Asha for Education

Asha for education claims to be “a secular organization dedicated to change in India by focusing on basic education in the belief that education is a critical requisite for socio-economic change.”[1]  On surface, Asha’s activities seem to mainly focus on providing basic education to underprivileged kids in India.  Such mission resonates very well with the Indian American and Hindu communities because of their natural inclination to support the downtrodden in India and to help shape a brighter future for India.  Even non-Indian American donors are attracted to Asha’s cause and contribute in many ways.  In fact, Asha is very famous for holding various fundraisers, awareness events, etc. to highlight the needs of destitute children in India.  One would expect that such a noble purposed organization stays away from political issues and issues not related to education of kids in India.  One of Asha’s press releases states that the organization “does not have any political or religious affiliations, neither does it endorse or support any political or religious activities.”[2]  However, the information presented below challenges such claims and casts a shadow of doubt on Asha’s intentions and outward image.

Asha was co-founded by Sandeep Pandey, then a student at University of California at Berkeley.[3]  Pandey has been in serious controversy surrounding his political and ideological ties.  In 2002, Pandey was one of the key speakers at the seventh Party Congress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).  The theme of the event was ‘Red Resistance to Saffron Subversion’.  During the event, “Sandip (sic) Pandey stressed the need of unity of revolutionary communist [organizations] like CPI (ML) and social movements to take on fascist danger.”[4]  Characterizing the US led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as “the greatest threat to world [peace]”, a draft of the conference report concluded that “[using] the horrific events of September 11 in New York as an excuse to pursue its long-planned imperialist agenda the United States has been waging nothing short of a terrorist war on a global scale.”[5]  “The report stressed a 12-point democratic [program] to intensify worker-peasant struggles, strengthen the militant mobilisation (sic) [emphasis added] of the rural poor and sharpen anti-fascist anti-imperialist resistance of the Indian people.”[6]  CPI (ML) is notorious for use of violent ideology to achieve its means.  CPI (ML) advocated armed revolution and denounced participation in the electoral process.[7]  CPI (ML) saw Naxalbari [the Naxalite terrorist uprising] as the spark that would start a new Indian revolution, and the movement came to be known as ‘naxalites’.[8]  The party got moral support from China, which actively encouraged the attempts of CPI (ML) to launch revolution.[9]  Therefore, the call for ‘militant mobilization’ of the poor is no surprise.

Indeed, in the same 2002 event of CPI (ML), the party honored “the kin of 1000 Naxalites known as ‘comrade martyrs’, from Bihar who have been killed over the last three decades of the peasant struggle.”[10]  Several prominent social activists such as Mahashweta Devi, Arundhati Roy, Sandeep Pandey, Rajinder Sachar, Praful Bidwai, and Anand Patwardhan attended the opening session of the congress.[11]

Pandey finds Pakistan to be more open to dialogue on Kashmir and accusing India of cross-border terrorism.  In 2004, Pandey, in an interview with the Milli Gazette, a leading Indian Muslim newspaper, called Pervez Musharraf, the former Military General/President of Pakistan “more forthcoming”[12] and that India was “evading that question by asking Pakistan to first stop cross-border terrorism.”[13]  He further stressed that “terrorism happens from both sides.”[14]  Similarly, speaking on nuclear disarmament, Pandey found the Pakistani government to be “more accessible and open to dialogue than Indian government”.[15]

Asha came out with a press release to clarify the stances taking by Pandey and claimed that “some of his statements have been quoted out of context, resulting in many inquiries to Asha for Education for clarification.”[16]  However, the above statements are verbatim from interviews and conference reports and are not taken out of context or misused.

On May 22, 2004, Asha’s Stanford chapter invited Balaji Sampath, a key member of AID that was discussed earlier, and Kalpana Karunakaran, another AID member, to give a talk on their work with AID-India.  The event summary read as follows: “Balaji is an AID JeevanSathi [i.e. life time companion/member]. He has been working with AID-India since 1997 and before that was part of AID-USA. Both Balaji and Kalpana have also been working with the Tamil Nadu Science Forum. They will share their stories and experiences”.[17]  Interestingly, it seems that either Asha neglected to check the political and ideological views of Sampath and AID or that it knowingly went ahead and invited Sampath.

On June 13, 2001, Asha’s Stanford Chapter hosted a talk with Sandeep Pandey, titled Talk with Asha founder Sandeep Pandey.[18]

Asha, in association with FOSA and AID, organized an even called Neoliberal Destructions A Talk by P. Sainath and Alexander Cockburn.  Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the twice-monthly muckraking newsletter CounterPunch[19].  Cockburn is a prominent radical left-wing journalist and writer and his CounterPunch has featured numerous articles by Vijay Prashad of FOIL.  Furthermore, Cockburn, in the past, openly gave credence to reports that Jews spread anthrax in the U.S. and that Israel was part of a conspiracy to topple the World Trade Center.[20]  “Cockburn’s website ran a piece by Shahid Alam, a tenured professor of economics at Northeastern University in Boston, titled ‘Poverty From the Wealth of Nations.’ Alam argued that the 9/11 attacks were an Islamist insurgency, the attackers believing that they are fighting – as the American revolutionaries did in the 1770’s – or their freedom and dignity against foreign control of their lands”.[21]

In 1998, Chingari, a group associated with and endorsed by FOIL[22], organized the Eye on India Series.  Some topics of the seminar included Elections ’98: Evolving Faces of the Indian Democracy; Kashmir: A Dialog; Religion, Caste and Power, etc.[23]  Biju Mathew of FOIL was the key speaker of the session on Religion, Caste and Power. [24]  Vidhi Parthasarathy one of the coordinators of Asha-Madison, expressed great excitement about the event and “[offered Asha’s help] to provide volunteer support as well as [their] help in networking with other local /non-local interest groups on this event.”[25]

In 2002, members of Asha-DC joined FOIL and AID and organized a rally against Gujarat Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  FOIL, in its monthly mouthpiece Ghadar, describes the formation of a coalition between Asha, FOIL, AID and other organizations to work on various issues, as follows:

The success of the rally has prompted the establishing of a DC collective to deal with issues of concern in South Asia. We have held three meetings, with the objective of creating a loose and broad-based coalition of groups such as FOIL, AID, AAA (Aligarh Alumni Association), Association of Indian Muslims of America, ASHA for Education, and concerned individuals. The aim is to support each other’s activities in the DC area, as well as to work on a few specific combined activities such as fund-raising for Gujarat victims and tracking civil liberties violations. The network of groups and individuals will cross-publicize efforts on themes such as fundamentalism, liberalization, and nuclearization in South Asia.[26] [Emphasis Added]

The above paragraph clearly demonstrates Asha’s partnership with Islamic organizations and communist/leftist organizations on non-education related issues.

Kaleem Kawaja of Association of Indian Muslims of America was in the news for his now famous article called Brother, can you spare a tear for Taliban (The Milli Gazette, Vol.3, No. 5).  In the article, written after the US defeated the Taliban regime of Afghanistan in 2001, Kawaja is generally sympathetic towards and sorry for the Taliban.  He describes the defeat of the Taliban as an end to “another bold attempt of Muslims to assert themselves and the Islamic values in their own country.”[27]  Painting western countries as enemies of Muslims, Kawaja laments that “[it] was fool-hardy naivette that made [the Taliban] ignore the many plans of the enemies of Muslims who were looking for an opportunity to exploit any loophole to ransack the global Muslim community, especially the recent remarkable growth of Muslim communities in Western countries.”[28]  Similarly, Kawaja again paints Western countries like the US as enemies of the Muslim community and concludes that “[even] at the last minute [the Taliban] had an opportunity to take actions that could have averted the punitive confrontation that Western countries were trying to impose on the global Muslim community.”[29]  Speaking on a panel discussion on Indian Muslims in Washington, Kawaja exaggerated the ‘large scale violence’ against Muslims and the “the connivance of the government machinery with the Hindu fanatic marauders, in the last fifty years”[30]  During the panel discussion, Kawaja appealed to the Muslims in America “to urge their senators & congressmen to pay attention to the 50 year long, continued oppression of Muslims in India.”[31]  So, throughout India’s independence, Muslims have just been oppressed and killed by the government which has been run by Hindu fanatics for the last fifty years!

During the same period, on July 21, 2002 Asha organized A Community Meeting on the Situation in Gujarat & Communal Harmony in India with Shabnam Hashmi of ‘Sahmat’,[32] with the organizations mentioned above.  While this was supposed to be a community meeting, it was inevitably a Hindu and Gujarati bashing event with no mainstream Indian, Hindu or Gujarati organization present to offer its opinions on the horrible events of Gujarat.  SAHMAT stands for Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust and is closely connected to the Communist Party of India (Marxist).  The January 2006 article in People’s Democracy, the official mouthpiece of CPI(M) offers a ‘Red Salute’ to ‘Comrade Safdar Hashmi’ and talks about how the first day of the year is observed by numerous theatre groups as a day of paying homage to Safdar Hashmi, street theatre activist and communist.[33]  The paper goes further and mentions that after the play, Brinda Karat, Polit Bureau Member of the CPI(M), who was the main speaker, praised Hashmi and his ideals.[34]  Vijay Prashad, the co-founder of FOIL, provides further insights into Hashmi’s ideological leanings.  In his article, Safdar Hashmi Amar Rahe (Long Live Safdar Hashmi)! Communist Cultural Activism in India, Prashad considers Hashmi as “the embodiment of those communist values which shaped his craft — that of cultural activist and street theatre artist”.[35]  “Although [Hashmi] wrote books for children and criticism of the Indian stage, he will be remembered best for his work with Jan Natya Manch (People’s Theatre Front) which was formed in 1973 as an outgrowth of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and which became closely linked to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPM] during the 1970s.”[36]  Prashad even adds that “Safdar’s death led to the formation of the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) which attempts to further progressive [read Communist/Marxist] values.”[37]  Thus, Hashmi’s and SAHMAT’s Communist values and beliefs are brought to light in these eulogizing articles.  A 2002 article in Outlook India magazine also mentions that SAHMAT was founded with the blessings of the CPI (M) and that Shabnam Hashmi was a member of the CPI (M)[38]. Similarly, a 2002 online article in the newspaper The Hindu pointed out that Hashmi’s SAHMAT and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) shared the same offices in New Delhi and were evicted by the Directorate of Estates under the Union Ministry of Urban Development.[39]

It is also important to know that Shabnam Hashmi also helped with the highly inaccurate libelous and out of context reports that attempted to destroy the Hindu youth group Hindu Students Council in the US.[40]

In 2004, Asha for Education’s Bay Area Chapters co-sponsored a talk by Dr. Mallika Sarabhai on Communal Harmony and the Role of Civil Society.  The event’s discussion inevitably focused on the 2002 Gujarat riots and the role of Hindus.  However, Sarabhai has been remarkably silent or has paid lip service just like other “progressives” on other major riots and human rights issues in India. Furthermore, the list of co-sponsors included Association for India’s Development-Bay Area Chapter (AID), Coalition Against Communalism (CAC), India Literacy Project (ILP), Indian Muslim Council (IMC-USA) and Indians for Collective Action (ICA).[41]  The report has already discussed the close associations of FOIL, FOSA, EKTA and CAC.  Similarly, Indian Muslim Council works closely with FOIL and its sister organizations and has hosted various FOIL members as “experts on India and Hinduism” at its events.  More information about IMC and its connections with FOIL is provided further in the report.

Asha and the Naxal Terrorist Connections – Sympathizing and Funding?

The Newsletter of Asha Cornell, Compassion, highlights some of the other non-education related activities that Asha engages in:

On the social issues initiative, we hosted a screening of the movie Hazaar Chaurasi ki Ma, highlight-ing (sic) the issue of the Naxalite movement in India. This event was attended by Asha members and others interested in the matter presented. On a slightly larger scale, we participated in an Asha-wide initiative by setting up a photo exhibition to raise awareness about the Naxalite crisis and violations of human rights currently occurring in Chattisgarh as a result of the actions of both Naxalites and the state-supported Salwa Judum. Earlier in 2009, we hosted a screening of the movie ‘Resilient Rhythms – A Dalit Story’ and a discussion on the Caste System in India – Past and Present. In Fall 2009, Sandeep Pandey, one of the founders of Asha who is now a grassroots level social activist in India, paid us a visit. In an open, informal discussion he shared with us his experiences, giving us an insight into some of the challenges and success stories of his work in India.[42]

In fact, the newsletter has two articles talking about the Naxalite situation and the Chattisgarh government’s response.  One (on Page 15), compared the Naxalite situation in Chattisgarh to the fictitious Navi people show in the Hollywood movie Avatar.  Rajendra Narayanan, the author of the article asserts that “[launching] the ‘Operation Greenhunt’ and calling Naxalites the gravest security threat just reeks of the government-corporate nexus to further their neo-liberal agenda as opposed to addressing more fundamental development concerns.”[43]  Thus, government action against a raging national security threat is reduced to a ‘neo-liberal agenda’.  This statement sounds drastically similar to statements made by FOIL and other fellow Communists/Marxists.

It is unclear how sympathy for and politics around the terrorist Naxalites equate to providing for education in India or how Asha still claims that it doesn’t associate with any political ideology.

On July 11, 2007, CNN-IBN ran an article titled Special Investigation: Naxals take hawala route to terror, which describes how the terrorist Naxals in the Indian state of Bihar use the informal money transfer system called Hawala to finance their activities under the radar.  According to the article, “Dwarko Sundrani, who runs an NGO, Samanvaya Ashram in Bodhgaya admitted to the [links between NGOs and Naxals]:  Naxals often approach us for money, but we provide them food, clothing and shelter as we believe in the concept of hriday parivartan (change of heart). They wanted me to build tube-wells in their village. We got it done.”[44]  Thus, such NGOs openly fund projects for Naxals and support them with food and other basic needs.

Asha’s website describes a total of $6500 sent from Stanford University ($2000), North Carolina State University ($1500) and University of Berkeley ($3000).[45]  Do Asha’s donors know that this money was sent to an NGO that is involved with Naxal terrorists?

The above examples provide evidence against Asha’s claims as a non-political organization that focuses on education of underprivileged children in India.  The speakers that Asha tends to invite are undoubtedly associated with Communist/Marxist or Islamic ideology and politics that has often endorsed violence as a means of resistance.  Similarly, the speakers are themselves biased in their views of Hindus. It claims that the views of one man (i.e. Sandeep Pandey) do not influence Asha’s work or the organization’s overall ideology.  However, why does Asha insist on inviting him to its event to talk about his experience and new projects that he is working on?[46]  When one person, who is also the founder of the organization, is revered so much, his ideals and his views are bound to impact the work of the organization.  Is Asha ready to dissociate with people such as Pandey and Sampath?  Is Asha ready to stop associating with AID, FOIL, FOSA and others?  Are its American donors aware Asha’s overtly political and dubious affiliations?


[3] “Sandeep Pandey: Profile of an Activist”, http://www.ashanet.org/pandey/profile-sandeep.html, accessed July 13, 2011

[4] “Seventh Party Congress Pledges to Intensify Red Resistance to Saffron Subversion”, http://www.cpiml.org/liberation/year_2003/january/feature.htm, accessed July 13, 2011

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.[4]

[7] See the entry on Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), in Wikipedia, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communist_Party_of_India_%28Marxist%E2%80%93Leninist%29, accessed July 13, 2011

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.[7]

[10] Anand Mohan Sahay, “CPI-ML faction to honour kin of 1000 Naxalites”, November 15, 2002,  http://www.rediff.com/news/2002/nov/15naxal.htm, accessed on July 13, 2002

[11] Ibid.

[12] “INTERVIEW: Sandeep Pandey: Kashmir is for Kashmiris only”, January 2004, The Milli Gazette, Vol. 5, No.2.  Page 3, archived at http://www.geocities.com/aid_india_info/doc18.pdf, accessed on July 13, 2011

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.[12]

[15] Ibid.[12]

[16] Ibid.[12]

[17] See the event listing titled “Talk with Balaji Sampath and Kalpana Karunakaran”, http://www.ashanet.org/stanford/events/talks.html, accessed July 13, 2011

[18] See the event listed titled “Talk with Asha founder Sandeep Pandey”, http://www.ashanet.org/stanford/events/talks.html, accessed July 13, 2011

[19] See the event listing at http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/events/sainath/, accessed July 13, 2011

[20] Steven Plaut, “Cockburn’s Cockroaches”, February 16, 2005, http://www.www.jewishpress.com/printArticle.cfm?contentid=17360, accessed July 15, 2011

[21] Ibid.

[22] Chingari is listed as one among other leftist/communist organizations in Ghadar, FOIL’s Newsletter http://ghadar.insaf.net/links.htm, accessed July 15, 2011

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.[23]

[26] Ashwini Tambe and Aparna Devare, “Organizing against Extremism: Finding an Idiom”, Ghadar: a publication of the forum of indian leftists, Vol. 5, No.2, July 21, 2002, http://www.proxsa.org/resources/ghadar/v5n2/organizing.html, accessed July 15, 2011

[27] Kaleem Kawaja, “Brother can you spare a tear for Taliban”, The Milli Gazette, Vol. 3, No.5,  http://www.milligazette.com/Archives/01032002/0103200254.htm, accessed on July 13, 2011

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.[27]

[30] Kaleem Kawaja, “Panel discussion on Indian Muslims in Washington”, http://www.milligazette.com/Archives/15072002/1507200233.htm,  accessed July 14, 2011

[31] Ibid.

[32] See reference to the event at http://www.onlinevolunteers.org/gujarat/events/hashmi_event.htm, accessed on July 14, 2011

[33] Sudhanva Deshpande, “Saluting The Memory Of Comrade Safdar Hashmi”.  People’s Democracy, Vol. XXX, No. 02, January 2006, http://pd.cpim.org/2006/0108/01082005_janam.htm, accessed July 14, 2011.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Vijay Prashad, “Safdar Hashmi Amar Rahe (Long Live Safdar Hashmi)! Communist Cultural Activism in India”, http://www.proxsa.org/culture/safdar.html, accessed July 14, 2011

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.[35]

[38] “Straying From The Cause”, Outlook India online edition, Jan 01, 1997, http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?202765, accessed July 14, 2011

[39] Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar, “CPI (M), SAHMAT left homeless”. The Hindu, online edition, February 6, 2002, http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/2002/02/06/stories/2002020606000100.htm,  accessed July 14, 2011

[40] See event announcement titled “The Uses and Misuses of Religion: Lessons from 20 years of Anti-Communal Activism” by Shabnam Hashmi, March 7, 2008,  http://southasiaalliance.org/index.cfm?sectionID=4,  accessed June 28th 2011

[41] See event announcement at http://www.ashanet.org/stanford/events/talks.html, accessed July 14, 2011

[42] Compassion, Volume 6, Spring 2010, Page 6, http://www.ashanet.org/cornell/newsite/Newsletters/newsletter_10.pdf, accessed July 21, 2011

[43] Ibid., page 17

[44] Anita Sinha, “Special Investigation: Naxals take hawala route to terror”, IBN Live online edition,  July 11, 2007,  http://ibnlive.in.com/news/naxals-take-the-hawala-route-to-terror/44598-3.html, accessed July 21, 2011

[45] See Project Details at http://www.ashanet.org/projects/project-view.php?p=157, accessed July 21, 2011

[46] Ibid.

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