comprehension of meaning. . . lies not in the text itself, but in
the complex interaction between the author’s intent and his/her
performative ability to encode that intent, and the receptor’s
intent and his/her performative ability not only to decode the
author’s intent but to mesh his/her own intent with the
Late last month a
report titled “The Foreign Exchange of Hate: IDRF and American
Funding of Hindutva”[ii] hit the cyber-world.
Soon after that, enough copies were sent out to corporations
who contribute matching funds to India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF),
a Maryland based US charity, asking them to stop “funding hate”.
This report jointly prepared by Sabrang Communications of
Mumbai, India and The South Asia Citizens Web of France alleges that
IDRF funds are being funneled to entities inciting communal riots
and persecution of minorities in India.
‘serious’ nature of this report, one would expect that some
‘serious’ investigation must have been done for preparing this
91-page-long report. One
would also expect that such report would stand the rigor of a
critical academic deconstruction.
This response to Sabrang/FOIL report looks at Chapter 1 that
outlines the purpose, methodology, and organization of the report.
The emphasis is on understanding and critiquing the methods
employed by the researchers and writers of this report.
The objective is to determine if the methodology withstands a
rigorous critical examination.
This is significant because without a sound methodological
framework, the conclusions of the report become highly suspect and
even completely unreliable.
It is now well
established in the fields of linguistics, mass communications and
media studies that texts are produced by socially situated speakers
and writers. Will this
help explain some of the methods used and conclusions reached by the
writers of this report?
In the first
paragraph of the report, section 1.1. titled, “Purpose” the last
sentence reads, “The Foreign Exchange of Hate’ establishes that
the IDRF is… . “ Now anyone who has done any semi-academic
writing knows that the ‘purpose statement’ is first and foremost
about INVESTIGATION rather than ESTABLISHMENT of facts.
Chapter 1 is titled
“Purpose, Methodology and Organization,” but only one page is
devoted to these three sections.
Authors then go on to present a two full page “Summary of
Findings” – something that is not mentioned in the title.
Why this deceit? Is
the purpose to merely ‘capture’ the reader’s attention (like
good writers do), or to ‘sell’ the readers to conclusions of the
report, before they even had a chance to evaluate the evidence?
The latter is significant because the purpose of this report
is nothing less than stopping the funding for a major
Indian-American charity. This
sort of tactic clearly reveals the agenda of the writers and makes
this report appear more as propaganda rather than a result of
For a 91-page report,
the entire methodology employed by the researchers and writers is
presented in one small paragraph in section 1. 2.
The authors state that the report is based on “a careful
study and analysis of more than 150 pieces of documentary evidence,
almost three-quarters of which are those published by the Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh (henceforth, RSS or Sangh) and its affiliates.”
A critical reader must ask a basic question—What kind of analysis
Since there is no
mention at all of the analytical approach used, it may be reasonable
to assume that the researchers/writers at Sabrang used an approach
called “content analysis” – an approach most commonly used in
media studies and mass communications research.
To put it simply, this is a research tool used to determine
the presence of certain words or concepts within texts or sets of
quantify and analyze the presence, meanings and relationships of
such words and concepts, then make inferences about the messages
within the texts, the writer(s), the audience, and even the culture
and time of which these are a part.
A point to note here is that this inference-making part of
this approach could be where the researcher subjectivity, bias, and
ideology can play an important role.
however, extends far beyond simple word counts.
What makes the technique particularly meaningful is its
reliance on coding and categorizing of the data.
Researchers distinguish between emergent vs. a
priori coding. With
emergent coding, categories are established following some
preliminary examination of the data.
When dealing with a
priori coding, the categories are established prior to the
analysis based upon some theory.
A major benefit of
content analysis is that it is a systematic, replicable technique
for compressing many words of text into fewer content categories
based on explicit rules of coding.
Any good research report must have a well-documented and
detailed methodology section so that readers can judge for
themselves about the systematic and replicable nature of the
research. But for some
unstated reason(s), such discussion is missing in this report.
The appendices do not contain any methodological information
either. This begs the
question—why didn’t the authors make the methodology and actual
analytical tools public? How
was the data obtained from the selected documents coded – were the
categories established a priori or did they emerge during the
Krippendorff[iii], six questions must be addressed in every
Which data are analyzed?
How are they defined?
What is the population from which they are drawn?
What is the context relative to which the data are analyzed?
What are the boundaries of the analysis?
What is the target of the inferences?
In the Sabrang
report, while the authors briefly address questions 1 through 3 in
the one-paragraph long methodology, there is no explicit discussion
whatsoever of questions 4 through 6.
So it is left to the reader to decipher the context in which
the data obtained from the selected documents were analyzed, any
boundaries that may have been applied to this analysis, and the
target or agenda behind the inferences.
assumptions about the context can be made:
Rise of BJP on the Indian national political scene.
Increasing solidarity among Hindus in USA to promote Hindu
causes in India and abroad.
Greater visibility of Hindus in the American social,
economic, cultural, academic, and political arenas.
Growing awareness among Hindus in India and elsewhere about
lack of attention paid by the so-called secular and elite media in
India to ‘Hindu’ causes including violence committed against
them. This has resulted
in emergence of several public forums (many on the Internet) where
such ‘Hindu’ concerns are regularly debated.
Increasing connections between Hindu Diaspora and Hindus in
India on various levels including social, economic, and political.
In this context, the
authors of Sabrang report are perhaps trying to “explain” the
recent unfortunate riots in Gujarat in which both Hindus and Muslims
were killed. However,
it should be noted that throughout the report there is no mention of
Hindus that were killed in these riots.
These assumptions can
help us decipher the boundaries that were probably applied to the
analysis. Only those
documents and only selected portions of those documents are
‘analyzed’ that highlight the violence committed against Muslims
and other minorities. One
is left wondering if during the entire time that BJP has been in
power (the time period of primary concern to the authors of Sabrang
report) any violence was committed at all against Hindus.
These boundaries of analysis have not been made specific by
the authors of the report.
One reason perhaps
why it has not been done so is because the focus of this report is
to show the link between IDRF and violence against religious
minorities in India. Does
this suggest an innate bias or a pre-determined conclusion of the
researchers even before doing the content analysis of the selected
documents? Readers must
therefore question the social or political agenda behind such a
report that starts off with a well-articulated bias on part of the
writers, as stated in the opening paragraph 1.1:
the Hindu supremacist ideology that has under girded much of the
communal violence in India over the last several decades, has seen
tremendous growth outside India over the last two decades.”
Even before the
reader is made aware of the origins of Hindutva as a political
ideology, he or she is asked to believe that it is “Hindu
supremacist ideology” and has been responsible for much of the “communal
violence” in India. Is
this a case of reaching at a conclusion even before any evidence is
Assuming that a bias
or agenda is generally there in any research endeavor, are there
ways in which a researcher doing a content analysis can control or
limit the effect of personal subjectivity?
Two concepts are worth mentioning here – Reliability and
may be understood in the following terms:
Stability, or intra-rater reliability.
Can the same coder get the same results try after try?
or inter-rater reliability. Do
coding schemes lead to the same text being coded in the same
category by different people?
As mentioned earlier,
in the one-paragraph methodology section of the report, there is no
mention of any coding schemes that were used for the content
analysis of the documents selected for this report.
In the absence of any relevant information about analytical
methods used for this report, the above criteria for reliability of
the report and its findings can’t be addressed at all.
This alone makes the conclusions of this report highly
important to recognize that a methodology is always employed in the
service of a research question.
As such, validation of the inferences made on the basis of
data from one analytic approach demands the use of multiple sources
of information. In
qualitative content analysis, like the one presumably used by
Sabrang/FOIL researchers, validation could take the form of
lends credibility to the findings by incorporating multiple sources
of data, methods, investigators, or theories.
Given the absence of any detailed methodology in Sabrang
report, readers are strongly advised to question the validity of its
conclusions. In fact,
in such a case, readers should find easy to believe that the
conclusions have more to do with the researcher agenda or bias,
rather than the trends emerging from the data.
It would be reasonable to argue that the highly purposive and
agenda-specific cut-and-paste routine employed by the authors of
Sabrang/FOIL report has helped it become more of a malicious
propaganda than a factual research report.
Common sense suggests
that for someone interested in finding out how the funds of a
certain charity are being spent, in addition to looking at the
internal documents of the charity, the researcher must also collect
some primary data from the charity’s beneficiaries – individuals
and/or organizations. This
helps not only to determine the other side of the story, but also to
validate the findings emerging from the internal documents of the
charity. In this
report, while one is asked to believe that diverse documents
“including forms of incorporation and tax documents filed by IDRF
with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the US, articles in Sangh
Sandesh, the newsletter of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, and
occasional reports published by different Sangh organizations in
India and the US” were analyzed, there is no mention if any
attempt was made to contact these organizations or individuals who
have received funds from IDRF.
It is not clear if any of these people—the direct
beneficiaries – were interviewed, or if any internal documents of
these beneficiary organizations were reviewed or analyzed for
specific purpose of how the money disbursed to them was actually
The questions to be
asked of the beneficiaries would be—what kinds of activities these
organizations engage in? Who
are the people they serve? Interestingly,
the few places where one does see the selected quotes from any of
the internal literature of a beneficiary organization like Sewa
International, words like “propaganda material,”
“Hinduization,” “sectarian ideological training,” and
“effort to mislead people” are used to discount the real
development and relief work done by this organization.
At the end of the
one-paragraph methodology, the authors write: “The methodological
emphasis on primary sources internal to the Sangh Parivar, is to
ensure that the evidentiary basis of the conclusions drawn is of the
highest standards”. While the sentence structure makes it sound
that the findings of this report are credible and even reproducible,
there are several questions that a methodology critic must ask when
going a layer beneath the surface.
For example, what is meant by “primary sources”?
Typically, “primary” in research lingo means data that is
original, data that was not ‘collected’ prior to the present
study. By definition,
content analysis is an approach that uses secondary data, e.g. the
reports/texts/documents that are already published or are available
in the public domain. A
quick look at the references included in the report makes it clear
that most of the information is retrieved from online documents,
press releases, media reports, and mass communiqués.
Thus, the language used by Sabrang/FOIL writers with respect
to primary and secondary sources of data can be seen as a way to
confuse the reader and lend more credibility to the report’s
Additionally, for the
reasons stated earlier with respect to lack of available information
about the coding of data, and measures employed to ensure
reliability and validity of the study’s findings, it is not clear
how the conclusions were drawn in the first place.
Therefore, it is not possible to accurately evaluate the
“highest standards” by which these conclusions can be judged by
independent critics. This
could be seen as an attempt by Sabrang/FOIL writers to present the
findings as the objective truth without telling the readers how the
truth was arrived at.
Since Chapter 1 of
the report presents not only the methodology, but also the key
findings of the report, another level on which this section must be
critically examined is the language or discourse.
Borrowing some ideas from Critical Discourse Analysis
(another analytical tool used in fields such as linguistics, mass
communications, media studies) will help here.
Discourse analysis is a tool for studying communication
within socio-cultural contexts.
The writer expresses ideological content in texts and so does
the linguistic form of the text.
The language used in
Chapter 1 of Sabrang/FOIL report appears biased, sensational, and
full of generalizations, thus making the report appear as an
ideological-discursive structure, which first and foremost expresses
the values of an ideological system and of a specific discourse
authority (in this case of the organizations responsible for
collating and funding this report).
While Chapter 1 presents just a summary of the report’s
findings, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that most people
after reading this ‘sensationalizing’ summary would make their
minds without having any need to read further.
Section 1.4 titled,
“Summary of Findings” starts with the sentence: “The purpose
of this report is to DOCUMENT the links between IDRF and certain
violent and sectarian… .” Is this an admission on the part of
the writers that their purpose is to DOCUMENT rather than to FIND if
any such links exist? Is
the starting assumption of these writers that such links exist?
If that is the case and if the link has already been
pre-established (at least in the minds and ideologies of the writers
of this report), why use the misleading word “Findings” in the
title of this section? It
appears that the ‘researchers’ at Sabrang Communications and The
South Asia Citizens Web already had their conclusions before they
even started their ‘research.
’ And their purpose was merely to DOCUMENT their
pre-established conclusion. Perhaps
a case of accusing IDRF even before “findings” have said so…
contends, “Rhetoric intent,. . . . coherence, and the world view
that author and receptor bring to the text are essential” in
critically examining a text. Van
Dijk[v] argues that the exercise of power in modern,
democratic societies is no longer primarily coercive, but
persuasive, that is, ideological.
The obvious negative tone of Sabrang writers, as evident in
their references to organizations that are engaged in consolidating
Hindu identity, in teaching Hindu mythology in non-public schools,
and in working in tribal areas suggests the ideological bent of the
example of writers’ rhetoric intent is obvious in section 1.4,
where the writers depict the Hindutva movement as a “violent
sectarian movement…similar to the Nazi idea of a pure Aryan
A quick look at the
rest of this report suggests that the authors continue to use
phrases, statements, and expressions that are at best mere rhetoric
or assumptions, rather than ‘scientific’ arguments.
After all none of us have THE COMPLETE TRUTH about things,
including the ones who wrote this “funding of hate” report.
But after reading just the first few pages of this report,
the one-sided, partial, and biased nature of the ‘truth’ becomes
so obvious, that even a statement such as ‘the authors had any
hidden agenda’ becomes meaningless.
The agenda is not hidden at all—in my view, anyone or any
text that seems to suggest that they have THE COMPLETE TRUTH on
their side must be challenged.
If the groundwork for
a report that ‘looks’ as comprehensive as the one prepared by
Sabrang and FOIL (Forum of Indian Leftists) is so quick and dirty,
can any reasonable reader find the conclusions reliable?
We let the readers decide.
[i]Dellinger, B., Critical
Discourse Analysis, (1995).
Available online at http://users.utu.fi/bredelli/cda.html
Foreign Exchange of Hate: “IDRF and the American Funding of
Communications Private Limited, Mumbai, India, and The South Asia
Citizens Web, France. http://www.sabrang.com/hnfund/sacw
K., Content Analysis: An
Introduction to Its Methodology,
Newbury Park, CA: Sage, (1980).
Essay: On Applied Linguistics and Discourse Analysis”, in R.
Kaplan (Ed.), Annual Review
of Applied Linguistics, Vol.
T., “Racism and the Press”, in Robert Miles (Ed.), Critical
Studies in Racism and Migration, New York: Routledge., (1991).