The Big Scam of NGO's
Posted April 24, 2005
THE FERENGI'S COLUMNS
(A Western journalist opening his eyes to the true India)
By François Gautier
You think that the most corrupt organizations in India belong to the Government? But you may be wrong, because some of the biggest scammers in this country could be the Non Governmental Organizations, or NGO's, and it is all done in the name of the poor of India.
In the old times, the leaders of NGO's used to be working in the field, dressed simply, lived in humble dwellings, and had minimal salaries, sufficient for their most essential needs. But nowadays, the new breed of NGOs you meet in Delhi, or Bombay, is smartly dressed in jeans, he or she usually comes from India's upper elite class, carry the latest laptop and often travel around in a/c cars. These NGO's spend half of their time abroad, in London, Paris, or New York, doing smart presentations, with mesmerizing slides and Excel spreadsheets, in front of gullible westerners, always ready to shed a tear for the poor "downtrodden Indians", so as to convince them to grant more funds.
And what is usually all about? 70% of the time "woman empowerment", or "uplifting" the villagers. It is nowadays fashionable in India to always highlight the downtrodden condition of Indian women and their underprivileged place in Indian society. But no country in the world has granted such an important place to women in its spirituality and social ethos. And even today, behind all appearances – arranged marriages, submission to men, preference of male children in some rural areas (but girls are loved in India like nowhere in the world) - it can be safely said that very often, from the poorest to the richest classes, women control –even if behind the scenes – a lot of the family affairs: the education of their children (men in India are often "mama's boys"), monetary concerns, and husbands often refer to them for important decisions. Countries such as France or the United States, who are often preaching India on "women's rights" never had a woman as their top leader, whereas India had Indira Gandhi ruling with an iron hand for nearly twenty years; and proportionately they have less MP's than India, which is considering earmarking 33% of seats in Parliament for women, a revolution in human history!
But this obsession of NGO's with women and village empowerment (usually they take one village and make it like a showcase, for the benefit of visiting donors from abroad) has completely eclipsed the burning issue that would require NGO's attention with the tremendous amount of funds they attract from abroad : afforestation, as there are hardly any forest worth the name left today in India. Take the Himalayas for instance, and a region like the lovely Kumaon hills. Less than forty years ago, people in Almora, the ancient capital of the Kumaons, still remember the beautiful blue cedars forests. Today, there are no forests left around Almora - they were cut down in the early 70's by contractors from the plains with the full knowledge of the Government - except commercial pine forests, which impoverish the soil and do not hold it properly. Yet, there is terrible shortage of water in Almora, the climate has warmed-up considerably in the last twenty years and wood is fearfully expensive.
There are literally hundreds of NGO's in the Kumaon hills, who are doing lots of women empowerment, lots of village uplifting, lots of weaving this and weaving that… but absolutely no tree planting. Why? "Because the others do not do it", is the usual answer, when you ask some of the NGO's or :"because it is too hard work". But the beauty of the Kumaon hills around Almora is fast going: more and more hotels are coming up, cutting more trees, like near the Kassar Devi temple, above Almora, where Vivekananda is supposed to have meditated and which has been bought to make into a resort by a non- resident Muslim who is suspected to have links with Ibrahim Dawood.
Most of the big NGO's are funded by Western countries; but what is not always known is that they often get the bulk of their budgets from big Christian organizations, such as Christian Aid, or Oxfam. There is no doubt that Christians are doing selfless work in India and that they still provide the best in health care and education (work which Hindus should do themselves). But it may so happen – more in the case of American Protestants than European Catholics, who are more tolerant - that there is a slight catch, a string attached to the money donated, not only because there is always that western obsession with "woman empowerment" and the "exploited" low caste Indian (by the Brahmins, of course), but often also, these charitable organizations have a downright bias against Hindus and even towards the BJP ! Some of them even had posters advising people not to vote for the BJP in the last elections. Can you imagine an Indian NGO asking Indians settled in France not to vote for some pro-catholic party? They would be immediately kicked out!
This is not to say that there are no selfless NGO's who are not fattening themselves on money meant for the poor. Some of them do bring drinking water to remote villages in the Himalayas, or like the Young India Group, teach villagers to stand for their own rights. But there has to be a shift away from empowerment, to fight the real burning issues which are affecting India such as afforestation and water collection (there is no Government policy for collecting the tremendous amounts of water India gets from monsoons, which would save millions of gallons of precious ground water which is fast depleting). And the Government, while leaving to NGO's the freedom of expression they already have, should make it mandatory that they have a certain percentage of their activities dedicated to these two areas.