some senses - which makes sense, given the gender analysis. That is among the reasons why I appreciate commentary by South Asian women on this as well as 1st generation Indians (or 1.5 or whatever) and Indian-American or Indian religious minorities, and many others who I cannot claim to be. Helps keep us honest and confirm or deny our own preconceptions and feelings on this.

1) Sonal Shah did not take a

1) Sonal Shah did not take a jet to the role of the co-ordinator
2) She was part of a deliberate strategy to recruit second generation Indians
3) Her culture camps obviously excluded Mahatma Gandhi
4) Please search online for Frontline\'s 2002 issue on funding being raised by charities in the USA to forward the hinduvta agenda
5) Even the aid they raised was disbursed based on caste and creed very much like in New Orleans after Katrina
4) Sonal has very deliberately been propelling herself towards American global policy initiatives - Commission on Weak States and US National Security. What is an economics student doing there?

(barring the santorum article

(barring the santorum article in some philly newspaper - I don’t know how big the newspaper is, and what its leanings are, although the fact that the article is by santorum pretty much means that many sane people will ignore or dismiss it)

Actually, the Enquirer is the main, non-tabloid newspaper for the Philadelphia area. I think the circulation is in the millions.

But your larger point stands -- especially the fact that it's by Rick Santorum, whom everyone in Pennsylvania is only too happy to forget.

thanks for the clarification,

thanks for the clarification, amardeep.

Honestly, as an ABD I

Honestly, as an ABD I probably wouldn't have known about the VHP until after the Gujarat massacre. Of course I knew about Babri Masjid, but nothing more nuanced than "some right wing Hindu group." Yes, that probably reflects horrible ignorance about The Mother Country but, well, add that to the list of ABCD disappointments. My point is that VHP is not necessarily well-known, even to moderately informed Indian-Americans.

I'm also kind of uncomfortable with this criticism of Shah given how little attention people concerned about the Hindu Right in America have devoted to informing actual Hindu youth or providing alternative forums for worship. Unfortunately this includes Prof. Prashad, who writes great books but is otherwise not easy to find outside of very left-wing political sites like CounterPunch. The Hindu Right has become enormously insidious in recent years -- even RSS is setting up "heritage camps" they use to try to indoctrinate young Hindus. Unless you make the effort to stay very well-informed, it's actually pretty hard to avoid these groups, or separate the "moderate" from the "hard right" ones.

Now of course any sympathy I might have for Shah will evaporate if it's revealed that she either a) knew about VHP's violent history and stayed on; or b) contributed to any actual wrongdoing in any way. But I don't think her framing of the situation as it stands is all that unbelievable.

a) knew about VHP’s violent

a) knew about VHP’s violent history and stayed on

her father has been a lifelong member of the vhp, campaigned for advani in gujarat, has been on yatras with him. it seems to stretch credulity that she had no understanding of what the vhp was reputed to be about. further, it wasn't as if she participated in her local bal vihar chapter, she was part of the national leadership council of the vhp-a (even if you are willing to buy her argument that her name was appropriated by the vhp-a for the gujarat relief efforts - although that seems a bit unbelievable in the context of her association with the vhp-a).

given how little attention people concerned about the Hindu Right in America have devoted to informing actual Hindu youth or providing alternative forums for worship.

somehow, this does not seem to the criticism of muslims and the islamic community when they are criticized for not providing moderate, inclusive leadership. for what it is worth, i think that is the right approach, and i don't see why the hindu community should be treated differently. if the only organizations that hindu youth are attracted to are right-leaning ones like the vhp, wow, what a failure of hindu society and culture to provide moderate alternatives and leadership!

her father has been a

her father has been a lifelong member of the vhp

to be correct, her father has had life long associations with the rss, and heads the ekal vidyalaya foundation which fundraises for the rss to support tribal schools run by the rss in india. he has also been a vice president of the overseas friends of the bjp and campaigned for advani etc. as i mentioned earlier.

the information about her father is relevant not to judge her loyalties, but to examine the believability of her statement that the vhp's reputation, ideology and inclinations were news to her.

I'm inclined to think the

I'm inclined to think the familial connections made it *more likely* (not less likely) for her to not be aware of / ignorant of the negative associations of the vhp-a etc. It's entirely plausible that, at least earlier in her career, given these connections, she thought of the organizations as mostly innocuous and didn't bother investigating it much (since what she knew about it was positive associations related to her father's involvement).

After all, her declared philosophies and attitudes (and those of indicorps) are quite different from those of the main vhp, so this all seems consistent.

So, I'm uniquely positioned

So, I'm uniquely positioned to speak on this issue. My dad is the current general secretary of VHP-A. I know Gaurang Vaishnav and many others of the core VHP-A set personally and even with affection. And like Sonal Shah, I was involved (and still am, a little bit, as a result of family ties) in a lot of their activities in the 1990s. But our politics diverged a great deal since then, especially following Godhra. Many of the young people I worked with in those organizations went through a similar transformation - they now divorce themselves completely from the politics of the groups they may have in the past supported. VHP-A plays a largely cultural role for Hindu Americans, and that's the association that most strongly draws young Hindus to it. It's only later when they get some inkling of the other political issues at stake that they might begin to divorce themselves from the scarier ideological goals of the organization - as I did.

So, yes, Sonal Shah was a member of the VHP-A governing council a while back. But I don't necessarily see that as a reason to crucify her; if she says she deplores the violence in Orissa, etc., I see no reason not to take her at her word. People change; their politics change, their priorities change, their perspectives change. Hopefully we're magnanimous enough to allow people to do that.

Saurabh, did your peers ever

Saurabh,

did your peers ever expect to singled out for their ties to the VHP-A? And did you ever visit the only working Ashram in the US?

Babu, I'm not suggesting that

Babu, I'm not suggesting that she was unaware of these things - I certainly wasn't. In the 90s I read Koenraad Elst and Arun Shourie and so on with great glee and believed it all whole-heartedly. Then, I changed my mind. I grew up, got a little more perspective on the world, and decided that I had been wrong before. I don't know that Sonal went through the same process, but I really don't think it's uncommon for second-generation kids who work with VHP-A to be at odds with the right-wing politics of VHP. If Sonal says she's changed her mind about things, well, fine. I don't think her ties are sinister enough, or her position of enough influence, to be enquiring this closely.

Nagayan, I don't think my peers ever expected to be singled out - I'm not exactly sure what you're inquiring about here. As to the only working Ashram, do you mean Arsh Vidya Gurukulam? If so, yes, I've been there a couple of times.

Saurabh, for the first

Saurabh,

for the first question I was wondering your peers who 'went in a different direction' after Godhra ever expected to be 'held accountable' for their involvement in VHP-A as young people (i may be getting the timeline all wrong, so please don't take offense).

as for the second, I was referring to Yogaville (#1 was in Connecticut, #2 started in 1979 in Virginia--www.yogaville.org), where I grew up. The most theologically conservative people to visit were people from the Kuaui-based organization who publish Hinduism Today. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satguru_Sivaya_Subramuniyaswami) i always wondered whether VHP-A folks would be receptive to the hippieness of that place.

I’m also kind of

I’m also kind of uncomfortable with this criticism of Shah given how little attention people concerned about the Hindu Right in America have devoted to informing actual Hindu youth or providing alternative forums for worship.

In India, you cannot be a practising Hindu and voice Hindu opinion without being labeled right wing, a fundamentalist or a Hindutva ideologue in certain circles. The situation is not much different here in the US.

Here is an old article that describes the situation nicely -

http://www.rediff.com/news/2001/feb/08nandy.htm

In India, you cannot be a

In India, you cannot be a practising Hindu and voice Hindu opinion without being labeled right wing, a fundamentalist or a Hindutva ideologue in certain circles.

Do you think you're talking to stupid people who have never been to India? Perhaps it is the content of what is said in the name of Hinduism and which circles you are saying it in that leaves you with this impression.

Shailesh, I completely agree

Shailesh, I completely agree with you. It has become fashionable to blame anything which extends or even tries to preserve the message of Hinduism, as Right Wing fascist and what not. The pseudo-secularists here like Dr. Anon, have no qualms with the Evangelical-Jehadis sending hundreds of millions to India to harvest Indian souls or arming Maoists/Naxalites. They do not care about the separatist movements that emerge after conversion as it happened in Manipur/Nagaland. Dr. Zenab Banu's book 'Politics of Communalism', concluded that over the past 250 years, 95% of riots in India were started by Muslims (this was her PhD work). However, if Hindu's ever react then they are right wing Nazis.

I have never been interested in RSS/VHP etc., but the amount of hatred being poured on Hindu-centric organizations is making my blood-boil. Santorum suggested that Indians should donate to Red Cross (and assist the associated missionaries) instead of VHP. It seems that only Hindus are expected to respect other cultures while the rest can dump on them.

Indians should be proud that an Indian American is getting more political power. Instead like the rest of Indian history, some other Indians want to pull her down, like frogs trapped in the well.

No one here is defending Rick

No one here is defending Rick Santorum or bashing Hinduism. Please use links and quotations to make your allegations, or your comments will be edited.

Can't post a long comment;

Can't post a long comment; will try a short test

vivek: I am referring to

vivek: I am referring to posts by Shailesh and Dr. Anon above. Can't put links since the comment software is not working properly; I will just type the lings.

Some links of interest regarding separatism.

Baptist Agenda For Peace in Nagalim http://www.wfn.org/1998/02/msg00057.html
A remote land of jungle, Jesus - and religious war http://www.dailyherald.com/special/passagefromindia/nagaland.asp

Note they do not even refer to the state with its proper name (cont..)

Analysis of Riots: Zenab

Analysis of Riots:
Zenab Banu's research http://ameyap.wordpress.com/2007/09/20/95-riots-are-not-intiated-by-hindus/
Ethnic Cleansing: http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/MONITOR/ISSUE6-2/sridhar.html

A lot of Anglphonic Indians are mad at Modi for the riots of 2002 (I was one of them). But the more I read about them, the more it becomes clear that the demonization has taken its own life. I stumbled upon http://www.gujaratriots.com/ and also talked to different IPS officers; the underlying theme was that the reports of state complicity were grossly exaggerated. Note this has to be taken in the context of riots in the sub-continent; not a Western environment.

The Congress party has ruled India for most of her independence and it thrives on dividing the nation so the minorities vote for them. The minorities complain of being denied development but continue to vote for the same parties that have ruled India for 60 years. The Indian Press, which typically tows the ruling party's boat, falls heads over heels to oblige them. Santorum explicitly noted that the Times of India web-site ran the Sonal Shah Hinduvta story for a whole week on its front page, as if to prove that she is not suitable. India was ruled by foreigners because Indians never united against foreign threats; it is sickening to see the same history repeat itself in the 21st century.

Francois Gautier articles

Francois Gautier articles capture the essence of what I am saying much better. He was the South Asia correspondent for Le-Figaro.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francois_Gautier
http://www.francoisgautier.com/
http://www.rediff.com/news/2000/oct/25franc.htm

You folks need to re-examine the bigger purpose of the whole exercise; if there is a problem fix it in-house instead of making a drama for the entire world to dump on.

saurabh, thanks for the

saurabh, thanks for the comment. particularly for being so forthcoming and for helping us contextualize this, especially about the degree of closeness of the questioning. I have questions following from the parallel you draw between yourself and shah:

a) you werent old enough to be an adult at the time of babri masjid and through the 1990s as shah was and you didnt join the vhpa governing council in your 30s
b) you didnt insist several weeks ago as shah did that you were still proud of having done relief work for VHPA, despite the pattern of using relief fundraising for broader sangh activities (to the best of my understanding), keynote an HSS event two years after godhra, deny ties outright, leave vhpa governing council stuff unaddressed etc etc etc
c) you have no possible motivation of political self interest for saying what you did when you did as shah does

So given all this do you have suggestions for those of us who agree with you that hindutva is noxious but that human beings are human beings for what we should do individually or as a community in response to this situation? its really the question of degree that you raise and practical but fair steps that is hardest to grapple with.

Feel free to email if youd rather discuss there.

Dr Anon: Is Mr. Khan more

Dr Anon:

Is Mr. Khan more credible than Mrs. Banu? Is 'Muslim India' a credible 'enough' publication?

---------------------------------
What is the cause of communal riots in India? A well-respected Muslim religious leader,
Maulana Waheeduddin Khan, Director of the Islamic World Center, New Delhi, has said that
the “Muslim temper is extremely volatile and they are hyper-sensitive, and have become a
perennial problem for the law enforcing authorities, and the need of the day is to learn
how to live in harmony and understanding with non-Muslim communities.” He further says, “If
we marshal all facts, we see that in every case, the situation has been aggravated more by
the Muslims in question being easily provoked than by a desire on the part of police to be
aggressive. And it is noteworthy that wherever Muslims are to be found living together in
any concentration, this over sensitiveness is very much in evidence; sooner or later, it is
the Muslims themselves who have to pay dearly for it.…” (Muslim India, January 1988)
-----------------------------

Coming back to Sonal Shah: I feel that Indians of all religions and colors will be better off they are able to get more political power. One person in a high position, opens up the gates for ten others. By hauling her over coals, Indians are not only doing a disservice to her, but to others who might follow in her foot-steps. The vetting of any Indian will include any links with Hindu organizations. So to succeed politically, Hindu Indians will have to downplay their Hindu roots. I often wonder whether Bobby Jindal would have had the same success if he had not converted or not encouraged Supriya to convert five years after their marriage.

Just wash the dirty laundry at home; do not make it an international spectacle.

Could she not have meant that

Could she not have meant that she was proud of helping PEOPLE (and not for which organization she did the work)? I’m pretty sure that her relief work under the auspices of VHP-A did not consist of her shining Hindutvadi shoes.

In fact, shouldn’t someone be interviewing the humans affected by her relief work (y’know, the stuff she actually did) without making spurious connections between SS and Bilqis Bano’s rape?

and why the eagerness to exempt Saurabh from the moral bayoneting? Is there an age of consent to be complicit in the logistical/fiscal support of Hindutvadi violence?

1. Hindutva groups raise funds, particularly from the diaspora, in the name of good works and implement their agenda through that work, gain credibility, and raise funds. To, at this point, continue to express unmitigated pride in doing such work, is evidence of at minimum a serious lack of introspection or a disagreement with the statement i wrote about relief work and cultural work, particularly in this context, being connected with politics.

2. Please dont take me out of context...its trollish. What I did was ask Amardeep whether or not he had asked Anand Shah, not Sonal Shah, about why he hasd reportedly accepted an award from Narendra Modi in 2004, two years after the gujarat riot, and brought in the graphic details and account to illustrate graphically why one could believe that this is a deeply f"§ked up thing to do. This went to the point about a false construction of pragmatism and the need for some political content to your decisions and thoughts, as well as the need to interrogate people who don´t demonstrate that, which amardeep stated he chose not to do for reasons that are entirely unclear to me in this context.

3. cause this is not moral bayoneting - cause he has no power to speak of and is not seeking to acquire any - cause he hasnt stonewalled given half truths lied and accused others of lying over several years in response to reasonable if intense questioning and because i trust him based on his other writing and this comment. the issue of age goes to the issue of choice and agency at the time and how it differs .. its an attempt to understand the potential differences and similarities in their situations in the context of what he said. if you read the comment, that should all be there, but if i was unclear, my bad.

By hauling her over coals,

By hauling her over coals, Indians are not only doing a disservice to her, but to others who might follow in her foot-steps. The vetting of any Indian will include any links with Hindu organizations. So to succeed politically, Hindu Indians will have to downplay their Hindu roots.

Why do you assume that any Hindu Indian will have been a leader in the VHPA? Are there no other organizations that represent Hindus in America and no other way to participate than to be in the national leadership?

Again, I'm not convinced one way or another about Sonal. I just want her to be honest and direct and make her case.

Not Vivek: You are trying to

Not Vivek: You are trying to look at the issue with a microscope when you need the view from space, a much broader perspective.

To set the context:

Most people in the West, even educated Americans, do not know much about India except that it is a Hindu country with some Muslims. After the 2001 attacks on the Indian Parliament, many news casters (some even on CNN) were confused how a George Fernandez could be the Defense Minister of a country being run by the Extreme Right Wing Ultra Nationalist BJP (George was on a visit to the US). One news caster jumped in to say that he must be from Goa since that is where the Christians are. People are clueless about the diversity that thrives in India; diversity which is supported by the tolerant ethos of Hinduism who constitute a bulk of the population.

With the shrill publicity about Hindu terror and what not, there is an attempt being made to hyphenate Islamic terrorism with Hindu terrorism. It was obvious during the Mumbai attacks where on the first few hours, there a lot of talk of the attackers being Hindu terrorists on CNN, even when the State Dept. knew right away where the murderers came from (they had intel on impending attacks which was shared with the Indians). The recent rioting in the tribal areas of Orissa has received a huge amount of air-time in the West. Hindu terror is now being spoken about in the same breadth as Islamic terrorism.

How does it matter? If some one tries hard enough you can always find a connection between Organization A, and Organization B, especially if they are working on the same cause. An orphanage in India might be run by saintly people, but they may have received some assistance from some 'right wing ultra nationalist' charities during their life-time. For some one digging for dirt, that will be good enough. And that story becomes easy to sell when the bogey-man of Hindu terror has already been carved into the common psyche.

So the next time you want to support an orphanage in India, you better make sure that not only have they not, but also will not in the future, receive any fund from any organization the pseudo-secularists feel espouses Hindu causes (whatever they may be).

Indians need to wash their dirty laundry in private; there is no need to give forces amicable to the larger interest of India more gun-powder to break India up further.

dr. a, For: 1. Can we please

dr. a,

For:

1. Can we please stop discussing in abstract what clearly needs to be a concrete rubric under which her specific actions can be judged. We are not talking about what Hindutva groups do but what Sonal did and why she did so.

2. I really dislike the rather cavalier assumption that just because someone disagrees with you that they have a case of selective amnesia or weren't alive then (which in Amardeep's case is clearly not true) or that you have some superior grasp of the Hindutvadi litany of abuses of liberty and that by waving Bano's case in the court of public opinion you're somehow not Hannitizing the debate. "20 years! Bill Ayers! Blagojevich! Illinois culture of corruption!" is really no more productive and relevant than "Bano! Godhra! Forcible conversion! Babri!" when the subject of the argument didn't even lift a pinky to aid in the commission of any of those atrocities.

3. How do you know that this brave fellow doesn't have any power? Why are you not immediately suspicious of him? it seems as if you're just skating by his conviction that the children of parents similar to his have no level of culpability in the goings-on of India.

I'm done with this. You've made your point, I'll never say she's 100% innocent or not morally compromised but I'm extremely disappointed that this conversation has come off the rails so much so that we're down in the dirt with the jurisprudence behind the Holy Land Foundation decision in which the court allowed images of the victims of Hamas terrorism to be seen by the jury (and presumably convict in the absence of proof).

Dr. Anon -Wahiduddin Khan:

Dr. Anon

-Wahiduddin Khan: You dismissed Banu as not credible. Hence his relevance.

-You have comfortably ensconced yourself in a false cocoon of intellectual superiority where people with an alternative view point (Gujarat, Americans) are all idiots. I guess you need to have a Booker price like Arundhati Roy to be credible (the same person who does not use her first name Suzanne to sound more credible and representative of Indian people).

-My inference about Gujarat riots are based on conversations with actual serving officers, who like most Indians have no sympathetic or political association with the RSS. As the dust settles, it turns that some of the affidavits collected by Testa Setalvad and other abusers of "freedom in India" were FALSE. The victims were asked to sign affidavits in English with no idea of what they were signing (they did not know English). So before you blindly accept the statements of the bleeding hearts do your own research.
http://www.indianexpress.com/news/sc-affidavit-wrong-didnt-know-what-we-...

“In those days, some people used to come and question me. There used to be a Nanu Miyan, I would go to him with the other victims,” Madina told The Indian Express. Nanu Miyan Malek, a Naroda Gam survivor on whose affidavit the Supreme Court appointed the SIT to probe some of the riot cases, says Madina is not lying. “Madina was stabbed in the stomach but no one raped her. She stayed with us in a relief camp for nearly six months,” Malek said.

Malek said the affidavit was “fabricated” and had “incorrect” information. He alleged it was drafted in English without his knowledge by Rais Khan, coordinator of the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), who made him sign on the affidavit. “I had mentioned this in my statement to the SIT too,” he said.

But Rais Khan claims it was CJP secretary Teesta Setalvad who sent him affidavits for signatures. “Teesta Setalvad used to send me these affidavits through e-mail. I used to take printouts and get them signed after calling the persons concerned to Shahpur. All these affidavits were drafted by Setalvad along with some legal experts,” Khan said. When contacted, Setalvad declined comment.

-I also read the Sabrang report on IDRF especially on the Ekal Vidyalayas. Sabrang was against them because they were (re)educating tribals about Hindu epics (this is supposed to be saffronization?) and preventing Christian missionaries to convert them. This supposedly results in electoral gains (as if conversion does not result in electoral gains). There is an article today that the UPA might become tougher on terror because the Indian Muslims still voted for them in the elections after the Mumbai attack, even though there was lot of sabre-rattling against Pakistan! These UPA folks feel that the Muslims will not vote for them if India condemns Pakistan; and these are the people who ruled India for 60 years and have kept the minorities in the fear of the majority.

Yes bad things happen, however they happen because of a reason.

-All this is relevant because a 2nd gen Indian is being slandered for association with an organization which has been demonized WITHOUT REFERENCE TO CONTEXT. Her association is what I would call strongly passive, use your name and network to raise funds; not an active ideological connection with the extremist in that organization.

I was shocked to see CNN talking about Hindu terrorist being responsible for the first couple of hours of the Mumbai attack. Now everytime a Hindu is up for a position of power, he/she will have to get a seal of approval from the leftists/marxists/Christian organizations to be considered qualified. I find that metric unacceptable and will do my best to make sure the dishonest intellectuals who abuse their position of power do not get away with it.

V S - my experience of the

V S - my experience of the balance of power recently was rather different from the picture you're painting. The situation in Orissa was horrendous, yet the center did almost nothing to act to end it because it was afraid of offending the Hindu majority and providing Hindutvadis with more fodder for rhetoricizing and escalating their program. Their silence had a result - the violence spread to Karnataka, where the BJP CM was unabashed about his support for anti-Christian violence. I hardly think this suggests a requirement of Marxist approval for Hindus to attain power. The real picture is slightly more complex than that.

Every NRI/POI who dares to

Every NRI/POI who dares to question the implication of Sonal Shah's membership and work in VHP of America (which is listed as the daughter of VHP Bharat/India on their Indian website) is made to feel guilty, and disloyal to a fellow Indian. But is it fair? Does one have to ignore reality in the name of loyalty? VHP of India is no benign organzation. In its ideals it is as toxic as the Nazis of Germany. Would a German American who was a member of any Nazi organization in the US would be easily let off the hook, even if they did not actually take part in killing the Jews in Germany?

Is it any accident that

Is it any accident that violence against Christians has become an almost standard feature of states in which BJP is in control? Anyone who has cared to read up on the websites of VHP would see immediately, that violence against non-Hindus, especially Christians is part of their POLICY! It has been mentioned by some bloggers that Sonal Shah's parents have been actively involved with RSS. Now RSS everyone knows is a notoriously militant organization in India that has violence as part of its policies. It has been routinely attacked Christians and Christian missionaries working among desperately poor tribals in MP, Maharashtra, Orissa, among others. The violence is spreading to other states - Karnataka etc. Only the completely naive would say that an American woman who chose VHP specifically, when there are no shortage of Hindu organizations in the US that do charitable work, was doing it out of ignorance. Has anybody considered the fact that her parents' activity with RSS could have strongly influenced her values?

Sonal Shah is NOT a second

Sonal Shah is NOT a second generation Indian American. She was born in India and came to the US when she was four years old.
At least now Indian Americans need to read up on Vishwa Hindu Parishad of India (refered to by its Sankrit name Bharat) and its "family" members - Sangh Parivar: BJP (political arm), RSS, Bhajrang Dal, Shiv Sena (henchmen who function as paramilitary). The picture that emerges is not pretty. In fact anyone who is familiar with Nazi Germany is beginning to get a chill running down their spine. Don't forget Hitler invented this grand theory about Aryan superiority and unleashed a reign of terror in its name. BJP, VHP, RSS, BD, SS & Co are unleashing a reign of terror too and are actively involved in indoctrination at all levels.

In fact there is a rumor that

In fact there is a rumor that VHP & Co are using the Nazi model in indoctrination. The Aryan superiority theory fits with VHP spin better than it did with Germans. So VHP don't have to do any original work at all. Anyone who is familiar with REAL Indian history is also becoming acutely aware that VHP is reinventing Indian history to suit a Hindu fascist agenda. At the rate VHP spin masters are working, very soon Indian history will become as reliable as Greek myths.

It is more than disingenuous

It is more than disingenuous to say that Sonal Shah couldn't possibly have found another Hindu organization to work with.

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