South Asian Progressive Action Collective (SAPAC)

SAPAC was formed just after the turn of this century by a group of radical leftists in Chicago “…to create a space for progressive South Asians to unite and take action on issues pertaining to the Diaspora.”[1] Their work centered on promotion of “…harmony among South Asian communities, social and economic justice, tolerance of difference, gender equity, and political mobilization to reach these goals”.[2] However, as shown below, most of SAPAC’s work relating to communal harmony had a heavy tilt toward highlighting issues that are India-specific, while barely touching on communal issues in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Significantly, SAPAC has not been active over the past few years. Their main page has not been updated since 2011, and contains an alibi of a message: “We are in the process of updating our website. Please visit our blog in the meantime.”

SAPAC Website Main

 

According to their blog, their last real meeting was held on December 5, 2011.[3] In fact, on January 27, 2013, SAPAC’s blog lamented whether it will remain active or not. Their last big project was in October 2011 and beyond that, they admit they have only “…signed on to national advocacy letters from partner organizations such as [South Asian Americans Leading Together –  SAALT], in response to issues like immigration and violence against South Asians.”[4]

This is illustrated in a screenshot of their blog below.

Future of SAPAC

While it continues to maintain a Yahoo! Group with 395 supposed members as of October 21, 2013,[5] SAPAC admits, “…in the last year, [our] actual on-the-ground work in Chicago has been stagnant…[we] are now at a crossroads. Many of [our] Core members have moved on to other cities or other priorities. In our current state, we do not feel we can sustain the organization, despite the important work we do.”[6]

Thus, it is evident that SAPAC is inactive and only using its name to add weight to various petitions and campaigns, including those of the CAG.

Section 32.01    SAPAC Projects and Events

One of its three main project themes is “Education/Combating Communalism”. But their idea of communalism, however, is focused mostly on “Hindu extremism” and demonizing India. For example, one of the projects describes how SAPAC is concerned about all manners of communalism such as those involving “Hindus and Ahmadiyas in Bangladesh; Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Dalits in parts of India and Hindus in Kashmir; Hindus, Sikhs, and Shias in Pakistan.”[7] But, one would be at a loss to find any substantial SAPAC activity addressing instances of intolerance apart from “Hindu extremism”.

SAPAC Project Page

Apart from the “India-Pakistan Unity Events,” the only other major projects/initiatives that materialized under this theme are “Building Bridges” (discussed in Chapter 18) and “Coalition Against Genocide.” Interestingly SAPAC mentions that it was formerly a part of CAG, thus raising questions about its current affiliation.

SAPAC’s website and blog do not feature any large-scale documentary screening, conferences, panels, speaker engagements, and suchlike on the violence against Hindus and other minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The title of South Asia only applies when putting on shows, performances, exhibits, etc. For communal violence or problems, only India and Hindus are cherry-picked for suspicion and scrutiny. And, SAPAC’s focus on communal violence was particularly sharp during its formative years (2003 to 2005), that is, right after the 2002 Gujarat riots. Hence, all the communal violence screenings are dedicated to Gujarat riots and the “Hindu terror”, as if no terrorism or such situations ever existed before (save for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi).

On April 4, 2004, SAPAC, along with Building Bridges of Understanding, organized a talk by Marxist historian Ram Puniyani. Here, Puniyani is described as a “…dedicated humanist devoted to promoting communal harmony and social justice in India.”[8] Puniyani, however, makes a living out of mercilessly battering Hindus in the guise of protecting secularism.

For example, on June 20, 2011, Puniyani wrote an article eulogizing the controversial painter M.F. Hussain, who died on June 9, 2011. He called him the “most celebrated painter of India, a thorough Indian and understanding Hindu culture much more than any of his detractors [emphasis added].”[9] Hussain was famous for painting nude pictures of Hindu goddesses and deities as well as biased portrayals of Hindus in his paintings. Puniyani’s statements also demonstrate his debased views on Hinduism.

In September 2001, Puniyani wrote on the FOIL website on the reasons for the terrorist attacks on the United States. He essentially sympathizes with the terrorists and concludes that America had it coming. He praises Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and agrees with his views that “American establishment itself has given encouragement and even sponsored terrorist groups in different countries at different times.”[10] Not surprisingly, Puniyani can find only one praiseworthy voice of restraint among all the people and leaders of the world – the Communist dictator Castro.

In the same article, Puniyani considers the Taliban and Al-Qaeda as “disadvantaged groups”[11] and opines that “[surely] the present dastardly act of terrorists is a sad reminder that even disadvantaged groups, who are nowhere equal to the might of the most powerful nation can occasionally puncture the high-handedness of bullies.”[12] Thus, according to Puniyani, the attacks of 9-11 were really out of desperation and retaliation against the “bully” United States and have nothing to do with extremist views of Islam.

On May 1, 2004, SAPAC organized a screening of the controversial movie Final Solution, which is a take on the Gujarat riots. SAPAC maliciously declares that 2,500 Muslims [emphasis added] were killed in the riots,[13] while the official figures are closer to 1,000, with around 200 or so Hindus among those killed. On November 5, 2004, SAPAC helped in the organization of the screening again, this time with other groups like Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC).[14]

On June 24, 2005, SAPAC organized a talk by Harsh Mander on “…strengthening Indian democracy and promoting social justice…”[15] Once again, the focus was India and Hindus.

Harsh Mander rose to fame after the 2002 Gujarat riots where both Hindus and Muslims were killed. However, Mander is ruthlessly focused on highlighting the atrocities against Muslims while ignoring the human rights of the 58 Hindus, including women and children, who were burnt alive by a Muslim mob. (His penchant for pumping up facts was highlighted in Chapter 9, Section 9.01).

In 2002, Mander, along with 202 others, signed a clemency petition floated by Ajmal Kasab’s lawyer Yug Mohit Chaudhary to the Indian President (Kasab was a Pakistani terrorist who killed scores of people in the 2008 Mumbai attack).[16] The petition argued that “….keeping Kasab in jail for the rest of his life and treating him like a human being allows for the possibility of him regaining his humanity, repenting his crime and atoning for the harm he has caused…”[17] Then the petition went rhetorical, even lyrical: “In the land of Buddha, Mahavira and Gandhiji, let it not be said that there is no place left in our hearts for mercy or that the national conscience can only be satisfied by the killing of Kasab.”[18] It is appalling and saddening that these people and groups argue with such fervor and lofty philosophical points for a terrorist who was parading around the town, killing people ruthlessly and enjoying doing so! The fact that all of India (save these 203 people and a handful of other sympathizers) was shocked and angered by his blood-thirst and was rightfully seeking to teach the murderer a lesson doesn’t matter a bit to these individuals.

Journalist Sandhya Jain exposes yet another side of Mander.[19] He is a member of the Working Group of Justice Foundation Kashmir Centre of UK, according to the Foundation’s website.[20] This Foundation (which was determined as one of three “Kashmir Centers” that are linked to the Pakistani ISI during Ghulam Nabi Fai’s arrest in 2011) works to pressure the British government’s policies toward India on Kashmir and publishes information that is heavily biased against India while remaining silent on the Pakistani side of Kashmir. The atrocity literature highlighted on the Foundation’s website is entirely directed against India. And as is usual for such platforms, there is no mention of atrocities against the hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits.

It is also important to note that Ghulam Nabi Fai, who was sentenced for two years in prison by the United States for being a Pakistani ISI spy, was also a prominent officer of the Justice Foundation Kashmir Centre, according to his profile on World Kashmir Awareness Forum’s website.[21] In the profile, Fai is also sharing a photo with the Pakistani Prime Minister at a Kashmir Conference. Similarly, according to an August 2011 article in the newspaper The Hindu, the Foundation “…helped to fund a trip to Kashmir by Lord Ahmed, a Labour peer; Andrew Griffiths, a Conservative MP; and Simon Danczuk, a Labour MP.”[22] The trips were intended to put further pressure on India on the Kashmir issue.

As a final example, SAPAC’s dislike for India, Hinduism and Hindus is displayed further when, on April 4, 2004, Shashi Menon, one of SAPAC’s Core Coordinators, forwarded an article on Kancha Ilaiah to SAPAC’s readers. The article, Dalit literature will replace Sanskrit: Ilaiah, has the usual hate literature about India, Hinduism and Hindus that Ilaiah is famous for. For instance, in the article, Ilaiah declared at a national seminar that “Hinduism as a socio-religious force was going to die within the next hundred years and no force would be able to prevent that.”[23]

Further down the article, Ilaiah boldly declares the following:

The Vedas, the Upanishads and the Gita have not inspired nationalism in Indians. ‘In fact, the reading of a holy book was not a part of the Hindu tradition. Christians read the Bible, Muslims the Koran. The number of people reading the Bible in India was on the rise. But I have not seen so many people reading the Gita. If there had been no Bible and Koran in India, the nation would not have got freedom. If there had been no English, India would not have been a nation…[24]

Apart from the India-centric documentaries, talks and topics listed above, SAPAC fails to have other similar documentary screenings and talks by human rights activists, film makers, artists, experts, etc. on the boiling issues in other South Asian countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

In fact, on March 1, 2004, a former member of SAPAC’s mailing list regretted the biased nature of SAPAC’s programs and agenda. Restating SAPAC’s mission statement from the website, he remarked:

It seems that a disproportionate amount of energy goes into [Mission # 2 – The government exploitation and condonement of communal violence and violence against women in South Asia]. What about the other Missions? As Asian-Americans, which of these are more relevant, more pertinent to us? Its important to hear more than just what [Shabana Azmi’s] PR schedule is for the next week, what [Mallika Sarabai] had for breakfast, or what F.U.D. R. Thapar is spewing again. How about discussions on the foreign policy of Kerry or Edwards? These two individuals may have a far greater impact on our lives than Romila ever will.[25] 

Section 32.02    How SAPAC Helps Run Other CAG Organizations

This section highlights how SAPAC and other members of the CAG help run each other. SAPAC and its members are also founding members of other groups or have key roles in other groups within CAG.

As has been demonstrated in several places throughout this report, CAG’s claim of being a coalition of diverse and broad-based groups is a myth to dupe the regulators, media and the general public.

The illustration below summarizes the linkages between each of these organizations. The analysis follows the illustration:

SAPAC, BB, CSDI, NRI-SAHI Linkages

 

  1. On December 17, 2003, the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (CSFH), another member of CAG (discussed in Chapter 36), calls its readers’ attention to a new initiative “…[to] celebrate pluralism, promote understanding between communities and engender participatory forms of democracy.”[26] CSFH reports the following:

On November 8, 2003, more than 40 people from all over Chicago, representing a variety of organizations, met in Darien, Illinois, to begin the process of ‘building bridges’ among different communities to promote pluralism, secularism, democracy and communal harmony. This meeting was sponsored by six groups active in the Chicago metropolitan area – Coalition for Secular and Democratic India (CSDI), South Asian Progressive Action Collective (SAPAC), [emphasis added], South Asia Group for Action and Reflection (SAGAR), Indian Muslim Council-USA (IMC-USA), World Tamil Organization (WTO) and Sikh American Heritage Organization (SAHO)…The group has tentatively adopted the name ‘Building Bridges’, and invites anyone who agrees with the spirit of the meeting to join them in this effort.[27]

Shashi Menon of SAPAC is listed as a key contact for the above initiative in the CSFH newsletter.

  1. Similarly, April 23, 2004, Aparna Sharma, a founder of SAPAC, sent some notes from SAPAC’s meeting, in which she mentions how “…SAPAC members have taken a leading role in organizing this region-wide collaborative of groups from the Indian Diaspora to address the issue of rising communalism in India”.[28] She was referring to the Building Bridges for Understanding coalition.
  2. As per its October 14, 2003 meeting’s minutes, SAPAC is a member of another coalition – Non-Resident Indian for Secular and Harmonious India (NRI-SAHI).[29] (NRI-SAHI was discussed in Chapter 12). Sapna Gupta, a core member of SAPAC, is also listed as a National Coordinator of NRI-SAHI by co-founder Shrikumar Poddar in an email dated May 13, 2004.[30] Similarly, Gupta was listed as one of the key speakers and a representative of NRI-SAHI at the 2004 Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) Convention.[31]
  3. Further, the minutes of the October 14, 2003 meeting reveal the bogus nature of organizations like NRI-SAHI and how all these outfits work together to run one another. SAPAC writes:

One of the main issues was how to keep NRI-SAHI running while its founder is in India/Pakistan for the next 6 months [emphasis added]. A steering committee was created that included (among others) Sapna/Shashi (SAPAC) [emphasis added]; Dr. Lamba (SAGAR); Imtiaz Uddin (CSDI).[32]

  1. Finally, on March 29, 2004, Aparna Sharma, in her meeting minutes, announced, “Coalition for a Secular and Democratic India (CSDI), another member of the ‘Building Bridges’, is seeking 501c3 status. SAPAC will have representation on their board…”[33]

The above information suggest rather strongly that SAPAC helps run three organizations: It is a key founding member of Building Bridges, along with five other CAG organizations; a leading SAPAC member is the National Coordinator for NRI-SAHI; and, SAPAC also sits on the board of CSDI.

Thus, CAG’s claim that the three are truly independent and ‘broad-based’ organizations is false.

 

[1] http://www.sapac.org/about.htm. Accessed January 24, 2014

[2] Ibid

[3] See post titled “SAPAC Meeting Tonight!” on December 5, 2011 at http://www.sapac.org/blog/.  This is the last real meeting announcement posted on the blog. After December 5, 2011, all posts promote events happening elsewhere and those conducted by other organizations. Accessed January 24, 2014

[4] See post titled “The Future of SAPAC” on January 27, 2013 at http://www.sapac.org/blog/. Accessed January 24, 2014

[5] http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/SAPAC_Chicago/info. Accessed October 21, 2013

[6] See post titled “The Future of SAPAC” on January 27, 2013 at http://www.sapac.org/blog/. Accessed January 24, 2014

[7] See topic titled “Combating Intolerance” at http://www.sapac.org/blog/projects/education-and-combating-communalism/. Accessed January 24, 2014

[8] See event titled “April 4, 2004: Conversation with Dr. Ram Puniyani of India’s EKTA Organization” at http://www.sapac.org/events.htm#2004. Accessed January 24, 2014

[9] Ram Puniyani, “M.F. Husain: Victim of Intolerance”, June 3, 2011, TwoCircles.net, http://twocircles.net/2011jun20/mf_husain_victim_intolerance.html. Accessed January 24, 2014

[10] Ram Puniyani, “Tackling The Terrorist Menace”, September 2001, proXsa nethttp://www.proxsa.org/resources/9-11/index.html. Accessed January 24, 2014

[11] Puniyani, ibid

[12] Puniyani, ibid

[13] See event titled “November 5, 2004: Screening of Final Solution and Q&A with Director Rakesh Sharma” at http://www.sapac.org/events.htm#2004. Accessed January 24, 2014

[14] Ibid

[15] See event titled “June 24, 2005: Shri Harsh Mander” at http://www.sapac.org/events.htm#2005. Accessed January 24, 2014

[16] Full petition along with the names of signatories is available at http://www.scribd.com/doc/122520120/Complete-List-of-203-people-who-Signed-mercy-petition-for-Kasab-TraitorsExposed-Via-BSKS-India. Accessed January 24, 2014

[17] Mayura Janwalkar, “More than 200 people wanted Ajmal Kasab pardoned”, November 21, 2012, The Indian Express, http://www.indianexpress.com/news/more-than-200-people-wanted-ajmal-kasab-pardoned/1034158/2.  Accessed January 24, 2014

[18] Janwalkar, ibid

[19] Sandhya Jain, “Separatists in high places: Harsh Mander”, February 20, 2013, Niti Central, http://www.niticentral.com/2013/02/20/separatists-in-high-places-harsh-mander-48550.html. Accessed January 24, 2014

[20] http://www.justicefoundation.co.uk/welcomeDetail.php. Accessed January 24, 2014

[21] See the profile of Fai at http://www.kashmirawareness.org/Article/View/7135/profile-dr-ghulam-nabi-fai. Accessed January 24, 2014

[22] “Now, Fai’s U.K. links in focus”, August 2, 2011, The Hindu, http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/now-fais-uk-links-in-focus/article2316964.ece. Accessed January 24, 2014

[23] See email titled “Fwd: [india-unity] Dalit literature will replace Sanskrit: Ilaiah” on April 4, 2004 at https://www.mail-archive.com/sapac@www.residentlounge.com/msg00436.html. Accessed January 24, 2014

[24] Ibid

[25] See March 1, 2004 email titled “RE: Romila Thapar: HT: Future of Indian past” at http://www.mail-archive.com/sapac@www.residentlounge.com/msg00340.html. Accessed January 24, 2014

[26] See December 17, 2003 Newsletter titled “Saffron Dollar” at http://stopfundinghate.org/resources/Saff$/Dec2003.htm. Accessed January 24, 2014

[27] Ibid

[28] See point # 4 of the email titled “SAPAC April Meeting Minutes” on April 23, 2004 at http://www.mail-archive.com/sapac@www.residentlounge.com/msg00490.html. Accessed January 24, 2014

[29] See point # 2 of the email titled “Minutes from SAPAC Oct General meeting” on October 14, 2003 at http://www.mail-archive.com/sapac@www.residentlounge.com/msg00007.html. Accessed January 24, 2014

[30] See email from Poddar on May 12, 2004 at http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/india-unity/conversations/topics/2050. Poddar declares: “Dear Friend Mandeep: Please contact our national coordinator Sapna Gupta for full details and website address…I was in India until last week…Regards, Shrikumar Poddar.” Accessed January 24, 2014

[31] See Press release Titled “IMC-USA reveals an impressive array of speakers for its convention”, July 26, 2004, published online on May 9, 2008 at http://iamc.com/conventions/imc-usa_reveals_an_impressive_array_of_speakers_for_its_convention-2/. Accessed January 24, 2014

[32] See point # 2 of the email titled “Minutes from SAPAC Oct General meeting” on October 14, 2003 at http://www.mail-archive.com/sapac@www.residentlounge.com/msg00007.html. Accessed January 24, 2014

[33] See point # 8 of the email titled “SAPAC March General Meeting Minutes” on March 29 2004 at http://www.mail-archive.com/sapac@www.residentlounge.com/msg00411.html. Accessed January 24, 2014