Policy Institute For Religion And State (PIFRAS)

This website focused on PIFRAS’ connection with FIACONA here. The description/mission of PIFRAS, started by John Prabhudoss of FIACONA, seems disarmingly benign:

To encourage a democratic basis for the interaction between religion and state by promoting an understanding of the role of democracy, human rights and religious freedom in creating sustainable societies.[1]

The lofty pitch about “interaction” and “understanding” notwithstanding, the entire board has no notable Hindu representative. The only Hindu on board is Admiral Ramdas, another blue-eyed boy of CAG members. In fact, Admiral Ramdas has worked very closely with the likes of Teesta Setalvad, Shabnam Hashmi and Harsh Mander to lambast Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat. In 2003, the International Council of Evangelical Churches (ICEC) conferred on Ramdas and Setalvad the Staines International Award “…in recognition of outstanding achievement in human rights”.[2] ICEC’s founding father incidentally is Rev. Bernard Malik of FIACONA.

KP Verghese, National Vice President of FIACONA,[3] is the current president of PIFRAS, according to its website.[4] In addition, PIFRAS’ board includes Bruce C. Robertson, the Chair of South Asia Area Studies at Johns Hopkins University.[5] Malhotra and Neelakandan (2011), note the following about Robertson:

[He] is influential among Christian evangelicals, and was also instrumental in giving a controversial grant from the US National Endowment of Humanities to develop a school curriculum on Ramayana. The teacher training-manual that resulted included a song portraying Rama as racist, anti-Muslim and oppressor of women, among other things.[6]

Another board member, Jonathan Glenn Granoff,[7] president of Global Security Institute, is actually a Sufi Muslim who studied under Master Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, and received/assumed the name Ahamed Muhaiyaddeen.[8] Granoff’s views on India and Hinduism are also troubling. In an article, Sovereign Value of the Golden Rule, available on PIFRAS’ website, Granoff lists India as separate from Kashmir when mentioning conflicts in volatile regions around the world.[9] Granoff also lists Mahabharata as a text of “Brahmanism” when quoting from various world religions on basic ethical principles.[10] Thus, “Brahminism” is considered some sort of a religion separate from Hinduism.

Section 8.01    Activities of PIFRAS

According to Malhotra and Neelakandan (2011), PIFRAS is one of the numerous US institutions that take the atrocity literature manufactured by Christian-funded entities and repackage it in a professionally compelling style to feed it to policymakers in the US.[11] It puts a strong spin on stories to show savagery through sophisticated language of theology and right-wing politics. PIFRAS has done that successfully by spreading awareness of the alleged atrocities against Christians and Muslims in India, but has remained silent on those against Hindus.

In 2002, PIFRAS organized a symposium on South Asia.[12] KP Singh, a Dalit activist who is also on the faculty of the University of Washington at Seattle, made a highly unsubstantiated claim that “…since India’s independence, about three million Dalit women have been raped and one million Dalits … killed.”[13]

In the same symposium, Prabhudoss, in his opening remarks, compares the conflicts in India to those of the Middle East, Sierra Leone, Central Africa, Kosovo, Chechnya and East Timor, thus equating India with some of the most cruel and violent regions in the world.[14]

Not surprisingly, Prabhudoss subscribes to the Aryan/Dravidian colonial framework and states that “[the] geographic regions of India are linguistically and culturally distinct. There are more than a dozen major languages, grouped into those of Dravidian South India and Indo-European (or Aryan) North India.”[15] This is again an attempt to portray Indian society as a hodgepodge of identities with no common threads binding the “mind-numbing” diversity of the populace. His stance is similar to that taken by Euro-centric philosophers, academics and statesmen in 19th century Europe.

Prabhudoss’ speech is also centered on the agenda that looks at conflicts through a religious lens with a special focus on the “Hindu violence” in India. His speech is peppered with such points.  Keen as ever to show something negative about Hindus, he states: “India is essentially a secular state in spite of an overwhelming [emphasis added] Hindu population.”[16] Hence, that overwhelming Hindu population is naturally an oppressor of minorities. He then goes on to play up the “atrocities” against Christians in India and erroneously declares that the former BJP-led alliance government was on a “full-scale assault on the religious minorities in India until the Indian American Christian organizations in the US got together and made a lot of noise about it.”[17] And he warned, for good measure: “Christian church institutions and the Christian population are paying the price for [the silence and inaction of the United States] even today. Many states are passing laws with the help of the Hindu radical parties, which effectively ban all conversions from Hinduism to Christianity.”[18] Prabhudoss is therefore advocating US intervention in India’s internal matters, especially those related to evangelical Christian work. He is effectively lobbying to ensure a free reign for these evangelicals in their aggressive and devious efforts to convert Hindus to Christianity. He even blames the “pro-Hindu lobby in Washington”[19] for aiding and abetting “Hindu radicals” in India and twisting US foreign policy toward India.

His tirade is then followed by speeches by others like Rep. Joe Pitts, who has strong right-wing evangelical connections. For example, he has opposed the removal of the Ten Commandments from the Chester County courthouse and has been the chairman of the Value Action Team, a group of Republicans that coordinate legislation with the Christian Right.[20] The same symposium featured speakers such as John Dayal, Lise McKean, Bishop Percy Fernandez (the General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference in India) and many others known for their evangelical connections and/or prejudiced views of the India and Hinduism.[21]

In 2003, PIFRAS, FIACONA and NRI-SAHI (discussed here) invited peace activist Nirmala Deshpande to talk about interreligious harmony.[22] This session was also geared toward showing Hindus as oppressors of minorities. It is disturbing that Ms. Deshpande swallowed wholesale the propaganda that US-based NRIs are funding hatred in India. “On being asked about the reported flow of funds from sections of the Indian diaspora in the US to groups in India fomenting religious hatred, she said, “‘in [my] visit to various cities in the US [I] was speaking to the Indian community on such problems.’”[23] One wonders if she actually read FOIL’s half-baked report on the Indian American charity IDRF or whether she was going by the fodder fed by FOIL, PIFRAS and others. One would expect someone like Ms. Deshpande to have done her own research to hear both sides of the story before labeling such charitable works as “problems”.

In another instance, according to Malhotra and Neelakandan (2011),

On the eve of India’s General Elections in 2004, PIFRAS, along with the Center for the History of Religious and Political Pluralism (University of Leicester, England), organized a panel discussion on ‘India’s National Elections and US Foreign Policy Interests’, where Marxist historian Ram Puniyani was the invited speaker along with John Prabhudoss. The main thrust of the discussion was that India’s 40 million Christians are threatened by ‘Hindu state governments’ that have passed laws to hold evangelism accountable for coercion.[24]

Thus, based on the information gathered here, a few things can be summarized: a) PIFRAS has a strong connection with and support of FIACONA; b) Its members and advisers hold a biased view of Hinduism and India, blaming all problems of India on Hinduism; c) While PIFRAS advocates strongly the rights of Christians and Muslims, such advocacy is muted or absent for Hindus in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. In fact, PIFRAS is aggressive in its demonizing of India but spares the same treatment to Pakistan or Bangladesh.

 

 

 

[1] http://www.pifras.org/About_PIFRAS/about_pifras.html.  Accessed January 9, 2014

[2] Under Events, see “Staines International Award For Religious Harmony”, http://www.evangelicalcouncil.org/news_events1.html.  Accessed January 9, 2014

[3] http://www.fiacona.org/information.php?page=executive.  Accessed January 9, 2014

[4] http://www.pifras.org/The_Board/the_board.html.  Accessed January 9, 2014

[5] http://www.pifras.org/The_Board/the_board.html.  Accessed January 9, 2014

[6] Malhotra and Neelakandan, 236

[7] http://www.pifras.org/The_Board/the_board.html.  Accessed January 9, 2014

[8] Jonathan Granoff, “Interfaith Imperatives Post 9/11.  Sovereign Value of the Golden Rule”, PIFRAS, http://www.pifras.org/Reports_Articles/RE_Interfaith_Imeratives/re_interfaith_imeratives.html.  See Granoff’s introduction in the beginning of the article.  Accessed January 9, 2014

[9] Granoff, ibid

[10] Granoff, ibid

[11] Malhotra and Neelakandan, 234

[12] http://www.pifras.org/Programs/Past_Programs/Symp2002/symp2002.html. Accessed January 9, 2014

[13] Malhotra and Neelakandan,  237

[14] http://www.pifras.org/Programs/Past_Programs/Sumposium_report/Symposium_speeches/PD_John/pd_john.html. Accessed January 9, 2014

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid

[17] Ibid

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid

[20] See the Section on “Tenure” in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_R._Pitts.  Accessed January 9, 2014

[21] See the schedule at http://www.pifras.org/Programs/Past_Programs/Symp2002/symp2002.html.  Accessed January 9, 2014

[22] http://www.pifras.org/Programs/Past_Programs/Desh_bio/desh_bio.html.  January 9, 2014

[23] Ibid

[24] Malhotra and Neelakandan, 237