South Asian Collective (SAC) & Students for Bhopal (SFB)

SAC and SFB are included in the same page here as they are associated with Ravi (Ra) Ravishankar, a spokesperson for the CAG and the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (CSFH) and a long-time member of the Forum of Inquilabi Lefitsts (FOIL). As the chapter shows SAC is a defunct student organization since around 2005, though one is hard pressed to see much activity even before it became defunct. Secondly, while SFB is a fairly large organization, its connection with CAG is suspect – the organization’s mission is completely unrelated to that of the CAG. Could it be that Ravishankar is including SFB’s name to lend additional credibility to the coalition?

(Ravishankar’s vitriolic animosity toward Hindus and Hinduism was under FOIL here).

Section 29.01    South Asian Collective (SAC)

SAC is a non-existent group pretending to be real in the same fashion as some outfits in the CAG. The organization, such as it is, was active at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign about a decade ago when Ravishankar was a student there. A search on UIUC’s website for actively Registered Student Organizations[1] yields no results on SAC. This was also confirmed by a phone call to the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, along with an email (see screenshot below), on February 14, 2014. Hence, it is clear that it is not a registered student organization.

SAC Email Exchange with Office of UIUC

However, a WayBack Machine Search[2] provides some information about SAC’s UIUC days in 2002 and 2003. According to the archived pages, SAC was primarily a group for “…constructive dialogue about issues that affect South Asians, both in the sub-continent and the diaspora…particularly concerned with problems that have reached almost endemic proportions in South Asia – religious and national sectarianism, nuclearization, to name a few.”[3] Like its FOIL brethren, its focus was mostly “Indian atrocities” and “Hindu extremism”.

Of the four events that the website displays, one of them is a September 8, 2002, screening of Anand Patwardhan’s film Jung Aur Aman (War and Peace)[4] which runs down Indian nationalism and hardly brings into focus that all the wars fought on the subcontinent for the past 60 plus years have been provoked by Pakistan and China. Patwardhan, whose site is hosted by CAG member and FOIL affiliate EKTA, is also famous for his Dalit song We Are Not Your Monkeys, which takes a highly pejorative view of Lord Rama and the Ramayana.[5] While Patwardhan has toiled hard to show the so-called “atrocities” of the Indian state, he has never worked as earnestly to show the dire situation of Hindu Pandits in Kashmir, or of Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The focus of another event, titled Not In the Name Of Hinduism A plea to condemn Hindutva, held on September 15, 2002,[6] which purportedly aimed to draw “…notice to the politicization of religion and the persecution of minorities in South Asia”,[7] is – not surprisingly – only the Gujarat riots. Yet again, the event selectively focuses on extremism that only involves Hindus and India. The description also gives a skewed view of the Gujarat “pogrom” as having “…taken the lives of more than 2,000 Muslims [emphasis added]…”[8] while blithely ignoring the loss of Hindu lives.

A third event is the October 9, 2002 screening of a movie titled IF GOD BE WITH US, directed by Shankar Borua. The movie’s theme focuses on India’s “atrocities” against the Naga people of Northeast India and calls for a separate country for the Naga people. While Malhotra and Neelakandan (2011) have laid out the nefarious plans of Christian evangelicals in India, others have pointed out that the Indo-Naga war was a result of British colonial plans and that the Nagas did not exist as a distinct people and had always maintained cordial relations with the people from the plains.[9]

Through British categorization and the drawing of administrative boundaries, the people of the hills became the Nagas, now separated from the people of the plains. In short, the British and missionaries then made the Nagas into Christian nationalists and implanted in them their hatred for the Indians.[10]

However, such important colonial machinations are ignored by those who have an ideological agenda of portraying India as an explosive concoction of distinctive religious and cultural groups.

Similarly, a WayBack Machine search of a different website of SAC shows that the organization has not organized any events since 2006.[11]

In the link above, a few events can be highlighted. One is an April 12, 2006 event featuring FOIL stalwart Biju Mathew, titled Biju Mathew –‘Cabs & Capitalism’, and another is an announcement of SAC joining the CAG.[12]

 

Section 29.02    Students For Bhopal (SFB)

SFB is an international organization that advocates justice for the victims of the terrible 1984 gas tragedy for which Union Carbide (now part of Dow Chemical) is squarely to blame.[13] The cause is commendable given the lives that were lost and the pathetic situation of the survivors and their families even today. But, SFB’s connection with CAG has nothing to do with the former’s mission. In fact, it has more to do with certain SFB members’ (Ravishankar’s) connections with FOIL. It is shocking that SFB allowed its name to be associated with a controversial coalition like the CAG.

The FOIL connections are discussed next.

Section 29.03    The FOIL Connection

While SFB is a legitimate organization, its participation in the CAG is questionable as CAG’s mission is quite different from that of SFB. One cannot help but wonder whether certain members of the organization are using its name to hype up the “diversity and broad appeal” of CAG.

A WhoIs.net site registration search of SFB shows that it was created on June 25, 2003, and is registered to Ryan Bodanyi.[14] And, according to the relevant Wikipedia entry, Bodanyi founded the organization in 2003.[15] Thus, Bodanyi has been a central figure in fighting for compensation and justice for the victims of the disaster.

Though Bodanyi is not directly connected with FOIL, he wrote an article in FOIL’s mouthpiece Ghadar on the ongoing fight for the Bhopal gas victims.[16] But, more importantly, Ravishankar of FOIL was involved with SFB at UIUC, according to SFB’s old website.[17] The UIUC link from SFB’s old website shows Ravishankar and SAC spearheading the 2004 SFB events at UIUC.[18]

The screenshot below shows Ravishankar signing as a representative of SAC on a SFB declaration. Hence, SFB’s involvement in CAG is most likely driven by Ravishankar. SAC-SFB Ravishankar

Thus, a few conclusions are inescapable:

  1. SAC has not been existent since at least 2006. It was spearheaded by Ravishankar, a dedicated member and representative of FOIL, CSFH and CAG.
  2. SFB’s name is perhaps being used by the likes of Ravishankar to bolster CAG’s appeal to the mainstream audience and to the people that CAG usually petitions. In reality, SFB’s mission (i.e. advocating for the Bhopal tragedy victims) has nothing to do with CAG’s activities.

 

[1] https://illinois.collegiatelink.net/organizations. Accessed January 20, 2014

[2] https://web.archive.org/web/20021031005228/http://www.uiuc.edu/ro/SAC/. Accessed January 20, 2014

[3] Ibid, see the “About Us” Section of the website

[4] Ibid, see the “Past Events” Section of the website

[5] http://www.patwardhan.com/films/wearenotyourmonkeys.htm. Accessed January 20, 2014

[6] See the “Past Events” Section of the website at https://web.archive.org/web/20021031005228/http://www.uiuc.edu/ro/SAC/.  Accessed January 20, 2014

[7] Ibid, click under the event to read the description. Accessed January 20, 2014

[8] Ibid

[9] Franke, Marcus, War and Nationalism in South Asia: The Indian State and the Nagas, (Routledge, 2008) , p.3, accessed online  on January 20, 2014 at http://books.google.com/books?id=p3jRGm4lAywC&pg=PA47&lpg=PA47&dq=indo-naga+war&source=bl&ots=cZoxXHguXT&sig=U4pA_4WChGBIveFVLf-P2WegWGU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Sd_dUpyhOYnQsATopIH4Ag&ved=0CCcQ6AEwADgU#v=onepage&q=indo-naga%20war&f=false

[10] Franke, ibid

[11] https://web.archive.org/web/20100616163042/https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/ro/www/SouthAsianCollective/. Accessed February 14, 2014

[12] Ibid

[13] Read more about SFB on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Students_for_Bhopal. Accessed January 20, 2014

[14] http://www.whois.net/whois/studentsforbhopal.org. Accessed January 20, 2014

[15] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Students_for_Bhopal. Accessed January 20, 2014

[16] Kamayani Swami and Ryan Bodanyi, “Challenging Corporate Callousness and State Indifference: The Ongoing Struggle for Justice in Bhopal”, Ghadar: a publication of the forum of inquilabi leftists, Volume 8, April 2005, http://ghadar.insaf.net/April2005/MainPages/bhopal.htm. Accessed January 20, 2014

[17] http://old.studentsforbhopal.org/ActiveUniversities.htm. See the entry under University of Illinois, U-C.  Ravishankar is listed as the main contact for SFB’s activities at University of Illinois. Accessed January 20, 2014

[18] http://old.studentsforbhopal.org/Illinois.htm. Accessed January 20, 2014