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Manufacturing Evidence: Journalism in the Age of Social Activism

Author: Ramesh Rao
Publication: Rameshrao-89399.medium.com
Date: June 10, 2021
URL:      https://rameshrao-89399.medium.com/manufacturing-evidence-journalism-in-the-age-of-social-activism-a244a0a9d601

On May 24, 2021, Sewa International received an email from Nitish Pahwa, a copy editor at Slate Magazine. He wrote:


I’m Nitish Pahwa, a writer at Slate. I was told to contact this email for the purposes of my inquiry.
I’m working on a piece about fundraisers being held for COVID relief in India, particularly those being held by Sewa International’s U.S. branch. I wished to ask, specifically, to which India-based organizations, institutions, and relief projects Sewa is sending funds from the “Help India Defeat COVID-19” campaign. I also wished to ask whether there is any merit to suspicions — based on past reports of Sangh Parivar–led projects in India that used international funds and/or were allegedly used for trafficking — that money being raised from the U.S. for “Help India Defeat COVID-19” is being put toward ideological projects within India.

Let me know your thoughts, and thank you so much,

Nitish Pahwa

Sewa International responded to Pahwa as follows:

1) To which organizations, institutions, and relief projects is Sewa sending funds from the “Help India Defeat COVID-19” Campaign?

How and in which manner the funds being collected through Sewa’s “Help India” are being spent are regularly being shared on our Facebook page:

Whenever or wherever a disaster has occurred, be it Haiti in 2012, Nepal in 2015 or Columbia in 2018, we have always used local partners to ensure that we maximize the benefits of our efforts for the local community. India is no different; we are working with more than 80 local partner organizations to ensure that we are able to help as much as possible. For example, recently when we found out the Aligarh Muslim University had suffered 20 deaths in 2 days, we reached out to the Vice Chancellor to access the need and then immediately sent over 5 oxygen concentrators through one of our local partners to help the university get through this crisis.

Currently, as you will see from our updates page, in order to prevent a possible third wave, we are working with a number of charitable hospitals across India to install oxygen plants on site. We have already procured 15 plants and are working on procuring 85 more. Each plant is estimated to save approximately 1625 lives every month.
2) Is there any merit to the suspicions that money being raised from the US from the “Help India Defeat COVID-19” fundraising campaign are being put towards ideological projects within India?

We are very focused on our objective of helping India through this unprecedented COVID crisis. Every dollar raised is being properly accounted for. In fact, Sewa has earned 100% perfect scores from Charity Navigator — the top nonprofit rating agency — in the areas of “Financial Health” and “Accountability and Transparency”. Please see:

In addition, over the past 18 years, Sewa has demonstrated a solid, proven track record of service. During that time, has actively helped in over 30 disaster relief and recovery efforts across the world, including for the 2004 Tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the 2006 Hurricane Katrina, the 2012 Earthquake in Haiti, the 2013 Earthquake in Pakistan, the 2017 Hurricane Harvey that devastated Houston, TX, the 2019 and 2020 recent wildfires across California. Here is a more comprehensive list of all the disaster relief and recovery efforts that Sewa has actively helped with… (giving information about the variety of disasters, around the world, natural and human-made, to which Sewa International had responded to).

Please let me know if you have any follow up questions. Thank you for reaching out to us.


Pahwa did not ask any more questions. Did not call to verify. Did not bother to probe further.

Realizing that Pahwa was on a mission to tar Sewa International, based on Al Jazeera’s hit-piece on Sewa and other Hindu-American organizations, and checking his online profile, I wrote to him the following day, saying this:

Hi Nitish,

I read your questions to Sewa international about their COVID relief fundraisers.

I believe you are a recent graduate of Michigan State University, and as a fellow Spartan (PhD 1992, Department of Communication), I was wondering about the nature and thrust of your questions and why they have been directed at Sewa International.

You say in your email that you “… wished to ask whether there is any merit to suspicions — based on past reports of Sangh Parivar–led projects in India that used international funds and/or were allegedly used for trafficking — that money being raised from the U.S. for ‘Help India Defeat COVID-19’ is being put toward ideological projects within India.”

Whose “suspicions” are you repeating or conveying? You say “based on past reports… of Sangh Parivar–led projects in India that used international funds and/or were allegedly used for trafficking…”

If you had done due diligence and the really necessary, serious, and careful work that reporters should be doing in these matters, you would know that you are relying on a nearly twenty-year-old report cobbled together by a bunch of left/Marxist, anti-Hindu bigots that targeted the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) led then by and still led by the MIT-trained economist Dr. Vinod Prakash who happened to spend two decades working for the IMF! I was one of the co-authors of a rebuttal of the Sabrang/FOIL left/Marxist/extremist gang’s attack on the IDRF because Dr. Vinod Prakash did not have anyone at IDRF who could respond to the vile attack on him and the organization he led. Did you know that Dr. Vinod Prakash, as a young boy, was imprisoned for taking part in a freedom march? Did you know that he gave up his very plush job at IMF (where he could buy a new Mercedes every other year, and travel first class round the world) because he wanted to dedicate himself to the welfare of the underserved in India? See: https://smile.amazon.com/IDRF-Facts-Speak-Ramesh-Rao/dp/1540640779/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1& keywords=let+the+facts+speak+idrf&qid=1621967467&sr=8-1

Today, Dr. Vinod Prakash, in his 80s, and blind in both eyes (because of a botched surgery by a DC area ophthalmologist), still heads the IDRF, and still does yeoman work to bring help to the distressed in India and other countries. You should have taken the time to go interview Dr. Vinod Prakash. You should be writing a piece in celebration of the courage, conviction, and discipline of such a man rather than swallowing the poison pill manufactured by disgruntled extremists whose dream is to remove the Hindu glue that binds India together.

I write to you not only as a Spartan, but as a scholar of communication studies of more than three decades. I am also a supporter of Sewa International. I help the hardworking, dedicated, selfless volunteers of Sewa International tweak their press releases, and edit their newsletters. I help the executive leaders of Sewa International with their messages to their constituents — donors, legislators, community leaders, as well as those they reach out to and help. Not one of the Sewa leaders takes a dime in salary.
Yes, Sewa International received $150,621 as a PPP loan last year. Any grants, loans, or funds — both private and public — received by Sewa International for any project in the United States are exclusively used only for that specific purpose. No funds are ever diverted to any other projects. All of Sewa’s accounts are regularly audited and are available on their website.

Please compare the PPP loan received by Sewa International to money received by other religious, faith-based organizations as PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans from the US Government:

  • Religious Groups Received $6–10 Billion In COVID-19 Relief Funds, Hope For More
  • Federal loans for small businesses went to thousands of churches and other religious             organizations.
  • AP: Catholic Church lobbied for taxpayer funds, got $1.4B
  • Ministries and Churches Receiving More than $1-M in Paycheck Protection Program Funds
  • Churches and Religious Non-Profits Received $6–10 Billion In COVID Relief Funds
  • Evangelical Megachurch with Close Ties To Trump Approved for Millions In Pandemic Aid
  • Religious Organizations Receive $7.3 Billion in PPP Loans, Megachurches Amass Millions
  • Accused hate group in Ave Maria receives PPP loan


Please compare the total PPP loan disbursed by the US Government to faith-based organizations ($7.3 billion) —
megachurches-amass-millions-1515963 — and you will see that what Sewa International received from the US Government constitutes less than 0.000207 percent of the total money disbursed to faith organizations. Compare what Sewa International has offered communities across the US this past year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: Sewa international, working with other faith-based Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain organizations raised and spent more $50 million in the United States alone for relief services.

I hope for “fairness’ sake” you are investigating all religious and faith-based organizations — not just “Hindu faith-based” organizations about who they are, how much of ameliorative and charitable work they do, and how much of their time they spend in activism, seeking to demonize and shame others. Or are you keeping your powder dry only to target your fellow faith followers?
Sewa volunteers are dedicated to the observance of transcendental Hindu principles: “Sarve Janah Sukhino Bhavantu” (May all be happy), and “Nara Seva, Narayana Seva” (Serving humanity is serving Divinity). These principles guide the work of Sewa volunteers (I am not a Sewa volunteer but have observed them closely for the past four years) to serve everyone without discrimination. Sewa volunteers work with a variety of registered non-profit organizations around the world, including India. As Hindus, they are proud of their transcendental, ameliorative, philosophical, and cultural heritage that has guided humanity through the ages.

Sewa International spends two cents to raise a dollar — one of the top nonprofits with such efficiency. It is no surprise that Sewa is recognized among the best run, transparent nonprofits by other top nonprofit rating agencies such as GuideStar, Better Business Bureau, and Great Nonprofits.

Sewa International’s administrative expenses are 4.8% ensuring 95.2 cents of every dollar donated to Sewa International reaches beneficiaries of which 2.89% goes to Credit Card fees for web-based donations.

Sewa International also serves and supports developmental and disaster relief projects in other countries including Bangladesh, Colombia, Guyana, Haiti, India, Iraq, Kenya, Mozambique, Nepal, Pakistan, Puerto Rico, Sri Lanka, and Trinidad & Tobago. However, any funds raised for a country specific project is used only for charitable and humanitarian work in that country.

Step back and take a close look at the profession you have entered. By the way, I have a post-graduate diploma in journalism from the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, and I served The Hindu as a copy editor between 1984–85. Reporting and editing, as you know, is serious business. Activist journalism is not. The former demands discipline. The latter, nothing more than a sense of moral superiority, an adversarial mindset, and blind faith in the politics of the day.

You may wonder why I would take an hour of my day to respond to your questionable questions to Sewa International. I am doing this as a teacher with more than 30 years’ experience teaching here in the US (I began teaching at MSU as a graduate student — 1987–1991, and have taught in Missouri, Virginia, and in Georgia since 1991), and I am doing this because of what I see are the dangers of political and social media echo-chambers and the blind willfulness of ideologues masquerading as journalists. I care for the wellbeing of humanity because I am a Hindu, and because I believe in the importance and relevance of Hindu ideals in a fractured world. Hinduism is not a monopolist nor a supremacist “faith” as much as it is a grand caravan of philosophies, of deep inquiry, of faith systems that allow for diverse ways of worshipping the Cosmic One. Check it out, seriously… You do not have to swallow the pill I am offering but I am asking you to look at the pill that you have been taking (I have read your other pieces published on Slate) and consider what it is seducing and trapping you into doing. Remember, no Hindu philosopher commanded or demanded that people follow blindly.

Please do not quote anything in this email in your reporting about Hindus, Hindu Americans, Sewa International, Indian politics, or whatever your Slate editors might assign you to on those matters.

I am writing this to you as someone who just happened to have studied at the same university that you did. Being well-informed and educated is a privilege. Let us not waste that treasure in the pursuit of temporary thrills and “gotcha journalism”.

Take care.
Best wishes,
Ramesh Rao
You guessed right. I did not receive a response from Pahwa. But I thought it would give him pause, make him do the necessary crosschecking and verification of what I had said and what others he relied on had claimed before he wrote his piece.

Alas, in this age where ideologues masquerade as journalists and as academics, it would be foolish to believe that facts matter, that all facts matter. So, on June 08, Slate published Pahwa’s hatchet job with this blaring headline: “COVID Relief Donations Are Supporting a Project to ‘Hinduize’ India: Why are Twitter, Microsoft, and Google promoting a charity with ties to right-wing nationalism?”

Every one of the links that Pahwa offers in his piece is to article by individuals and reports by organizations that have proclaimed their hatred of Hindu activism, Hindu political goals, and Hinduism’s universal ideas and ideals. There has been no attempt by Pahwa to talk to actual people at Sewa International, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, or for that matter, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which he demonizes as an organization that seeks to “permanently establish a Hindu state,” whatever that means, and simply ignoring the fact that there are already twenty-seven “permanently established” Muslim states, and twenty-eight Christian states. No country has Hinduism as a state religion, though till recently Nepal had officially called itself a Hindu state. Fifty-seven nations are members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. According to the Pew Research Center, “in 30 countries, heads of state must belong to a certain religion”. Lest we think that it is only Muslim-majority countries that have such rules, the Pew Research Center reports the following: “In addition to the 30 countries in this analysis, another 19 nations have religious requirements for ceremonial monarchs who serve as their heads of state. Sixteen of these, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, are members of the Commonwealth of Nations with Queen Elizabeth II — also known as the Defender of the Faith — as their head of state. The other countries in this category are Denmark, Norway and Sweden”. But why bother looking elsewhere? Every one of America’s presidents have been Christian. Nine in ten members of Congress are Christian compared to the two-thirds of the public.

But let us not get distracted by reality or facts, for it is important to focus on what cherries Pahwa has picked in the tangled forest of Indian politics and society. He has made up his mind about the RSS and anything connected with the organization. He would happily have the Narendra Modi government dismissed and new elections take place because why bother that the people of India have chosen for themselves who should lead and govern their country? He calls the venerable Ramesh Bhutada, “a longtime Hindu nationalist activist,” forgetting to do some simple Googling to find out that he received a standing ovation when he addressed the “Eid Milan” celebration in Houston organized by the Indian Muslims Association of Greater Houston in 2019. A report in India West says, “Bhutada’s simple yet powerful speech on Hindu-Muslim unity was met with a long, standing ovation from everyone in the room, including Consul General of India Dr. Anupam Ray, who was among the first to rise and applaud”.

Pahwa is unhappy that his attempt at provoking Google, Microsoft, or Twitter did not yield any results. He forgets the fact that it is hundreds if not thousands of Google, Microsoft, and Twitter employees too who have donated to Sewa, apart from the more than 107,000 people who have contributed to Sewa International’s fundraising campaign on Facebook. Why bother with facts when political grandstanding will suffice in the left leaning Slate magazine whose editors seek to grind their political axes at the cost of truth?

There have always been hacks plying the trade of journalism, and there are many still involved in pursuing hatchet-jobs. However, what is deeply troubling is the emergence of wet-behind-the-ears, poorly informed purveyors of half-baked opinions who do not care to sift through evidence, consider all the facts, and who do not bother to talk to the people that they rush to tar and feather. This new, progressive, woke lynch mobs will build a world for us in their warped image.

That a fellow Spartan is of this ilk is not surprising. Statistical probability can account for it, as well as the fact that a sucker is born every minute. The name “Pahwa,” some claim, goes back to the mythological time of Lord Parashurama, the sixth avatara of Lord Vishnu. Parashurama, people believe, will appear at the end of Kali Yuga. No, sorry, not this Pahwa, who happens to be just a pip-squeak, a Pecksniff, a coward.

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