Riaz Haq writes this data-driven blog to provide information, express his opinions and make comments on many topics. Subjects include personal activities, education, South Asia, South Asian community, regional and international affairs and US politics to financial markets. For investors interested in South Asia, Riaz has another blog called South Asia Investor at http://www.southasiainvestor.com and a YouTube video channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkrIDyFbC9N9evXYb9cA_gQ
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Obama Ignores Sonal Shah's VHP Ties
The White House hasn't yet officially confirmed it, but Google.org's Sonal Shah has told her friends and colleagues that she has been chosen by President Barack Obama as director of social innovation and civic engagement, according to a report in San Jose Mercury.
After successfully using social networking and Web 2.0 interactive media during the presidential race, Obama has been talking about making the inner workings of the US government, and his own White House, more transparent and interactive. Shah will be part of a team, including a chief information officer and a chief technology officer, responsible for figuring out how to effectively integrate Web 2.0 tools into a government digital network hampered by slow-moving bureaucracy. With her work experience at Google and her Silicon Valley connections, Shah appears to be eminently qualified for the job.
Notwithstanding her unquestionable professional competence for the job, her appointment is controversial due to her ties to the right-wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which is accused of using charitable works in India as a cover for inciting hatred against Muslims, Christians and other minorities. The VHP has been condemned by the U.S. State Department and the non-profit Human Rights Watch for its role in the 2002 Muslim massacre in Gujarat, which resulted in the deaths of at least 2,000 people, most of whom were Muslims.
Sonal Shah issued a denunciation of VHP after coming under severe criticism in November, 2008, following her inclusion in the Obama transition team. Stung by sharp criticism on the issue, Shah lambasted the VHP of America for standing by silently "in the face of its Indian counterpart's complicity in the events of Gujarat in 2002." She also stated that at no time was she affiliated with the VHP of America, a claim that has since turned out to be false in an investigation done by Nextgov. Nextgov has uncovered email messages from May 1998 revealing Shah was not only an active member of the VHP of America, but considered one of the organization's next generation of leaders. Nextgov says the email messages show Shah offering advice to VHP leaders about how to improve public perception of the VHP and directly contradict her claims to have never been affiliated with the organization.
Nextgov is not alone in asserting Sonal Shah's VHP links. According to Vijay Prashad, the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History at Trinity College, Hartford, CT, Sonal Shah has been actively involved with India's right-wing Hindu organizations accused of Gujarat massacre of thousands of Muslims in 2002.
Here's what Mr. Prashad says about Sonal Shah's past: But there is a less typical side to the Shah story. Born in Gujarat, India, Shah came to the United States as a two-year old. Her father, a chemical engineer, first worked in New York before moving to Houston, and then moving away from his education toward the stock market. The Shahs remain active in Houston’s Indian community, not only in the ecumenical Gujarati Samaj (a society for people from Gujarat), but also in the far more cruel organizations of the Hindu Right, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Overseas Friends of the BJP (the main political party of the Hindu Right) and the Ekal Vidyalaya. Shah’s parents, Ramesh and Kokila, not only work as volunteers for these outfits, but they also held positions of authority in them. Their daughter was not far behind. She was an active member of the VHPA, the U. S. branch of the most virulently fascistic outfit within India. The VHP’s head, Ashok Singhal, believes that his organization should “inculcate a fear psychosis among [India’s] Muslim community.” This was Shah’s boss. Till 2001, Shah was the National Coordinator of the VHPA.
In 2004, the BJP government in Gujarat honored Sonal Shah with the Pride of Gujarat (Gujarat Garima) award. Sonal Shah could not attend, but her brother Anand was there, to get the award from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in the presence of the "venomous" Narendra Modi, according to Prashad.
Indian Muslims have not been the only victims of violence perpetrated by RSS and VHP. Christians have suffered, too. According to All India Christian Council, the 2008 violence affected in 14 districts out of of 30 and 300 Villages in the Indian state of Orissa, 4,400 houses burnt, 50,000 homeless, 59 killed including at least 2 pastors, 10 priests/pastors/nuns injured, 18,000 men, women, children injured, 2 women gang-raped including a nun, 151 churches destroyed and 13 schools and colleges damaged. The violence targeted Christians in 310 villages, with 4,104 homes torched. More than 18,000 were injured and 50,000 displaced and homes continued to burn in many villages. Another report said that around 11,000 people are still living in refugee camps.
A White House spokesman has acknowledged that the administration is aware of the reports but declined to comment on Shah's VHP ties. Not only does it signal a callous disregard for the continued suffering of the tens of thousands of victims of Gujarat pogrom in 2002, Shah's appointment also shows how tone deaf the Obama administration is when it comes to legitimate concerns about the radical right-wing Hindutva Indian fanatics infiltrating the highest levels of the US government.
Here's a Tehelka.com video clip of Babu Bajrangi account and confession of killings of Gujarat Muslims in 2002:
Sonal Shah to Help Divide Obama's Victory Spoils
Gujarat Muslims Ignored By Indian Politicians
Violence Against Indian Christians
Obama's Campaign Success on Social Networks
Labels: Barack Obama, Sonal Shah, VHP
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Here's an ExpressIndia story of a Gujarati Muslim killed in Surat:
Mehboob Pathan (50) of Valak village on Surat’s outskirts wanted was a job in the city. Having a Muslim name, he felt, came in the way. So, to get himself a job in Surat’s diamond units, he passed himself off as Jayenti Bhatti, and managed to find work in two separate units in the Kapodara area.
Early this week, his “cover” was blown, after he was brutally killed over a monetary dispute. As the distraught family stepped forward to admit that Jayenti Bhatti was indeed Mehboob Pathan, they worried that having been cremated as a Hindu, the practising Muslim’s soul may not find peace.
In the ledgers of Surat’s diamond units, there are many leading a double life like Pathan. His son Mushtaq is registered as Mukesh and daughter Samina as Sharmila, and both are afraid of losing their jobs if the fact was known.
Diamond industry sources and workers say many Muslims assume Hindu names to find work in the city’s lucrative diamond business.
One of them, Allarakha Khan, admits to having passed himself off as a Hindu like many others from his village. “We would not get a job if we are known to be Muslims. We have been doing this for a long time, and we take great care not to reveal our real names or addresses at work,” he told The Indian Express.
Rohit Mehta, president of the Surat Diamond Association, however, denied knowledge of Muslims passing themselves off as Hindus for jobs. “We will inquire into this,” he said.
Pathan’s story came to be known after his body was found in a farm at Antroli last Monday, with the head smashed in. The police registered a case and kept the unclaimed body in the Palsana Primary Health Centre mortuary till Thursday. Then they arranged to give Pathan alias Bhatti a Hindu funeral, with all the rites.
His family, who had been looking for Pathan, had filed a missing complaint. Then, seeing news stories in local newspapers about an unclaimed body, Mehboob’s brother-in-law Iqbal Pathan decided to check. By that time, Pathan had been cremated, but the brother-in-law identified him from a photo of the body.
The family says Pathan was a pious Muslim and the change of name was just so that he and his children could find and keep a job. “We are too poor to do anything, but how could the police dispose of his body the Hindu way?” asks son Mushtaq. “A genital examination would have shown he was a Muslim.”
Sub-Inspector of Kadodara police V R Malhotra said they had kept the body in the mortuary hoping someone would turn up. “We disposed it of according to Hindu rites not knowing he was a Muslim. The family turned up too late and we are now helpless.”
Kapodara police inspector S J Tirmizi, who is probing the murder, confirmed that Pathan had passed himself off as Bhatti for work. Manoj Rokad, who is the manager of the Varachha unit in which Pathan’s daughter Samina works as a diamond polisher, has reportedly confessed to the murder.
According to the police, Rokad had become a family friend of the Pathans and knew their real identities. Two years ago, Pathan had reportedly loaned Rokad Rs 60,000 for an emergency, which he never returned. Pathan used to call Rokad repeatedly asking him to return the same, and the latter reportedly asked Pathan to meet him on December 20. They went to Antroli village, where Rokad allegedly killed Pathan with the help of two other diamond polishers, who have been identified as Chhanya Rathod and Sanjay.
While Rokad has been held, and has reportedly admitted that they beat Pathan to death, Rathod and Sanjay are on the run.
Here is an excerpt from a 2004 article titled "Hinduism and Terror" by Paul Marshall on Hindu extremism and violence:
The RSS is now a major paramilitary organization with millions of members. Its educational wing, the Vidya Bharati, has some twenty thousand educational institutes, with one hundred thousand teachers and two million students. The Vidya Bharati schools distribute booklets containing a map of India that encompasses not only Pakistan and Bangladesh but also the entire region of Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, and parts of Myanmar, all under the heading “Punya Bhoomi Bharat,” the “Indian Holy Land.” The RSS also has separate organizations for tribal peoples, intellectuals, teachers, slum dwellers, leprosy patients, cooperatives, consumers, newspapers, industrialists, Sikhs, ex-servicemen, overseas Indians, and an organization for religion and proselytization, as well as trade unions, student and economic organizations, and a women’s chapter.
Here is a Dec 2006 report published in The Telegraph, Calcutta, India, that deals with birthrates and other demographic differences in India:
Narendra Modi should take note. The Sachar committee debunks the myth that Muslims have more children than other communities.
“Strictly speaking, there is no ‘Muslim fertility’ as such in the sense that Muslims in general cannot be identified as having a particular level of fertility,” says the panel’s report, tabled in Parliament on Thursday.
Muslims have a low fertility rate in states with low fertility rates. “Muslims in southern states have lower fertility than in northern and central states,” says the committee, tasked to find out Indian Muslims’ status in all spheres of life and activity.
A myth within the myth has been that Muslims have more children because they marry early. “Data, however, show that Muslims do not have a lower age at marriage than the average,” Sachar says.
The report asserts that over a third of Muslim couples do use some form of contraception. “Data in the National Family Health Survey show the use of contraception is widely prevalent among Muslims, though to a lesser degree than the average.”
The bogey of Muslims’ “higher” fertility — and the demographic “threat” it poses to Hindus — has held sway for decades. Modi, Gujarat’s Muslim-baiting BJP chief minister, had played on this fear a few years ago with his mock slogan “hum paanch, hamara pachis (the five of us and our 25 children)”.
Sachar also reveals that only 4 per cent of Muslim students go to madarsas; most of the rest go to government or government-aided schools.
He then goes on to make a surprising revelation. For all the disadvantages Indian Muslims suffer from, the mortality rate among infants and under-fives in the community is lower than that among Hindus (excluding the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes).
Christians and Sikhs have an even lower mortality rate.
“The scheduled castes and scheduled tribes suffer the highest infant and under-five mortality rate followed by the Hindus. Muslims have the second-lowest infant and under-five mortality rate among all socio-religious communities,” the report says. “This is somewhat surprising given the economically disadvantaged position of Muslims.”
One possible explanation could be the higher urbanisation of the community. Yet the finding seems to fly in the face of accepted wisdom.
Socio-economic variables that are supposed to reduce child mortality rates include the mother’s education as well as the household’s socio-economic status and access to safe drinking water, sanitation and electricity.
But Muslims in general have lower levels of income and education. “The only states where child mortality among Muslims has worsened are Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan,” Sachar says.
The advantage in infant and under-five mortality is not carried over to the later stages of childhood. “Muslims suffer from the highest rates of stunting and the second-highest rate of underweight children among all social groups.”
But Sachar admits that the difference is negligible. Hindu children, too, are at high risk of stunted growth and malnutrition, while the SC/STs fare worse than Muslims.
Tulsi Gabbard for President 2020 is rising progressive star, despite her support for #Hindu Nationalists. Her progressive domestic politics at odds with her support for #Modi, #Sisi, Bashar al-#Assad. #Islamophobia #India #Gabbard2020 #BJP https://interc.pt/2F7z1zv by @shankarmya
Modi’s ascent has normalized nationalist rhetoric, the silencing of dissent, and violence against religious minorities in India — and it’s also had global implications. Elected prime minister in 2014, he was one of the first of a class of populist autocrats who’ve risen to power in recent years. That group includes Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was elected in the same month as Modi; Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who’s been in office for more than a decade but has been increasingly consolidating power; Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, whose war on drugs has killed thousands of people; Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, who was elected in October despite his pro-military dictatorship stance; and, of course, America’s Donald Trump.
In the United States, Modi’s reputation has been helped by a group of Hindu-American supporters with links to the RSS and other Hindu nationalist organizations, who’ve been working in tandem with a peculiar congressional ally: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, the first Hindu in Congress.
Gabbard — a member of the House committees on Foreign Affairs and Armed Services, and co-chair of the India Caucus — is an oddity in American politics. Ever since her 2016 resignation from the Democratic National Committee to endorse Bernie Sanders for president, she has been a rising star in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Last year, she racked up endorsements from groups like Progressive Democrats of America and Our Revolution, and she sailed to re-election.
But she has also become a polarizing figure. Her progressive domestic politics are at odds with her support for authoritarians abroad, including Modi, Sisi, and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. As right-wing nationalism rises across the globe, it is beginning to be recognized as an existential threat to a world order rooted in liberal democratic values, and Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran, is now being pushed to choose sides. (Gabbard did not respond to The Intercept’s multiple requests for comment.)
Gabbard was embraced early on by pro-Modi elements of the Hindu-American diaspora in the U.S., who have donated generously to her campaigns. But as she flirts with the idea of running for president, she has publicly cut ties with those fervent supporters on at least one occasion, while continuing to court them in private.
IN JUNE 2014, after Modi won the election, nearly 700 of his supporters gathered at a Hindu temple in Atlanta to celebrate and plan their path forward. To mobilize their community, the speakers laid out a plan that included a call for donations to Gabbard’s re-election campaign. They described the Hawaii Democrat as an “American Hindu” who “has fought against the anti-Modi resolution introduced recently by some members” of Congress.
The event was organized by the Overseas Friends of the BJP, the American chapter of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Gabbard had landed on the group’s radar as one of America’s few pro-Modi lawmakers. In December 2013, she had voiced her opposition to House Resolution 417, which chided India to protect “the rights and freedoms of religions minorities” and referred to incidents of mass violence against minority Muslims that had taken place under Modi’s watch. Gabbard later told the press that “there was a lot of misinformation that surrounded the event in 2002.”
Also in 2014, Gabbard attended an OFBJP event, where Vijay Jolly, a senior politician of Modi’s government, was present. He took to the stage and told Gabbard that “with the support of … non-resident Indians … your victory later this year is a foregone conclusion.” She cruised to re-election.
As “champions of militant Hindu supremacism” (Hindutva) are trying to re-invent themselves after former President Donald Trump’s defeat, Human Rights Coalitions on Wednesday warned that Sonal Shah and people of her ilk have become active under garb of champions of Asian Americans in the US.
After Hinduvta champions were exposed by civil society groups, the Coalitions said efforts were made to hide their real identity or to show their disassociation of the Hindtuva groups. It also advised noted Indian-origin TV journalist Fareed Zakaria and others not to be fell into trap of the newly formed The Asian American Foundation (TAAF) which is a new front for Hindutva groups.
In a statement, the Coalitions underlined that ever since several human rights groups, South Asian progressive activists and protestors against the Donald Trump administration in the US and the Narendra Modi regime in India, including the Alliance to Save and Protect America from Infiltration by Religious Extremists (ASPAIRE), Coalition of Americans for Pluralism in India (CAPI) and Coalition to Stop Genocide in India, have stepped up their efforts to expose several prominent and politically ambitious Indians in the US and their links with the far right Hindu extremists groups in India, efforts are on by those exposed to cover up their association with these groups.
The statement pointed out that Hindutva leaders, however, do so without formally denouncing these hate groups and publicly renouncing their affiliations with them. Many youth leaders of Hinduva supremacy fronts (not to be confused with Hinduism) which started spreading their wings in the US, a couple of decades ago have been infiltrating the Democratic and the Republican Parties. They have become more aggressive after Narendra Modi, who is also a product of these extremist groups, became the Prime Minister of India in 2014.
One of those exposed was Sonal Shah, who has now surfaced as the founding President of The Asian American Foundation (TAAF), launched on May 3. TAAF describes her as a “foremost global leader on social impact and innovation”. Efforts seem to be on by her to connect with the larger and therefore influential Asian American community, leaving behind the narrower Hindutva identity.
She shot to the limelight in November 2008, when the newly elected President Barack Obama nominated her for the post of energy secretary. She had to however settle as director of the White House office of social innovation and civic participation, a department created by her, after she was called off for her Hindutva links.
Recently, when Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, withdrew her nomination to lead the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) amid bipartisan opposition in the senate, as President Joe Biden was announcing his team, Shah’s name too surfaced for the post.
However Shah was again called out for her links with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a strident Hindu extremist group in India, and VHP-A (America) it’s sister organization in the US. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), had in its World Factbook of 2018, labeled VHP as a militant group. This group was instrumental in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, in which more than 2000 people were brutally killed and about 200,000 people were rendered homeless, triggering national and international outrage.
Shah was the national co-ordinator for VHP-A to raise funds for the 2001 Gujarat earthquake victims, which was accused of helping only Hindu victims and not the Muslim victims. She has also been associated with Ekal Vidyalayas, a movement founded by the VHP with the major objective of countering Christianity among Adivasis (forest people) in India who follow their own religion but struggling to get their identity back.
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