Friends of South Asia (FOSA)

FOSA was one the masterminds behind the successful campaign in support of negative and factually inaccurate portrayals of Hinduism in California textbooks.  Unfortunately, the organization’s name is ironic.  It focuses on delegitimizing the Indian state while ‘also blaming’ the Pakistani government.  The criticism of Pakistan is much milder in comparison to that awarded to India.  In 2001, one of FOSA’s founders and the main organizer, Ali Hasan Cemendtaur, who is also listed as the registrant for the group’s website, wrote an article titled What India Must Do, If Peaceful, rebuking the Indian government for creating war hysteria.  Arguing for the separation of Kashmir from India, Cemendtaur completely focuses on the Indian side of Kashmir while conveniently forgetting about Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.  He ‘advises’ India to prove herself clean by and a peaceful country by doing the following:

To show the world her clean hands India should enact the UN resolution of 1948 and hold a plebiscite in Kashmir. The result of that plebiscite would prove that people of Kashmir love India and the so-called Kashmiri separation movement is in fact a creation of Pakistan. This in turn would expose the ‘terrorist’ nature of Pakistan to the world. And that would really ‘teach Pakistan a lesson.’[1]

Notice that the argument of plebiscite only applies to the Indian side and not Pakistani side according to Cemendtaur.  Similarly, the four wars fought by India and Pakistan were all initiated by Pakistan.  Cemendtaur also blames the Indians for Pakistan’s unwillingness or inability to crack down on terrorist organizations.  According to Cemendtaur, “the bellicose attitude of the Indian leadership is making it harder for Pakistan to crack down on the organizations suspected of terrorism.”[2]

Cemendtaur is supportive of the creation of Pakistan and sympathizes with the leaders, saying: “I understand that the leaders of the Muslim League didn’t want to see the rights of the Muslims trampled in a unified South Asia under the guise of democracy”.[3]  So, the rights of Muslims are ok to fight for, while the rights of Hindus don’t seem to matter as much.

Akhila Raman is another prominent member of FOSA and FOIL.  Raman also supports the breakaway of Kashmir from India and is silent on the same from Pakistan or from China.

In 2007, Raman wrote an article titled Kashmir: Terrorism or Freedom Movement? , deeming Kashmir terrorism as a “…genuine freedom struggle going on against the repressive Indian State by the Kashmiris…”[4] The entire article is a blame game against the ‘cruel Indian army’ and the Indian government’s ‘betrayal of the Kashmiri people’.  No discussion is accorded to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or the piece of Kashmir in possession of China.

Activities of FOSA – Promoting ISI Agents, Among Other Things

An organization’s views and positions are showcased by the events it holds, the speakers it invites, the positions it takes, etc.  This section provides an overview of these as it applies to FOSA.  Many events organized by FOSA are routine India-bashing and Hindu-bashing events.

In 2003, FOSA, along with Angana Chatterji, organized a discussion on Kashmir at University of Berkeley.  One of the main speakers of the event was Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai from the Kashmiri American Council.[5]  On Tuesday, July 19, 2011, the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the US arrested Fai on charges of being an agent of the Pakistani spy agency the ISI.  Neil MacBride, the US Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, in filing the charges, accused Fai of a ‘decades-long scheme with one purpose — to hide Pakistan’s involvement behind his efforts to influence the U.S. government’s position on Kashmir.’[6]  MacBride also maintained that ‘[his] handlers in Pakistan allegedly funneled millions through the Kashmir Center to contribute to U.S. elected officials, fund high-profile conferences and pay for other efforts that promoted the Kashmiri cause to decision-makers in Washington.”[7]  Similarly, the FBI stated that group’s objective was “to persuade the United States government that it was in its interest to push India to allow a vote in Kashmir to decide its future”.[8]

Furthermore, one Kashmiri forum accused Akhila Raman and Angana Chatterji of holding a highly biased session on Kashmir.  Some prominent Kashmiri activists, including those whose families have suffered as a result of ongoing terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir State of India, were kept away and not allowed to participate in a significant manner; after protesting, one person was given only two minutes while the other was given twenty seconds.[9] Akhila Raman was accused of a definite tilt and misstatements in her slide show at the Forum[10]. Her theory that Maharaja Hari Singh was a brutal ruler and the Muslims were subjected to atrocities was vehemently challenged.[11]

On Jan 24, 2004, FOSA organized an event titled Secularism & Democracy in India: The Challenges Ahead[12].  The key speakers included Asghar Ali Engineer and Angana Chatterji and was co-sponsored by Coalition Against Communalism (CAC), South Asian Progressive Action Collective (SAPAC), Non-Resident Indians for a Secular and Harmonious India (NRI-SAHI), Indian Muslim Council (IMC) and Indian Muslim Relief Committee (IMRC).  Interestingly, no mainstream Hindu or Indian organizations were invited to or cosponsored this ‘Interactive Discussion’.  The report already discussed Chatterji’s positions and ideological leanings.  And, one can see the event was co-sponsored by FOIL’s affiliates including FOSA.  The activities and views of Indian Muslim Council (now known as Indian American Muslim Council) and others are discussed further in this section of the report.

In 2002, FOSA organized several India-Pakistan Peace Vigils in attempt to raise ‘awareness’ about the dangers of a nuclear war between the two countries.  The events featured Ashish Chaddha[13], Shalini Gera[14].  Gera and Chaddha are members of FOIL.[15]  Gera is the main organizer of Coalition Against Communalism, an affiliate of FOIL and FOSA and wrote an article in Tehelka magazine blasting the efforts of Hindus groups to get a fair portrayal of Hinduism in California textbooks.[16]  She is also a spokesperson for CSFH, along with Angana Chatterji, and Ali Mir Raza.[17]

On August 2010, FOSA invited Harsh Dobhal for a discussion on Human Rights in India[18].  According to the announcement, Harsh Dobhal is the [Managing Editor] of Combat Law (www.combatlaw.org), a bi-monthly journal from India that serves as the voice of lawyers and social activists who form the cutting edge of legal activism in India[19]Combat Law is a Maoist/Communist leaning publication that agrees with the philosophy of the violent and terrorist Naxal movement in India.  In the 2006 edition, Colin Gonsalves, one the editors and founders of Combat Law is sympathetic to the Naxalites and states the following: “Today, the Naxalites do, by use of force, what the State legislature and judiciary ought to be doing by taking recourse to the Constitution of India.”[20]  Gonsalves states further:

Naxalism then is the natural outcome of the globalisation process, which isolates, impoverishes and marginalises the majority of the working people and pushes them inexorably towards rebellion. The very nature of capitalism and the imperatives of globalisation create militants such as the Naxalites who see force as the only way to defend the right to life.[21]

The Maoists, with the help of Pakistani InterServices Intelligence (ISI), have been attempting to establish links with Naxalite groups such as the PWG [People’s War Group] and the MCC [Maoist Communist Centre] by using the Siliguri corridor in West Bengal.[22]  Such lethal partnership is seriously undermining the internal security of India. Gonsalves, in his article, hails the Maoist overthrow of the Nepalese government and suggests that India should learn from Nepal.[23]

Combat Law addresses the Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda as “Comrade”[24], a popular Communist salutation.  Prachanda became the Nepalese Prime Minister in 2008, after leading an underground militant communist movement for more than two decades.  What the Maoists called their ‘people’s war’ had left 13,000 people dead, tens of thousands displaced and much of the country’s infrastructure destroyed.[25]

Dobhal is also the Secretariat of the Independent People’s Tribunal (IPT) and in 2010 published a report titled Report of Independent People’s Tribunal on Human Rights Violations in Kashmir.  The report blasted the Indian government for ‘ongoing human rights violations’ against people of Jammu and Kashmir.  According to the report, “[the] tribunal witnessed testimonies from all sections of Kashmiri [emphasis original] society, including victims, their family members, social activists, journalists and academicians”.[26]  However, a manner that is routine amongst FOIL and its affiliates, the IPT only blasts Indian security forces.  One would expect Dobhal and others, who are key organizers of the Tribunal and Human Rights Law Network[27], to discuss the security situation in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or the situation of Sikhs and Hindus in the Kashmir Valley.  However, that is completely absent from their analysis and reports.

The Human Rights Law Network follows a similar approach in exposing the ‘violent abuses of minorities’ by Hindus and the Indian State as the various Church supported Dalit and Leftist/Communist organizations discussed throughout the report.  In fact, some of the donors and partners of the Human Rights Law Network include Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst (EED), Christian Aid, Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action, Dan Church Aid, etc. along with several European government agencies.[28]

FOSA organized the South Asian Human Rights Film Festival on the 61st Anniversary of Indian and Pakistani Independence[29].  It scheduled a series of film screenings related to ‘human rights abuse’ in South Asia.  Not surprisingly, one of the key speakers was Harsh Mander, who rose to fame following the 2002 Gujarat riots where Hindus and Muslims were killed.  However, Mander is solely focused on highlighting the atrocities against Muslims while ignoring the human rights of the 58 Hindus, including women and children that were burnt alive by a Muslim mob.  FOSA, FOIL and others like Mander easily dismiss these Hindus, including children, as ‘Fascists’ and therefore seem to imply that their lives are not important somehow in comparison to those of Muslim men, women and children.  One begs to ask how little children turn into “Fascists” automatically and can thus be sidelined.  In any case, Krishen Kak, a retired Indian Administrative Services officer, filed a complaint against Mander in 2003 with the Press Council of India for Mander’s highly irresponsible and rumor filled article Hindustan Hamara (Times of India, March 2002).  The Council’s Inquiry Committee, noted:

The article at several points reiterated rumours (sic) that were being circulated at the relevant time. The truthfulness of the facts mentioned therein had not been established at any point of time till then but Shri Mander had chosen to base his views and sentiments on them, and put pen to the opinion thus formed by him…it was expected of the author as a responsible serving officer as well as of the respondent paper of repute like The Times of India to be more restrained and circumspect in pronouncing a denouement of the whole system in a communally surcharged atmosphere.[30]

Thus, Mander’s penchant for pumping up the facts was acknowledged by an independent body.  Sadly, major media outlets like Times of India carried Mander’s article without regard to journalistic objectivity.

In 2007, FOSA, Pakistanis at Stanford, Center for South Asia (Stanford), and Sanskriti co-sponsored an event called The Kashmir Issue 60 Years Later: Rethinking The Kashmir Conflict A conversation with Beena Sarwar and Huma Dar[31].  While the Pakistani perspective was clearly represented, no mainstream or campus Indian organization was invited to represent the Indian side of the story.  In addition, Sarwar is a famous Pakistani journalist while Dar is a PhD Candidate in South Asian Studies at UC-Berkeley[32].  In 2008, Dar, along with Angana Chatterji and others, wrote a letter to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, highlighting the ‘Humanitarian Crisis in Jammu and Kashmir’ and blasted the Indian government for alleged human rights violations.  The letter’s pro-Kashmir Independence stance is highlighted when Chatterji, Dar and others cover up Kashmir terrorism as a “pro-independence struggle in Kashmir”[33] while deeming Indian counterinsurgency operations as “grave abuses of human rights with social, economic, psychological, political, and environmental consequences”[34].  Other signatories of the letter include Amitava Kumar, a key member of FOIL[35], Sunaina Maira who used to coordinate youth activities of FOIL[36], Snehal Singhavi and many others.

In a 2002 interview on Hardball with Chris Matthews, Singhavi was exposed for setting a biased agenda for his course called The Politics and Poetry of Palestinian Resistance.  The course description stated that it “takes as its starting point the right of Palestinians to fight for their own self-determination. Conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections”,[37] thus, discouraging diverse opinions on the Palestinian conflict.  In calling out Singhavi, Matthews mentions that “[in] a public university, [Singhavi is] accepting students on the basis of their political point of view and rejecting others.”[38] Civil rights and free speech advocates reacted strongly, calling [Singhavi’s] statements ‘chilling’, and saying that such restrictions do not belong in a university, especially one supported by public funds.[39]

FOSA organized a panel discussion titled SELF DETERMINATION IN SOUTH ASIA: South Asia’s Struggle against US-led Imperialism featuring Vijay Prashad, Angana Chatterji, Abdul Nayyar, and Snehal Shingavi[40].  The political and ideological agenda of this meeting is blatantly clear not only from the lineup of speakers but also by the discussion’s focus.   According to the event announcement, the panelist discussed:

The people’s struggle against pro-imperialist Indian elites; the implications of the latest nuclear arms trade agreement between India and the US on the people of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the rest of South Asia, especially women; the role of South Asia in US imperialist ambitions; the other opportunities this presents to build Indian communism and fight the agenda of the global ruling class[41].

Thus, Indians are labeled as pro-imperialists serving their US masters and the Kashmiri, Maoist and Naxal terrorist activities are labeled as ‘the people’s struggles’.  Similarly, according to the discussion, one is led to believe that the ‘imperialist oppression’ of India and US presents an excellent opportunity for Communism to ‘save the people’ from their horrors.

Thus, one can easily see FOSA’s pro-separatist leanings via sponsorship of such events and speakers.

FOSA also hosted FOIL co-founder Biju Mathew at Stanford in A Conversation with BIJU MATHEW.  Mathew was hailed as a “Labor Organizer, Anti-War Activist and author of Taxi! Cabs and Capitalism in New York City”[42] but there is no mention of the fact that Mathew is a the co-founder of FOIL.


[1] A.H. Cemendtaur, “What India Must Do, If Peaceful”, updated on December 31, 2001, http://www.paklinks.com/gs/pakistan-affairs/22863-an-indian-says-what-india-must-do-if-peaceful.html, accessed July 21, 2011

[2] Ibid.

[3] A.H. Cemendtaur, “A South Asian History (1947-2047), http://www.boloji.com/index.cfm?md=Content&sd=Articles&ArticleID=3629, accessed July 21, 2011

[4] Akhila Raman, “Kashmir: Terrorism Or Freedom Movement?”, March 22, 2007, http://www.countercurrents.org/kashmir-raman220307.htm, accessed July 21, 2011

[5] People for Peace in Kashmir, “A Progressive Discussion Forum On Kashmir”, http://www.countercurrents.org/kashmir-raman280803.htm,  accessed July 20, 2011

[6] Charles Savage and Eric Schmitt, “Pakistan’s Military Plotted to Tilt U.S. Policy, F.B.I. Says”, The New York Times, online edition, July 19, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/20/us/politics/20agent.html, accessed July 20, 2011

[7] Savage and Schmitt, Ibid.

[8] Savage and Schmitt,[6]

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.[9]

[12] See event announcement at http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/events/, accessed July 21, 2011

[13] Hina Wyne, “GLOBAL VIGILS FOR PEACE BETWEEN INDIA AND PAKISTAN CONTINUE IN BAY AREA”, April 27, 2002,  http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/press/releases/042702.htm, accessed July 21, 2011

[14] Ibid.

[15]Anivar Aravind, “FOIL Letter to CPI(M)”, December 6, 2006, http://www.mail-archive.com/greenyouth@googlegroups.com/msg01102.html, accessed July 21, 2011

[16] Shalini Gera and Girish Agrawal, “Hindutva goes to school”, Tehelka Magazine, online edition, February 4, 2006, http://www.tehelka.com/story_main16.asp?filename=op020406Hindutva_goes.asp, accessed July 21, 2011

[17] She is mentioned as a spokesperson of CSFH in a press release dated December 13, 2002, at http://stopfundinghate.org/resources/news/121302SFHPressRelease.htm, accessed July 21, 2011

[18] “A talk by Harsh Dobhal”, August 8, 2010, http://www.sanjosepeace.org/calendar_event.php?eid=20100723091522132, accessed July 22, 2011

[19] Ibid.

[20] Colin Gonsalves, “Constituent Assembly or Counter-Revolution?”, Combat Law, Vol. 5, Issue 4, September-October 2006,Page 13, http://combatlaw.org/wp-content/uploads/combatlaw_volume5_2006/September-October-2006_nepal.pdf, accessed July 22, 2011

[21] Ibid.

[22] “Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (Incidents involving CPN-M)”, http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/nepal/terroristoutfits/index.html, accessed July 22, 2011

[23] Gonsalves, Ibid., 11

[25] “Maoist leader becomes Nepalese PM”, August 15, 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7563816.stm, accessed July 22, 2011

[26] “Report of Independent People’s Tribunal on Human Rights Violations in Kashmir”, February 20-21, 2010, page 8,  http://www.iptindia.org/wp-content/pdf/report/ipt_report%20on%20kashmir.pdf, accessed July 21, 2011

[27] See event announcement titled “An Informal Meeting and Discussion with  HARSH DOBHAL“ at http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/, accessed on July 21, 2011

[28] A full list of donors is available at http://www.hrln.org/hrln/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=675&Itemid=289, accessed on July 21, 2011

[29] See Event Posting at http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/, accessed on July 21, 2011

[30] Arvind Lavkare, “One Way Street”, November 18, 2003, http://www.rediff.com/news/2003/nov/18arvind.htm, accessed July 22, 2011

[31] Ibid.[29]

[32] See the event announcement on Stanford’s website at http://events.stanford.edu/events/113/11355/, accessed July 22, 2011

[33] See the Press Release titled “Humanitarian Crisis in Jammu and Kashmir”, August 12, 2008, posted on South Asia Citizens Web, an affiliate of FOIL, http://www.sacw.net/peace/kashmir12Aug08.html, accessed July 22, 2011

[34] Ibid.

[35] Kumar is listed as the FOIL point person for anyone interested in writing leftist/communist leaning articles to major Indian newspapers.  See the November 1, 1998 issue of Ghadar at http://www.proxsa.org/resources/ghadar/v2n1/foil.html, accessed July 22, 2011

[36] Maira is listed as a contact person for organizing youth activities through “solidarity training programs”.  See the November 1, 1998 issue of Ghadar at http://www.proxsa.org/resources/ghadar/v2n1/foil.html, accessed July 22, 2011

[37] “Hardball Interview with Snehal Shingavi”, May 9, 2002, http://www.campus-watch.org/article/id/49, accessed July 22, 2011

[38] Ibid.

[39] Tanya Schevitz, “Cramped speech at UC Berkeley / Teacher warns ‘conservative thinkers’”, May 10, 2002, http://articles.sfgate.com/2002-05-10/bay-area/17543159_1_uc-berkeley-free-speech-movement-students, accessed July 22, 2011

[40] See the announcement at http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/events/selfdeterminationpanel/, accessed July 22, 2011

[41] Ibid.

[42] See Event Announcement at http://www.friendsofsouthasia.org/, accessed July 22, 2011

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