Friends of South Asia (FOSA)

While FOSA claims to be an independent organization, it can be viewed as a “West Coast” extension of FOIL in multiple ways as illustrated under the section “Important Illustrations“. For example, Youth Solidarity Summer’s (YSS) website is registered to Ramkumar Sridharan of FOSA. YSS, discussed here, is the youth wing of FOIL and is listed as another independent organization in the CAG. Similarly, Campaign to Stop Funding Hate’s (CSFH’s) site is registered to FOSA. CSFH was started by Biju Mathew and others from FOIL as discussed here.

FOSA was one of the masterminds behind the successful campaign supporting negative and factually inaccurate portrayals of Hinduism in California textbooks. Unfortunately, the organization’s name is ironic. It focuses on delegitimizing the Indian state while “also blaming” the Pakistani government. Criticism of Pakistan is much milder in comparison to that awarded to India. In 2001, one of FOSA’s founders and the main organizer, Ali Hasan Cemendtaur, a Pakistani American[1] who is also the registrant for the group’s website, wrote an article, What India Must Do, If Peaceful, rebuking the Indian government for creating war hysteria.[2]  Arguing for the separation of Kashmir from India, Cemendtaur completely focuses on the Indian side of Kashmir while conveniently forgetting about Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. He challenges India to prove herself as a peaceful country by doing the following:

To show the world her clean hands India should enact the UN resolution of 1948 and hold a plebiscite in Kashmir. The result of that plebiscite would prove that [the] people of Kashmir love India and the so-called Kashmiri separation movement is in fact a creation of Pakistan. This in turn would expose the ‘terrorist’ nature of Pakistan to the world. And that would really ‘teach Pakistan a lesson.’[3]

Notably, the argument of plebiscite only applies to the Indian side and not the Pakistani side according to Cemendtaur. And, he ignores the fact that the four wars fought by India and Pakistan were all initiated by Pakistan. Cemendtaur also blames the Indians for Pakistan’s unwillingness or inability to crack down on terrorist organizations. According to him, “the bellicose attitude of the Indian leadership is making it harder for Pakistan to crack down on the organizations suspected of terrorism.”[4] He completely sidelines the well-known support provided by the Pakistani army as well as the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to many of these extremist and terrorist organizations.

Cemendtaur is supportive of the creation of Pakistan and sympathizes with the leaders, saying: “I understand that the leaders of the Muslim League didn’t want to see the rights of the Muslims trampled in a unified South Asia under the guise of democracy.”[5] Therefore, it was acceptable to divide India to protect the rights of Muslims. Had Hindus argued for a Hindu nation, FOSA, FOIL and CAG would automatically label these Hindus as extremists and fascists.

Akhila Raman is another prominent member of FOSA and FOIL.[6] Raman also supports the breakaway of Kashmir from India and is silent on the same from Pakistan or from China.

In 2007, Raman wrote an article, Kashmir: Terrorism or Freedom Movement? deeming Kashmir terrorism as a “…genuine freedom struggle going on against the repressive Indian State by the Kashmiris…”[7] The entire article is a blame game against the “cruel Indian army” and the Indian government’s “betrayal of the Kashmiri people”. No discussion is accorded to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir or the piece of Kashmir in possession of China.

Section 9.01    Activities of FOSA – Promoting ISI Agents, Among Other Things

An organization’s views and positions are showcased by the events it holds, the speakers it invites, the positions it takes, etc. This also holds true for FOSA. This section demonstrates that many of the events organized by FOSA are routine India-bashing and Hindu-bashing events.

In 2003, FOSA, along with Angana Chatterji, organized a discussion on Kashmir at the University of Berkeley. One of the main speakers of the event was Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai from the Kashmiri American Council.[8] On Tuesday, July 19, 2011, the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the US arrested Fai on charges of being an agent of ISI, the Pakistani spy agency.  Filing the charges, Neil MacBride, the US Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, accused Fai of a “decades-long scheme with one purpose – to hide Pakistan’s involvement behind his efforts to influence the US government’s position on Kashmir.”[9] MacBride also added that “[Fai’s] handlers in Pakistan allegedly funneled millions through the Kashmir Center to contribute to elected US officials, fund high-profile conferences and pay for other efforts that promoted the Kashmiri cause to decision-makers in Washington.”[10] Similarly, the FBI stated that the group’s objective was “to persuade the US government that it was in its interest to push India to allow a vote in Kashmir to decide its future.”[11]

Further, one Kashmiri forum accused Akhila Raman and Angana Chatterji of holding a highly biased session on Kashmir. Some prominent Kashmiri activists, including those whose families have suffered as a result of ongoing terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir parts in India, were kept away and not allowed to participate in a significant manner; after protesting, one person was given only two minutes while the other was given 20 seconds.[12] “Akhila Raman was accused of a definite tilt and misstatements in her slide show at the Forum.”[13] “Her theory that Maharaja Hari Singh was a brutal ruler and the Muslims were subjected to atrocities was vehemently challenged.”[14] In the session, Dr. Amrit Nehru, a reputed dentist of Los Angeles, who was initially shut out from speaking, blasted the forum for their biases and attempts to bar Kashmiris from speaking on the forum. “He was surprised that the so-called Kashmir lovers have not demanded China to vacate the grabbed part of Kashmir in the East, and the other part gifted by Pakistan to China in the West.”[15]

On Jan 24, 2004, FOSA organized an event titled Secularism & Democracy in India: The Challenges Ahead.[16]  The key speakers included Asghar Ali Engineer and Angana Chatterji and was co-sponsored by CAG members such as Coalition Against Communalism (CAC), South Asian Progressive Action Collective (SAPAC), Non-Resident Indians for a Secular and Harmonious India (NRI-SAHI), Indian Muslim Council (IMC) and Indian Muslim Relief Committee (IMRC). Interestingly, no mainstream Hindu or Indian organizations were invited to or let co-sponsor this “interactive discussion”. The report already discussed Chatterji’s positions and ideological leanings. We discussed the activities and views of IMC (now known as IAMC) here while the others are discussed under their respective sections in this website.

In 2002, FOSA organized several India-Pakistan Peace Vigils in an attempt to raise “awareness” about the dangers of a nuclear war between the two countries. The events featured Ashish Chaddha[17]and Shalini Gera,[18] among others. Gera and Chaddha are prominent members of FOIL.[19] Gera is one of the main organizers of CAC, another affiliate of FOIL and FOSA, and wrote an article in Tehelka magazine blasting the efforts of Hindus groups to get a fair portrayal of Hinduism in California textbooks.[20] She is also a spokesperson for CSFH, along with Angana Chatterji, and Ali Mir Raza.[21]

On August 2010, FOSA and Association for India’s Development (AID) invited Harsh Dobhal for a discussion on Human Rights in India.[22] According to the announcement, “Dobhal is the [Managing Editor] of Combat Law (www.combatlaw.org), a bi-monthly journal from India that serves as the voice of lawyers and social activists who form the cutting edge of legal activism in India.”[23] Combat Law is a publication with Maoist leanings and agrees with the philosophy of the violent and terrorist Naxal movement in India. In the 2006 edition, Colin Gonsalves, one the editors and founders of Combat Law, is sympathetic to the Naxalites and states the following: “Today, the Naxalites do, by use of force, what the State legislature and judiciary ought to be doing by taking recourse to the Constitution of India.”[24] Further:

Naxalism then is the natural outcome of the globalization process, which isolates, impoverishes and marginalizes the majority of the working people and pushes them inexorably toward rebellion. The very nature of Capitalism and the imperatives of globalization create militants such as the Naxalites who see force as the only way to defend the right to life.[25]

The Maoists, with the help of Pakistani ISI, have been attempting to establish links with Naxalite groups such as the PWG [People’s War Group] and the MCC [Maoist Communist Centre] by using the Siliguri corridor in West Bengal.[26] Such lethal partnerships are seriously undermining the internal security of India. Gonsalves, in his article, hails the Maoist overthrow of the Nepalese government and suggests that India should learn from Nepal.[27]

Combat Law addresses the Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda as “Comrade,”[28] a popular Communist salutation. Page 16 of the 2006 edition of Combat Law features an interview with Prachanda, who became the Nepalese Prime Minister in 2008 after leading an underground militant communist movement for more than two decades.  The Maoist “people’s war” had in fact left 13,000 people dead, tens of thousands displaced and much of the Nepal’s infrastructure destroyed.[29]

Dobhal is also a top leader of the Independent People’s Tribunal (IPT)[30] and in 2010 published a report titled Report of Independent People’s Tribunal on Human Rights Violations in Kashmir.  The report blasted the Indian government for “ongoing human rights violations” against people of Jammu and Kashmir. According to the report, “[the] tribunal witnessed testimonies from all sections of Kashmiri [emphasis original] society, including victims, their family members, social activists, journalists and academicians.”[31] However, a manner that is routine among members of CAG and their affiliates, the IPT only blasts Indian security forces. One would expect Dobhal, Gonsalves and others, who are key organizers of the Tribunal and Human Rights Law Network (HRLN),[32] to discuss the security situation in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir or the situation of Hindus in the Kashmir Valley. However, that is completely absent from their analyses and reports.

The HRLN follows a similar line in exposing the “violent abuses of minorities” by Hindus and the Indian State. For example, in introducing its work on “Secularism and Peace”, HRLN prominently discusses violence against Sikhs, Muslims and Christians, but plainly avoids any mention of violence against Hindus.[33] For HRLN and others, Hindus are never victims of any communal violence in India and hence there is no need to fight for their rights.

Like numerous other NGOs and human rights organizations discussed in this website as well as by Malhotra and Neelakandan (2011), HRLN also receives support from various evangelical and church-based organizations. For example, some of its partners and supporters include Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst (EED), Christian Aid, Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action, Dan Church Aid, etc. along with several European government agencies.[34] For example, EED, which translates to “Church Development Service” was an organization of Evangelical Protestant Church of Germany and has now merged with “Bread-for-the-World.”[35] Similarly, DanChurchAid is part of the Danish National Evangelical Lutheran Church.[36]

In 2008, FOSA organized the South Asian Human Rights Film Festival on the 61st anniversary of Indian and Pakistani Independence.[37] It scheduled a series of film screenings related to “human rights abuse” in South Asia. Not surprisingly, one of the key speakers was Harsh Mander, who rose to fame following the 2002 Gujarat riots where Hindus and Muslims were killed. However, Mander is solely focused on highlighting the atrocities against Muslims while ignoring the human rights of the 59 Hindus, including women and children, who were burnt alive by a Muslim mob. FOSA, CAG and others like Mander easily dismiss these Hindus, including children, as “fascists” and therefore seem to imply that their lives are not important somehow in comparison to those of Muslim men, women and children. One begs to ask how little children turn into fascists automatically and can thus be sidelined. Krishen Kak, a retired Indian Administrative Services officer, filed a complaint against Mander in 2003 with the Press Council of India for Mander’s highly irresponsible and rumor-filled article Hindustan Hamara (The Times of India, March 2002). The Council’s Inquiry Committee, noted:

The article at several points reiterated rumours (sic) [emphasis added] that were being circulated at the relevant time. The truthfulness of the facts mentioned therein had not been established at any point of time [emphasis added] till then but Shri Mander had chosen to base his views and sentiments on them, and put pen to the opinion thus formed by him…it was expected of the author as a responsible serving officer as well as of the respondent paper of repute like The Times of India to be more restrained and circumspect in pronouncing a denouncement of the whole system in a communally surcharged atmosphere.[38]

Thus, Mander’s penchant for pumping up facts was acknowledged by an independent body.  Sadly, major media outlets like The Times of India carried Mander’s article without regard to journalistic objectivity.

Mander also enjoys support from some of the evangelical and Christian organizations mentioned above. This is further discussed under SAPAC here.

In 2007, FOSA, Pakistanis at Stanford, the Center for South Asia (Stanford), and Sanskriti co-sponsored an event called The Kashmir Issue 60 Years Later: Rethinking the Kashmir Conflict A conversation with Beena Sarwar and Huma Dar.[39] Sarwar is a famous Pakistani journalist while Dar is a PhD candidate in South Asian Studies at UC-Berkeley.[40] Even as the Pakistani perspective was clearly represented, no mainstream or campus Indian organization was invited to represent the Indian side of the story. In 2008, Dar, along with Angana Chatterji and others, wrote to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, highlighting the “Humanitarian Crisis in Jammu and Kashmir” and blasted the Indian government for alleged human rights violations. The letter’s pro-Kashmir independence stance is highlighted when Chatterji, Dar and others cover up Kashmir terrorism as a “pro-independence struggle in Kashmir”[41] while deeming Indian counterinsurgency operations as “grave abuses of human rights with social, economic, psychological, political, and environmental consequences.”[42]  Signatories to the letter include Amitava Kumar, a key member of FOIL,[43] Sunaina Maira, another key FOIL member who used to coordinate youth activities of FOIL,[44] Snehal Singhavi and many others.

Singhavi was exposed in a 2002 interview on Hardball with Chris Matthews, for setting a biased agenda for his course called The Politics and Poetry of Palestinian Resistance. The course description stated that it “takes as its starting point the right of Palestinians to fight for their own self-determination. Conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections.”[45] The course thus discouraged diverse opinions on the Palestinian conflict. In calling out Singhavi, Matthews mentions that “[in] a public university, [Singhavi is] accepting students on the basis of their political point of view and rejecting others.”[46] “Civil rights and free speech advocates reacted strongly, calling [Singhavi’s] statements ‘chilling’, and saying that such restrictions do not belong in a university, especially one supported by public funds.”[47]

FOSA also organized a panel discussion titled SELF DETERMINATION IN SOUTH ASIA: South Asia’s Struggle against US-led Imperialism featuring Vijay Prashad, Angana Chatterji, Abdul Nayyar, and Snehal Shinghavi.[48] The political and ideological agenda of this meeting is palpably clear not only from the lineup of speakers but also by the discussion’s focus. According to the event announcement, the panelists were to discuss:

The people’s struggle against pro-imperialist Indian elites; the implications of the latest nuclear arms trade agreement between India and the US on the people of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the rest of South Asia, especially women; the role of South Asia in US imperialist ambitions; the other opportunities this presents to build Indian communism and fight the agenda of the global ruling class.[49]

Thus, Indians are labeled as pro-imperialists serving their US masters and endangering the entire South Asian region while Kashmiri, Maoist and Naxal terrorist activities are labeled as “the people’s struggles”. Similarly, the event is also pushing the idea that Communism is probably the best solution to save South Asian people from the “imperialist oppression” of India and US.

In conclusion, FOSA is essentially an extension of FOIL and its affiliate organizations within CAG. Like its brethren in the CAG, FOSA is heavily biased against the Indian state and Hindus and supports separatist movements and ideals through ISI agents like Fai and advocacy for Maoist/Communist rule in India. While it is harsh on India on its alleged human rights violations, such treatment is rarely meted out to Pakistan or Bangladesh, though both countries have been guilty of serious documented human rights violations and are important constituents of South Asia. Hindus and their rights are rendered disposable and any attempts to bring up such topics are silenced, ignored or frowned upon.

 

[1] See Wikipedia entry on Cemendtaur at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ali_Hasan_Cemendtaur. Accessed January 9, 2014

[2] A.H. Cemendtaur, “What India Must Do, If Peaceful”, updated on December 31, 2001, http://www.paklinks.com/gs/pakistan-affairs/22863-an-indian-says-what-india-must-do-if-peaceful.html. Accessed January 9, 2014

[3] Cemendtaur, ibid

[4] Cemendtaur, ibid

[5] A.H. Cemendtaur, “A South Asian History (1947-2047), http://www.boloji.com/index.cfm?md=Content&sd=Articles&ArticleID=3629. Accessed January 9, 2014

[6] Akhila Raman is the registering agent for CSFH, an initiative of FOIL. In addition, the following links shows a message posted by Akhila Raman on FOIL’s listserve.  One can only post if she is a member of the list. http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/india-unity/conversations/topics/351. Accessed January 9, 2014

[7] Akhila Raman, “Kashmir: Terrorism Or Freedom Movement?”, March 22, 2007, http://www.countercurrents.org/kashmir-raman220307.htm. Accessed January 9, 2014

[8] People for Peace in Kashmir, “A Progressive Discussion Forum On Kashmir”, http://www.countercurrents.org/kashmir-raman280803.htm. Accessed January 9, 2014

[9] Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt, “Pakistan’s Military Plotted to Tilt U.S. Policy, F.B.I. Says”, July 19, 2011, The New York Times, online edition, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/20/us/politics/20agent.html. Accessed January 9, 2014

[10] Savage and Schmitt, ibid

[11] Savage and Schmitt, ibid

[12] Yatindra Bhatnagar, “Kashmir Sell-out: Indian black-sheep in US”, October 2003, The Kashmir Telegraph, https://web.archive.org/web/20101203105923/http://host.kashmirtelegraph.com/1003/one.htm. Accessed January 9, 2013

[13] Bhatnagar, ibid

[14] Bhatnagar, ibid

[15] Bhatnagar, ibid

[16] See event announcement at http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/events/engineer/. Accessed January 9, 2014

[17] Hina Wyne, “GLOBAL VIGILS FOR PEACE BETWEEN INDIA AND PAKISTAN CONTINUE IN BAY AREA”, April 27, 2002,  http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/press/releases/042702.htm. Accessed January 9, 2014

[18] Wyne, ibid

[19]Anivar Aravind, “FOIL Letter to CPI(M)”, December 6, 2006, http://www.mail-archive.com/greenyouth@googlegroups.com/msg01102.html.  See the list of signatories. Accessed January 9, 2014

[20] Shalini Gera and Girish Agrawal, “Hindutva goes to school”, February 4, 2006, Tehelka Magazine, online edition,  http://www.tehelka.com/story_main16.asp?filename=op020406Hindutva_goes.asp. Accessed January 9, 2014

[21] She is mentioned as a spokesperson of CSFH in a press release dated December 13, 2002, at http://stopfundinghate.org/resources/news/121302SFHPressRelease.htm. Accessed January 9, 2014

[22] “A talk by Harsh Dobhal”, August 8, 2010, http://www.sanjosepeace.org/calendar_event.php?eid=20100723091522132.Accessed January 9, 2014

[23] Ibid

[24] Colin Gonsalves, “Constituent Assembly or Counter-Revolution?”, September-October 2006, Combat Law, Vol. 5, Issue 4, p.13, http://combatlaw.org/wp-content/uploads/combatlaw_volume5_2006/September-October-2006_nepal.pdf.  Accessed January 9, 2014

[25] Gonsalves, ibid

[26] “Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (Incidents involving CPN-M)”, South Asia Terrorism Portal, http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/nepal/terroristoutfits/index.html.  Accessed January 9, 2014

[27] Gonsalves, ibid., p.11

[28] See Page 16 of Combat Law at , http://combatlaw.org/wp-content/uploads/combatlaw_volume5_2006/September-October-2006_nepal.pdf. Accessed January 9, 2014

[29] “Maoist leader becomes Nepalese PM”, August 15, 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7563816.stm.Accessed January 9, 2014

[30] See Dobhal’s signature on page 4 of the “Report of Independent People’s Tribunal on Human Rights Violations in Kashmir”. Accessed January 9, 2014

[31] “Report of Independent People’s Tribunal on Human Rights Violations in Kashmir”, February 20-21, 2010, page 8,  http://www.iptindia.org/wp-content/pdf/report/ipt_report%20on%20kashmir.pdf. Accessed January 9, 2014

[32] See event announcement titled “An Informal Meeting and Discussion with HARSH DOBHAL” at http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/.   Dobhal is introduced as “Director of the Human Right Law Network”. Accessed on January 9, 2014

[33] See the introductory paragraph which discusses these incidents.http://www.hrln.org/hrln/secularism-and-peace.html. Accessed January 9, 2014

[34] A full list of donors is available at http://www.hrln.org/hrln/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=675&Itemid=289. Accessed on January 9, 2014

[35] See Google translation of the EED’s German Wikipedia entry at http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=de&u=http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelischer_Entwicklungsdienst&prev=/search%3Fq%3DEvangelischer%2BEntwicklungsdienst%2B%28EED%29%26biw%3D1252%26bih%3D587. Accessed January 9, 2014

[36] See “Who We Are” on Dan Church Aid’s website at http://www.danchurchaid.org/about-us/organisation-and-strategy. Accessed January 9, 2014

[37] See Event Posting at http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/. Accessed January 9, 2014

[38] Arvind Lavkare, “One Way Street”, November 18, 2003, Rediff.com, http://www.rediff.com/news/2003/nov/18arvind.htm. Accessed January 9, 2014

[39] See Event Posting at http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/. Accessed January 9, 2014

[40] See the event announcement on Stanford’s website at http://events.stanford.edu/events/113/11355/. Accessed January 9, 2014

[41] See the Press Release titled “Humanitarian Crisis in Jammu and Kashmir”, August 12, 2008, posted on South Asia Citizens Web, an affiliate of FOIL, at http://www.sacw.net/peace/kashmir12Aug08.html. Accessed January 9, 2014

[42] Ibid

[43] See the November 1, 1998 issue of Ghadar at http://www.proxsa.org/resources/ghadar/v2n1/foil.html. Kumar is listed as the FOIL point person for anyone interested in writing articles with radical leftist views to major Indian newspapers. Accessed January 9, 2014

[44] Ibid.  In the same issue, Maira is listed as a contact person for organizing youth activities through “solidarity training programs”. This is also illustrated in Chapter III, Table 2 of the report in the list of YSS Members.

[45] “Hardball Interview with Snehal Shingavi”, May 9, 2002, Campus Watch, http://www.campus-watch.org/article/id/49. Accessed January 9, 2014

[46] Ibid

[47] Tanya Schevitz, “Cramped speech at UC Berkeley / Teacher warns ‘conservative thinkers’”, May 10, 2002, SFGate, http://articles.sfgate.com/2002-05-10/bay-area/17543159_1_uc-berkeley-free-speech-movement-students. Accessed January 9, 2014

[48] See the Event Announcement at http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/events/selfdeterminationpanel/. Accessed January 9, 2014

[49] Ibid