Q1-The state government of Gujarat has written a letter to Union Ministry of Home Affairs that the Sabrang Trust and the Sabrang Communication media company received three separate grants from Ford Foundation in 2004, 2006 and 2009 for what it calls highly questionable activities, all bordering on if not outrightly political. Your comments?
Ans- 4-member team from the FCRA department of the Union Home Ministry, headed by a Dy. Secretary to GOI, visited the shared office space of Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) from April 6 to April 11 for an inspection of the accounts and other records of both Sabrang and CJP. On April 10, we also received (hand delivery) a letter from the Dy. Secretary asking us to respond to a format questionnaire of the FCRA department within 15 days.
Sabrang Communications (and Publishing Pvt. Ltd.) is NOT a media company with any resemblance to what are normally understood as media companies such as Bennett Coleman etc. Formed in 1993, its activities focused mainly on the issues of communalism and caste have included publishing a monthly journal, Communalism Combat, documentation and dissemination of information, conducting research, organizing meetings, seminars, conferences on communalism offering consultancy services etc. Publishing a monthly journal, ‘Communalism Combat’, was only one of SC’s activities. The sources of income of Sabrang Communications over the years have been subscription fees, advertisements, consultancy, and sale of books.
WE would like to point out at the very outset that Sabrang Communications did not receive any grant from Ford Foundation. In 2004 Sabrang Communications entered into a Consultancy Agreement with Ford Foundation after seeking advice from an eminent legal counsel that this was permissible under law. Pursuant to this agreement, Sabrang Communications received consultancy fees (and not grant). In fact, while transferring each installment of fees, as per the Consultancy Agreements, Ford Foundation deducted TDS which would not be the case in case of a grant.
As for the allegation that all Sabrang Trust activities are “bordering on if not outright political activities”, the activities supported by the Ford Foundation grant to Sabrang Trust (“to strengthen conflict resolution and peace building in Gujarat and Maharashtra”) have included: (i) Documentation and Online dissemination of information, accessible to all free of cost, through the website, www.sabrang.com and an Online archive www.indiarightsonline.com; (ii) organising meetings, workshops and conferences to highlight the prevailing culture of impunity to perpetrators of communal violence (be it Delhi, 1984 and Bombay/Mumbai, 1992-93, Kandhamal, 2008 (while the Congress party was in power at the Centre and in the states — BJD in case of Orissa); or Gujarat, 2002 where the BJP was in power at the Centre and in the state; (iii) highlighting the need for on a new law to ensure justice to the victims of communal mass crimes and punishment of perpetrators and their masterminds; (iv) publicizing Online and Offline Executive summaries of the recommendations of Sachar Committee and the Ranganathan Misra Commission to prevent discrimination against minorities; (v) publicizing articles written by Islamic clerics and scholars questioning injustice to Muslim women in the name of Islam (vi) organizing a workshop to highlight the need for a codification of Muslim Personal Law to check gender injustice (vii) assisting on being requested the Secretary, Minorities Development Department, Government of Maharashtra, in publicizing the Scholarship Schemes for students from minority communities (including Muslims) of the Union and the state government (viii) developing and exploring with the Maharashtra government the launching of a Sabrang Trust ‘Helpline’ intended to draw attention of the government and the police department to legitimate grievances of religious minorities in the state.
Sabrang Trust did not engage in filing any case in any court or use Ford Foundation grant for the purpose. Legal Aid to ensure justice to the victims of communal mass crimes (including Gujarat 2002) was and remains an activity of Citizens for Justice and Peace. CJP has never received any grant from Ford Foundation.
We are sure that the Economic Times will agree the activities outlined above cannot be said to be “bordering on or are outright political in nature”. In our view, such activities are aimed at realizing principles and values embedded in the Preamble and the Fundamental Rights sections of the Indian Constitution
Q2. The Gujarat government letter cites Ford Foundation as asking Sabrang to “identify 100 journalists in the print and electronic, English and vernacular media to supply them with material for their stories.” Is this true?
Ans-Contrary to the allegation, Sabrang Trust is NOT a “donor-driven” organization. It seeks to raise funds through various legitimate sources for its activities. As part of its documentation and dissemination service, Online and through emails, Sabrang Trust also sought to identify journalists reporting/writing on communal and caste issues to offer them if interested backgrounders, compilation of news and views etc. on the subject as reference material. Almost all of what was offered to interested journalists was culled out of information already readily accessible to all, free of cost, through our information dissemination websites. Sabrang trust does not consider this service as political interference in any way.
Q3 Could you tell us the quantum of grants you have received from Ford Foundation till date from 2000?
Ans-Sabrang Trust received a total grant of the rupee equivalent of $250,000, in three annual installments, for a 42 month project (October 1, 2009 to March 31, 2013) “to strengthen conflict resolution and peace building in Gujarat and Maharashtra”.
As per requirement, a detailed annual report of activities (and a detailed financial report on utilization of Grant in case of Sabrang Trust) was submitted to Ford Foundation and only then was the subsequent installment released by Ford Foundation. In case of Sabrang Trust, annual returns were submitted to the FCRA department in the prescribed format and within the prescribed time limit each year.
Whether Sabrang Communications or Sabrang Trust has violated any law will only be determined by appropriate judicial for a. We have fully co-operated with all the investigating agencies and made available to them the documents demanded by them from time to time. Till date we have provided over 20,000 documents (hard and soft copy) to the Gujarat police and hundreds of photocopies of all documents as demanded by the FCRA inspection team. Please note that the Funds received by Sabrang Trust from Ford Foundation are a part of the total Funds received by CJP and Sabrang Trust (Domestic and Foreign) which, as you are aware, are being investigated by the Gujarat Police for alleged embezzlement of funds. For easy reference we will give you some Tables for Easy reference-