Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia (ASDSA)

According to its website, ASDSA was formed in January 1993 “[in] response to the rising communalization of South Asian societies…”[1] and “in response to the communal violence unleashed throughout South Asia by the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, India in 1992.”[2] The group mainly consists of Boston area radical leftists associated with FOIL, organizing events around topics such as workers’ rights, economic policies, etc. Interestingly, the group’s myopic definition of “communalization” for all of South Asia is based on the 1992 Babri Masjid riots. Other incidents of violence before that time and specifically the large-scale communal clashes, terrorist activities and the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindu Pandits just a few years before the Babri Masjid incident are not deemed communal clashes or important flashpoints in South Asia. In fact, ASDSA looks at the Kashmir crisis as a “struggle for freedom” from India only and avoids discussions about the Pakistani side of Kashmir.

Under the false rubric of South Asia, groups such as ASDSA focus on communal violence and societal inequities mostly involving Hindus and India and support causes that call for balkanization of India. In essence, India is a simmering pot of troubles, whose people need to be “liberated” from the atrocious “Hindu savages” – such people include Kashmiris, Manipuris, Dalits, tribals and minorities. This is evident (along with the group’s Communist/Maoist leanings) from the list of events that the group has organized along with the literature that it displays on the website.

For example, on March 27, 2011, ASDSA, along with Sanhati.com (an affiliate of FOIL), organized a lecture by Gautam Navlakha titled, “India – The War Within. A Conversation with Gautam Navlakha.” Navlakha is well known for his highly biased views on Kashmir and his support for violence by Maoists in India. For example, on July 5, 2013, responding to the hanging of Afzal Guru (who was found guilty in the 2001 Parliament attack), Navlakha lambasts the Indian government for atrocities in Kashmir. “He held the government of India’s reluctance to solve the Kashmir issue as the main reason [emphasis added] for spurt in militancy in the recent past.”[3] There is no mention of terrorist support from Pakistan or any sympathy for the rights of the Kashmiri Pandits. Similarly, there is neither a discussion about the Pakistani side of Kashmir nor any pleas of a solution that includes the Pakistani side of Kashmir or for that matter the piece of Kashmir in possession of China.

But, Navlakha’s hatred for India comes to surface even more when in 2011 he wrote a letter in support of Ghulam Nabi Fai, whose was exposed as an agent of the Pakistani ISI lobbying the US government to exert pressure on India on the topic of Kashmir. Fai pleaded guilty to those charges and was sentenced to two years in federal prison. However, Navlakha played down Fai’s role and actually supported him. According to him:

The amount received [by Fai] $3.5 million over 1990-2010 is but few hundred US dollars annually, an amount which could not have gone far considering the cost of lobbying in US….I would in all honesty also then wish to point out that when everything said and done Fai Sahib and his colleagues did a marvellous and effective lobbying! Put it another way, Fai Sahib used the limited resources to good use. He is truly someone who with his warm and generous personality acted as a force multiplier for bringing Kashmiri cause before the US public.[4]

Thus, it is clear that Navlakha wants Kashmir to be annexed from India and is willing to support any means necessary for that to happen.

Beyond Kashmir, Navlakha further supports violent separatism in the name of “resistance” by Maoists. On July 15, 2013, in an article on the clashes between Maoists and the Indian government in the Bastar region of Chattisgarh, he justified the Maoist violence and wrote:

We do not think that we ought to condemn their motives or their violent actions… In the context and circumstances we have outlined, and given the fact that the Constitution and the law have failed to bring justice to the victims, the violence of the oppressed, led by the Maoists, is a necessity. Or, to put it differently, in the context and circumstances, the use of violence is a necessary evil.[5]

On November 3, 2012, ASDSA organized a panel discussion, Democracy, Development, & Displacement: The Struggle of indigenous people in Northeast India and Bangladesh.[6] While this discussion focused on the rights of the indigenous people of Northeastern India and Bangladesh, the focus on the Indian topic was the atrocities of the Indian state against the people of the state of Manipur, for example. India is selectively showcased as an “oppressor” of indigenous people who want a separate country in the northeast part of India. Indeed, one of the panelists was Erendro Leichombam, founder of the Manipur International Center in Boston.[7] On the center’s website, Leichombam highlights the “human rights violations” by the Indian army as well as the continued denial of independence and freedom to Manipur. He then blames an “outside Hinduism” along with the Indian state for the destruction of the indigenous ways of life in Manipur and Northeast India and supports call for an independent country away from India. He states:

For what was once a proud self-sufficient kingdom for centuries (with its unique civilization going all the way back to 33 AD), Manipur, today, is like a ‘colony’ of India. The indigenous population feels acute sense of loss, and social despair. Some groups have rejected the ‘imported’ Hindu religion…and have been calling for a ‘revolution’ to return to the former ‘glorious days.’ The essential idea of this revolution is…mainly re-emerging as a nation independent of India. Large proportion of the population still privately sympathizes with the revolutionaries’ core position—self-determination through a UN-backed plebiscite.[8]

While Leichombam argues fervently against the “imported Hindu religion”, he is surprisingly silent on the well-documented growth of Christianity and the aggressive evangelism that are rapidly erasing major chunks of the indigenous culture in Northeastern India and fomenting social unrest.

For example, according to a 2004 Census in India, Nagaland’s population was 80 percent Christian, Mizoram’s population was 87 percent Christian, Manipur’s 34 percent, and Meghalaya’s 70.3 percent.[9] This trend has only intensified across the Northeast and other parts of India.  The indigenous population is rapidly being converted into Christianity, but folks like Leichombam willfully ignore such statistics and blame India and Hindus for all the ills of the Manipuris or the populations of Northeastern states.

(The section on South Asian Collective discusses a few points of the impact of policies of the British government and accompanying Christian Missionaries on the Naga people of the Northeast.)

Section 14.01     ASDSA and the FOIL Connection

The close connection between ASDSA and FOIL is highlighted through FOIL’s stalwart Abha Sur.

Sur, currently a lecturer in the Program in Women’s and Gender Studies at MIT,[10] is one of the main brains behind ASDSA. In fact, she moderated a 2012 program organized by ASDSA where the organization states her long standing with ASDSA.[11] Sur is a long-time FOIL Member and a Vice President of SINGH (Secular India’s National Growth and Harmony) Foundation, the fundraising arm of FOIL, along with Biju Mathew and Raza Mir of FOIL.[12] Sur is also listed as the Main Contact for ASDSA at the India Currents Copper Pages site which lists various Indian organizations in the Boston area.[13]

In 1998, ASDSA organized a joint youth conference called South Asian Solidarity Seminar for Youth 1998 (SASSY 1998) in cooperation with proXsa (Progressive South Asian Exchange Net), FOPA (Forum of Progressive Artists), and SAAAC (South Asian Action & Advocacy Collective).  ProXsa is FOIL’s old incarnation and website and was discussed here.  ASDSA’s old website lists a link with more information about SASSY 1998; the contact information states: “For more information contact: http://www.foil.org/sassy98, sassy@foil.org or call (617) 497-4099”,[14] referring to FOIL’s website for details.

On March 30, 2013, Sur and other prominent members of FOIL, FOSA, CAG, CSFH and other affiliated organizations (Vijay Prashad, Raja Harish Swamy, Ali Mir, Raza Mir, Balmurli Natrajan, Ashwini Tambe,[15] Sunaina Maira,[16] etc.) wrote a “Response” in The Daily Pennsylvanian on Wharton Business School’s decision to disinvite Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the resulting uproar in the Indian American community. Their almost pathological hatred for Modi is clearly evident through this article. While using their university credentials to lend weight to their arguments, they do not hesitate to exaggerate facts and outrightly lie, saying that “[the] findings of the Nanavati-Mehta Commission and the Supreme Court-mandated Special Investigation Team (SIT) found credible and considerable evidence [emphasis added] of Modi’s complicity in the mass violence against Muslims in Gujarat.”[17]

Beyond the Reader Comments exposing the lies in that article, IBN Live carried the full script of the Supreme Court’s SIT’s conclusion absolving Mr. Modi of the allegations.[18] However, such facts are not relevant for those who have made a profession out of hating Mr. Modi, Hindus and Hinduism.

On March 27, 2002, one month after the Gujarat riots, members of FOIL, INSAF and others worked on a statement condemning the riots and publishing it in major newspapers of India.  Hari Sharma of INSAF and SANSAD (both members of CAG) sent the first draft and urged others to sign as well.  Sharma states: “INSAF affiliates in the Boston area (‘Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia’) have worked on the statement.”[19] Among the affiliates who signed the statement were Abha Sur, Nurul Kabir, Daya Varma, Sunaina Maira, Raja Swamy, Sekhar Ramakrishnan, Shalini Gera, Biju Mathews, Sangeeta Kamath and Hari Sharma and others.[20] In addition, Sharma also appealed: “You can send your reply here or directly to: ‘Abha Sur’ asur@mit.edu.”[21] Thus, Sur was clearly a leading figure in the 2002 campaign by radical leftists to undermine Narendra Modi and exaggerate the “Hindu savagery” of the Gujarat riots.

Another founding member of ASDSA is M.V. Ramana.[22] He was also a member of FOIL[23] and is currently a physicist and lecturer at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security and the Nuclear Futures Laboratory.[24]

In Issue 13 of SAMAR Magazine (another member of CAG discussed here), Ramana, wrote an article, The Bomb of the Blue God, essentially linking India’s nuclear tests at Pokhran and the first US atomic bomb test to the Bhagavad Gita based on the famous words of Oppenheimer. Ramana uses Bhagavad Gita’s message selectively and declares:

While the very first images that arose in [Oppenheimer] are a somewhat wrong application of Hindu mythology, his recollection of the Bhagvad Gita may have been quite pertinent [emphasis added]. As is well known, the Bhagvad Gita was supposedly intended to persuade Arjuna to participate in the Kurukshetra battle that resulted in the killing of thousands. Thus, Oppenheimer may well have been trying to rationalize his involvement in the development of a terrible weapon [emphasis added].[25]

Ramana is particularly interested in highlighting the “violence” that the Gita supposedly sanctions and how such “violence” is then used to rationalize other horrible acts such as the development of an atomic bomb. According to him, then, Oppenheimer appropriately recalled the Bhagavad Gita because it also advocates such destruction!

The Cover Page of the article, shown below, is another testament to FOIL’s bias against Hindus and Hinduism. It paints the image of Lord Krishna on to that of a nuclear bomb and is meant to create suspicion and tacit or subliminal hatred of Hinduism.

One can only imagine the outrage had FOIL painted an image of Prophet Muhammad or the words “Bismillaah al-Rahmaan al-Raheem” (In or with the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful) on that of a nuclear bomb and written an article titled The Bomb of Allah when Pakistan tested its nuclear bomb! But, using Hindu imagery and deities in a derogatory manner is acceptable for FOIL and its cohorts.

Apart from Sur and Ramana, another prominent member of ASDSA is Nurul Kabir, a Bangladeshi software engineer who is also the registered agent for the group’s website. Kabir is active with the Bangladesh Workers Solidarity Network, which was formed to fight for the rights of garment workers in Bangladesh.

To demonstrate the hollowness of ASDA, a search on MIT Division of Student Life’s website yields no results on the ASDSA’s registration as a campus organization. Nor does the organization have any non-profit status or office. Hence, ASDSA is a loose coalition of a few radical leftists and activists at best, supported by members of FOIL, INSAF and others in the CAG.

Illustration – The Cover Page of the Article The Bomb of the Blue God (Source: SAMAR Magazine, Issue 13, Winter/Spring 2001)

MV Ramana Article Cover - Bomb of the Blue God

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.southasiaalliance.org/overview/backgrou.htm.  Accessed January 14, 2014

[2] Ibid

[3] “No solution to Kashmir possible within Indian Constitution, Afzal Guru hanging a historic blunder: Gautam Navlakha”, July 5, 2013, The Kashmir Walla, http://www.thekashmirwalla.com/2013/07/no-solution-to-kashmir-possible-within-indian-constitution/. Accessed January 14, 2014

[4]  “Dr. Fai’s arrest violation of International norms”, December 25, 2011, http://freemykashmir.blogspot.com/2011/12/dr-fais-arrest-violation-of_25.html. Accessed January 14, 2014

[5] Bernard D’Mello and Gautam Navlakha, “Dual Power in a Guerrilla Zone: Two Reigns of Political Violence in Bastar”, June 8, 2013, MR Zine, http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2013/dn080613.html. Accessed January 14, 2014

[6] See a flyer and description of the event at http://southasiaalliance.org/activities/displacementMinorities_20121103.pdf. Accessed January 14, 2014

[7] Ibid

[8] Erendro Leichombam, “REDEMPTIVE NARRATIVE & MANIPUR”,Manipur International Center, http://www.manipurcenter.org/redemption-narrative-manipur/. Accessed February 12, 2014

[9] “Census Reveals Growth of Christianity In Northeast India”, September 9, 2004, Hindu Press International, http://www.hinduismtoday.com/blogs-news/hindu-press-international/census-reveals-growth-of-christianity-in-northeast-india/4360.html. Accessed February 12, 2014

[10] http://web.mit.edu/wgs/people/sur.html. Accessed January 14, 2014

[11] See the program announcement at http://www.southasiaalliance.org/activities/displacementMinorities_20121103.pdf. Accessed January 15, 2014

[12] See under “Directors” at http://www.singhfoundation.org/ as well as 2012 IRS Form 990EZ at http://www.singhfoundation.org/irs/singh990ez-12.pdf.  Accessed January 15, 2014

[13] See the ASDSA entry at http://www.copperpages.com/indiacurrents/default.asp?mode=browse&area=21&country=U.S.&city=allston&Zip=&miles=50&Category=6&SubCategory=45&SubSubCategory=&keyword=&banners=1&selcity=yes&page=1. Accessed January 15, 2014

[14] https://web.archive.org/web/20010922024852/http://www.alliancesouthasia.org/pos07179.htm. Accessed February 13, 2014

[15] See an article by Tambe on FOIL’s website at http://www.proxsa.org/resources/ghadar/v1n1/ashwini.html. Accessed January 15, 2014

[16] In the following edition of FOIL’s newsletter Ghadar, Maira is listed as the main coordinator for FOIL’s Youth Solidarity Summer 1997 initiative: http://www.proxsa.org/resources/ghadar/v1n1/foilbrs.html. Accessed January 15, 2014

[17] “Your Voice | Clarifying Modi’s record”, March 20, 2013, The Daily Pennsylvanian, http://www.thedp.com/article/2013/03/your-voice-. Accessed January 15, 2014

[18] “Full text: SIT closure report on Gujarat riots”, May 10, 2012, IBN Livehttp://ibnlive.in.com/news/full-text-sit-closure-report-on-gujarat-riots/256419-3.html. Accessed January 15, 2014

[19] See the email/statement by Hari Sharma titled “Statement on Gujarat”, published on March 27, 2002 at http://www.sabrang.com/gujarat/statement/statement.htm#27one. Accessed January 17, 2014

[20] Ibid

[21] Ibid

[22] See the following 1999 event announcement titled “NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND HUMANITY” on FOIL’s website http://www.foil.org/fopa/fopa-workshops.htm#2.  M.V. Ramana is featured as one of the speakers and FOIL mentions his affiliation with ASDSA and FOIL. Accessed January 22, 2014

[23] Ibid

[24] http://www.princeton.edu/sgs/faculty-staff/m.v.-ramana/. Accessed January 22, 2014

[25] M.V. Ramana, “The Bomb of the Blue God”, Issue 13, Winter/Spring 2001, SAMAR, http://samarmagazine.org/archive/articles/36. Accessed January 22, 2014