A Factual Response to the Hate Attack on the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF)
 © Friends of India and Authors of the Report
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Attack on IDRF:  Little Method to Their Madness

Publication: Sulekha.com

Date: December 11, 2002

URL: http://www.sulekha.com/column.asp?cid=274949

“The 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 author’s.”[i]

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. 

Given the ‘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 serious inquiry. 

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 was performed? 

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 texts.  Researchers 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. 

Content analysis, 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 analysis? 

According to Krippendorff[iii], six questions must be addressed in every content analysis:

1) Which data are analyzed? 

2) How are they defined? 

3) What is the population from which they are drawn? 

4) What is the context relative to which the data are analyzed? 

5) What are the boundaries of the analysis? 

6) 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. 

Some basic assumptions about the context can be made:

1.     Rise of BJP on the Indian national political scene. 

2.     Increasing solidarity among Hindus in USA to promote Hindu causes in India and abroad. 

3.     Greater visibility of Hindus in the American social, economic, cultural, academic, and political arenas. 

4.     Growing awareness among Hindus in India and elsewhere about the    consistent 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. 

5.     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:

“Hindutva, 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 presented? 

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 Validity. 

Reliability—This may be understood in the following terms:

· Stability, or intra-rater reliability.  Can the same coder get the same results try after try? 

· Reproducibility, 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 unreliable. 

Validity—It is 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 triangulation.  Triangulation 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 spent. 

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 “findings.” 

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…

Kaplan[iv] 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 writers.  Another 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 Germany.”

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

[ii]The Foreign Exchange of Hate: “IDRF and the American Funding of Hindutva”.  Sabrang Communications Private Limited, Mumbai, India, and The South Asia Citizens Web, France.  http://www.sabrang.com/hnfund/sacw

[iii]Krippendorff, K., Content Analysis: An Introduction to Its Methodology,  Newbury Park, CA: Sage, (1980). 

[iv]Kaplan, R.  (1990).  “Concluding Essay: On Applied Linguistics and Discourse Analysis”, in R. Kaplan (Ed.), Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, Vol.  II. 

[v]Van Dijk, T., “Racism and the Press”, in Robert Miles (Ed.), Critical Studies in Racism and Migration, New York: Routledge., (1991). 


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