Will You Ask For An Explanation?

There are many pieces of evidence that have been raised to discuss the prominent role that Sonal Shah has been given in the Obama transition team and what future activities she may be given.  These include a statement from the VHP that she was on their VHP-A governing council for three years, a record of her Treasury Department e-mail address on the VHP-A list, her name and number listed on the VHP-A relief work for Gujarat earthquake relief, her own statements that she was unaware of VHP or other groups' ideologies and rejects them, the statements issued through her brother or other sources over the years, etc. You can see a factsheet here.

This post will attempt to establish by demonstration how weak the position that Shah has taken is by focusing on one aspect of her established relationship to the Sangh (membership on the VHP-A governing Council). It should help to clarify the issue that's been raised many times in criticisms and comments that I have been fortunate to receive around this issue: I believe we are not talking about an 18-year-old going to a VHP family picnic and raising some money selling cake there, but a grown person in their 30s. She knowingly or with a level of ignorance that is hard to grasp, participated in the Hindu right's activities for several years and renounced those social forces only when it was convenient for her to do so. If anything, she helped them sell their product better, as you can see below.

As such, I think is appropriate to accept that many 2nd generation people end up caught between two worlds, with few opportunities to find their identities or their selves and are often misled, make mistakes, or otherwise end up in the wrong mandir or madrassa. But we also need to figure out how we judge ourselves and our conduct after the fact, how we understand what we have done, and how we tell other people about it, and what it means for our future lives. And we need to understand when someone is sincerely doing that, and when someone is using our identity issues against us - including someone from within our identity group. That is, to restate it again, the point where we are at now - where identity issues we are familiar with are being used to make us feel paralyzed and unable to critique what is a clear set of statements and evidence that don't hold together in a coherent narrative as Shah has presented them.

Proceeding (emphases added throughout, apologies if I forgot to note this anywhere):

On December 25, 1997, exactly a year before the rally in Ahwa town, VHP organized an anti-Christian rally in Pipalwada, a village bordering Dangs district. During the year that followed, a series of rallies organized by VHP, HJM, and the Bajrang Dal were held in Surat, Dangs, Valsad, and Baruch, all districts in southern Gujarat.75 The message of the rallies was the same: Hindus need to protect themselves from the deceptive practices of Christian missionaries and "teach them a lesson." Throughout 1998 Christian communities, churches, and missionaries in southern Gujarat came under attack.

[HRW, emphasis added]

In February 1998 the heads of the village police attacked a prayer hall in Divan Tembrum village while prayers were taking place, and physically assaulted the worshippers.61 In April, a crowd of 400 used tractors and iron bars to destroy St. Antony's Catholic Church and several other affiliated structures in different stages of construction in Naroda, a suburb of Ahmedabad city. The crowd smashed icons and stole the contents of the donation box. Witnesses said the crowd included members of the police, the VHP, and the local BJP government. In an interview, the head of the village council, Sumbubhai Maiatbhai, admitted to attending the demolition but claimed that the church was razed because it stood in violation of a local building code. Church officials said they were unaware of any such code violation.62

[HRW, emphasis added]

> From: Sonal Shah >

> Ajay, >

> I understand your issues. I am not saying they are not vlaid.

> However, there are ways to make your point known. When the > world diregards your statements b/c they label you as the > aggravator it does not help. > > The same message can be sent through a very effective education > campaign. VHP should not go political. A strong education > campaign with Indian as well as inernational support would go a > long way. > > This does not preclude serious security issues. Those are > legitimate concerns and India has the right to protect itself. But > burning the Pakistani flag b/c they did the same just really seems > petty. When US hostages were taken in Iran they burned the US > flag, but we did not so the same. > > I have a realyl hard time with a tit for tat game -- it just becomes > petty he said, she said and losing sight of the overall issue. > > take care > Sonal > > >>> EX.MAIL."shahajay@yahoo.com" 05/21/98 02:19pm >>> > RFC-822-Headers: > MIME-Version: 1.0 > Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii >

[Source: VHP-A governing council e-archives]

 

---"SHAHS%DOM13.DOPO8" wrote: > > Date: 05/21/1998 01:47 pm (Thursday) > From: Sonal Shah > To: EX.MAIL("shahajay@yahoo.com", "vhpgc-l@hindunet.org") > CC: roopal > Subject: Re: India abroad todays's picture on internet on VHP -Reply > > Sorry, but that's jsut a petty argument. Just because one is stupid > does not mean that the other needs to show its ignorance. I > thought Indians were above this petty nonsense. > > Why don't we focus on improving the lives of the citizens, etc. > That's where VHP Bharat's strength is -- people remember that. > > >>> EX.MAIL."shahajay@yahoo.com" 05/21/98 01:13pm >>> > RFC-822-Headers: > MIME-Version: 1.0 > Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii > X-Loop: owner-vhpgc-l@hindunet.org > X-Mailing-List: vhpgc-l@hindunet.org > Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit > > But then Pakistanis burnt Indian flag first. So perhaps instead of > blaming VHP, we ought to blame India Abroad for not printing > pictures > of Paksitanis burning Indian flag? > > I saw these pictures on CNN. So, let's aim our guns at Pakistan > and > India Abroad, not on VHP-Bharat. > > BTW, if I saw Indian flags being burnt in Pakistan on TV, I too > would > respond in kind if I were in India. And I also think that VHP-A > should send a formal letter to India Abroad criticizing this > one-sided > reporting. > > regards, > > ajay >

[Source: VHP-A governing council e-mail archives)

From Pallod@aol.com Sun May 24 10:42:31 1998 From: Pallod

Message-ID: <93a26dee.356831ad@aol.com> Date: Sun, 24 May 1998 10:41:47 EDT To: VHPGC-L@HINDUNET.ORG Cc: dxa4@psu.edu (Dinesh Agrawal), Starpipe2@aol.com Mime-Version: 1.0 Subject: VHP picture in India Abroad. Content-type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII Content-transfer-encoding: 7bit X-Mailer: AOL 3.0 16-bit for Windows sub 38 X-Loop: owner-vhpgc-l@hindunet.org X-Mailing-List: vhpgc-l@hindunet.org Reply-To: vhpgc-l@hindunet.org Namshkar, I have read everyones opinion.. Yesterday I had a long talk with Sonal Shah who comes from new generation. I also discussed with Pradeep Goyal who is son BJP treasurer. I would like to make following points. 1. Some of us making statements without knowing all the facts. IA has printed last week picture of Pakisthani burning Indian flag. They also printed picture of Jamet-e-Islam rally. IA printed picture from both sides not one side. 2. As Pradeepji said no point blaming media when our workers gets involved in such activities. In Bharat we have BJP, ABVP, Bajrangdal, and many others. Let them do such activites. Why VHP should get involved. When we get active in such things we get blamed as fundamentalist,....... 3. When media or India Abroad does good job we keep quite we do not complement them. When they do one mistake or bad report at us we jump at them. This is not good public relation. When India abroad wrote a good and balanced story abut RSS and VHP how many of us replied. If we did not complement them when they wrote a story in our favour then we have no point to complain about one purticular event. 4. If we are serious about improving the relation with media. We need to do what Dineshji Agrwal (OFBJP President ) has been doing. They have sent a delegation to New York Times and Wall Street Journal and had a very fruitful meeting. 5. I used to hear complains in Houston from many of our workers that IA do not give good coverage about Sangh activities. We have takes this as a challenge to change them. By working with them in past two years, we got an excellent coverage about Houston activities. I hope one of us can send this message to VHP Bharat office. We all need to work hard to build VHP image. As David Frowley said in modern days media plays a very important role in our lives. We can not ignore them and we have to work with them to change them. Simply complaing and not doing any work will not help. Recently Pramila Taiji visited IA office in Chicago. She has good opinion about IA workers in Chicago. She got a good coverage in last week issue. Vijay Pallod

[source: VHP-A governing council e-mail list archives, emphases added]

In June several prayer halls were burned in Ahwa town, Dangs district. On July 8, a Methodist man's corpse was dug up in a Christian cemetery in Kapadvanj and dumped near his church.63 Witnesses said local VHP leaders led this desecration.64 Attacks and harassment of Christian-run schools were also on the rise. On July 16, the Shantiniketan High School in Zankhav village, Surat district, was broken into and stoned; its playground was ploughed by a tractor. The school was run by Jesuit priests of the Loyola Education Trust. The following day large numbers of "hooligans" from the neighboring village entered the market place in Zankhav, and violence ensued. Prior to the incident, two local language dailies, the Gujarat Samachar and Sandesh, had published a series of inflammatory articles charging that the Jesuit priests were engaged in forcible conversions of tribals to Christianity and that the school was admitting only Christian students.65 The same month, suspected VHP and Bajrang Dal activists burned hundreds of copies of the Bible at the I. P. Mission School in Rajkot district.66

[HRW, emphases added]

Several fact-finding missions to southeastern Gujarat by local and national human rights organizations have attributed the increase in violence to the growing presence and activities of sangh parivar groups in these areas. According to an October 1998 joint report by the Committee to Protect Democratic Rights and the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee: A well planned strategy is being operated by the Hinduvata forces in Gujarat and it aims at communalising society at the grass root level. Youngsters belonging to the age group of fifteen to twenty-five are being recruited as activists of the Bajrang Dal for this purpose. They are taught to carry out operations covertly and deny any knowledge of those incidents where communal flare-ups do take place.... The VHP has also intensified its activities all over Gujarat. Activities such as the distribution of the idols of Hindu Gods, revival of Hindu festivals, conducting of `Artis' [prayer ceremonies] etc., are on the increase in recent months.... A well planned program to "Hinduvise" the tribals is in full swing in the entire tribal belt of South Gujarat. The founding of the units of the VHP and the BD [Bajrang Dal] in each tribal locality, the regular visits and preaching of Swamis, the construction of temples for tribals, etc. are being pursued vigourously. The attack on Christian churches, disruption of prayer meetings, physical assaults on Christians, etc. are the part and the result of this programme.73

[source: HRW] ...

“As an Indian-American who has lived in this country since the age of four, serving on the Obama-Biden transition team is a unique privilege for me. A presidential transition is always a time of excitement and, in some cases, of rumors and unfounded gossip. I’d like to set to rest a few baseless and silly reports that have been circulating on the Internet. First, my personal politics have nothing in common with the views espoused by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or any such organization. I’ve never been involved in Indian politics, and never intend to do so. Second, I’ve always condemned any politics of division, of ethnic or religious hatred, of violence and intimidation as a political tool. Some factually inaccurate internet rumors have attempted to link me to Hindu Nationalist groups through a variety of tenuous connections: Relief work I’m proud to have helped coordinate following the Gujarati earthquake of 2001, or cultural and religious affiliations of some of my family members, or apolitical humanitarian work I’ve been privileged to do as a founder of the NGO Indicorps and as the Director of Global Development for Google.org. Finally, I do not subscribe to the views of such Hindu nationalist groups, and never have. Ridiculous tactics of guilt by association have been decisively repudiated by the American people. I am delighted with what the victory on November 4 says about my country, and about our place in the world. I look forward to serving our President-elect in this time of transition.”

[Source: Asian Americans for Obama, 11/11/08 (emphases added)]

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.

[Source: NextGov]

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Summary: 
dr. anonymous takes apart Sonal Shah's explanation

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Dr. Anonymous, Equally

Dr. Anonymous,

Equally important, I think, this paragraph from your post could be re-written like this:

I think is appropriate to accept that many 2nd generation people end up caught between two worlds, with few opportunities to find their identities or their selves and are often misled, make mistakes, or otherwise end up in the wrong mandir or madrassa. But we also need to figure out how we should engage with those of us in such a situation, how we can help them understand the global context of activities in America, and what role we can play in the provision of justice and freedom in countries that our identities connect us to so that our activities in America are not used for purposes we do not condone.

The reflection is important, because of the equally disingenuous nature in which people made these attacks. This was started by Vijay Prashad, not by Sonal Shah. You can't throw mud and then blame it on the person you threw mud at (which is what continues to be done by this post): all it shows is that you were never really interested in a genuine conversation in the first place.

Sonal Shah clarified her position on the issue at hand (what does she think about Hindu extremism), to a point that it should have been satisfactory, unless of course, that was never the issue at hand (which it now seems as this continues, and people are unable to take her statements at face value - a dangerous position for those of us who wish to be judged fairly by our own actions and words).

There is an equally important problem that for those of us who sympathize with the left-liberal politics of India need to reflect upon: a significant amount of the blame for the devaluation of our voice is the often uncompassionate and unethical ways of our tact. Attacking Sonal Shah is a great example, she is clearly an American, a laudable public servant, and a role model for the community - to use her to bring light to Indian politics for our agenda in India will only be seen by moderates as a negative reflection on us in the future.

You want people to be straight with you and engage with your politics, then be straight with them and give them an opportunity to believe this is actually a conversation and not some hard-headed radical propaganda - which, to any reasonable person, how the Indian left in America has led themselves to be perceived.

For those of us, like me, who are in India, it makes it harder for our message and attempts to engage with those who we disagree with to be genuine when the NRI activist community makes us seem like narrow-minded extremists who are hungry for publicity and unable to be reasonable (ironically, not unlike those who we loathe the most on the right).

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The reflection is important,

The reflection is important, because of the equally disingenuous nature in which people made these attacks. This was started by Vijay Prashad, not by Sonal Shah. You can’t throw mud and then blame it on the person you threw mud at (which is what continues to be done by this post): all it shows is that you were never really interested in a genuine conversation in the first place.

Actually, this was not started by Vijay Prashad, and whatever Prashad's flaws or weaknesses might be, this has been an issue for several years in terms of Shah's alleged support for Hindutva. What is done in the post is to show that one must be either a) extremely ignorant of what one is participating in or b) completely uncaring to serve on the American wing of an organization (any organization) and at the same time claim to not be involved in the organization's activities in another country. It also shows how Hindutva can and is being repackaed in America to be more media-friendly. It also shows exactly how Clintonian her responses have been.

The whole effort builds off of two broader issues - one is the ways in which people to the left of the Obama campaign and transition relate to it, and vice versa (this applies to many appointees from Shah to Emanuel to Larry Summers to others) and the other is the issue of political identity in the South Asian American community (of which I am a part and presumably you are not, from your post). There are other issues as well that I don't particularly care about as much (e.g. what it means for someone on the payroll of the U.S. Treasury department to be serving on the board of VHP-A and using government resources like an e-mail address to do so) but liberals might.

All in all, as a result, it remains important to me.

There is an equally important problem that for those of us who sympathize with the left-liberal politics of India need to reflect upon: a significant amount of the blame for the devaluation of our voice is the often uncompassionate and unethical ways of our tact. Attacking Sonal Shah is a great example, she is clearly an American, a laudable public servant, and a role model for the community - to use her to bring light to Indian politics for our agenda in India will only be seen by moderates as a negative reflection on us in the future.

You want people to be straight with you and engage with your politics, then be straight with them and give them an opportunity to believe this is actually a conversation and not some hard-headed radical propaganda - which, to any reasonable person, how the Indian left in America has led themselves to be perceived.

For those of us, like me, who are in India, it makes it harder for our message and attempts to engage with those who we disagree with to be genuine when the NRI activist community makes us seem like narrow-minded extremists who are hungry for publicity and unable to be reasonable (ironically, not unlike those who we loathe the most on the right).

Most sympathetically, I could say thank you for sharing how this issue affects politics in India. However, it's hard for me to believe, if you believe that Sonal Shah is a "role model for the community" and a "laudable public servant", that there is such a thing as "our message." I don't know what you are engaging people on and how, but "reasonable" is generally code in the U.S. for "bipartisan" "pragmatic" etc. - which is why it makes sense that your response to accusations about Shah is defensive - she comes from the same line of reasoning - in which it doesn't matter why we're doing something or how we go about doing it (barring support for 'extremists' or 'violence') as long as we get it done. This is the height of having your head in the sand, to me.

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