Many of us learnt about a supposed report on the environmental, socio-political and economic aspects of Amarnath Yatra prepared by a Bengaluru NGO and some Jammu-Kashmir ‘civil society’ groups. The ‘report’ was released in in April 2017 and was covered in DNA, but recently (i.e., in August 2017), the story got another life through an article in the International magazine, Foreign Policy.
The report was rebutted well in an opinion column in the Jammu newspaper, Daily Excelsior on April 30, 2017 by a former District & Sessions Judge.
The report, available here, is quite lengthy (212 pages, ~5MB). Several sentences in it are downright silly and hard to digest for any Nationalist. The cartoons accompanying each chapter are insulting and do not behove of any respectable organization. We shall let other Nationalists dissect the report on its portrayal of the historical and social aspects of the Yatra.
Herein, we confine ourselves to an understanding of the NGO, ‘EQUATIONS’, which appears to have played a major role in the preparation of the report.
As with many FCRA-NGOs, EQUATIONS is not the name of the NGO. It is an acronym for “Equitable Tourism Options”. Based in Bengaluru, it is an FCRA-NGO whose FCRA registration number is KA/94420364.
As per this interview in The Alternative, Equitable Tourism Options “was started in 1985 by Paul Gonsalves, after he attended a meeting of the Ecumenical Coalition on Third World Tourism in Thailand in 1982.”
Needless to state, we too desire sustainable tourism. We also believe that Yatra is not Tourism.
The following are our observations:
- The DNA story of April 21, 2017 mentions that the report was made based on RTI enquiries and interviews with officials and people. It glosses over the fact that two people from EQUATIONS actually registered (see page 9 of the report) for the July 2014 Amarnath Yatra as Yatris. It is appalling that these two ‘yatris’ did not participate in the Yatra as devotees of Sree Amarnathji but used the same as a disguise to prepare this report. In fact, when other pilgrims were singing bhajans and chanting, the EQUATIONS duo didn’t participate in such. Their report says “On several occasions the team was challenged for not participating in this chanting”. This is inexplicable behavior by the FCRA-NGO.
- The report remarks on page 23, “where the State and religion have become inextricably interlinked” questioning the role of the Central and J&K State Governments in the conduct of the Yatra. This is laughable. We ask: Do the EQUATIONS team know that a good fraction of funds of their chief donors (i.e., MISEREOR & Bread for the World) comes from the Federal and Regional Governments of Germany and that the German State levies a ‘Church Tax’ which is channelised to these Catholic and Protestant Organizations respectively?
- Many sentences in the report are ridiculous and/or appear to be violative of FCRA-2010 and/or FCRR-2015. We provide a sampling below:
Page 69: “However, in the case of Amarnath, it was not just that the Board was set up to ensure State patronage,but this was actually only a front, and a premise for the Indian state to deploy its real might – its armed forces.”
Page 69: “nationalist bias of the armed forces are seen”
Page 170: “However, in the case of Amarnath, it was not just that the Board was set up to ensure State patronage, but this was actually only a front, and a premise for the Indian state to deploy its real might – its armed forces.”
- Only one chapter (Chapter 6) is devoted to ‘sustainable tourism’. Rest of the report could just as well have been written by so-called separatists.
- In 2008, under its then Chief Functionary, Ms. Rosemary Viswanath, EQUATIONS brought out a book on child abuse in pilgrimage centres. The centres covered were Tirupati, Puri & Guruvayoor. This ‘study’ was funded by ECPAT International (Netherlands). The book is available here: https://books.google.co.in/books?id=ovAhY4whr9sC&source=gbs_navlinks_s There is absolutely no mention in the book on how such abuses are related to the fact that these cities/towns are pilgrim centres. The choice of the centres and the title of the book clearly suggest a non-benign intent behind the work.
- In 2010, Equations was part of a team which prepared a Code of Conduct for ‘safe and honourable tourism’ on behalf of the Ministry of Tourism, Government of Bharat.
- During 2013-2016 (i.e., in the period when the work for the report on Amarnath Yatra was carried out), Dr. Ravi Chellam was the Secretary of EQUATIONS. In 2016, Dr. Chellam was appointed the Executive Director of Greenpeace India. However, Niti Aayog’s Darpan portal used to list a Ivo Rodrigues as the Secretary of EQUATIONS. But then again, the Darpan portal is not well managed, mildly put.
- Since 2006-07, until 2015-16, EQUATIONS has received a total sum of around Rs. 9.2 Crore from abroad. A chart of its inflows over the years is shown below.
- Close to 74% of EQUATIONS’ foreign funds since 2006 have come from three Church organizations — Misereor (German Catholic Relief Org), Bread for the World (German Protestant Relief Org) (BfW) and Global Ministries UPCN (Netherlands Protestant). (We have included remittances from KZE, i.e., Katholische Zentralstelle für Entwicklungshilfe within Misereor). Misereor’s contribution is 40% and BfW’s is 30%. A Post on Misereor’s FCRA remittances to all FCRA-NGOs in Bharat over seven years can be found here.
- Global Ministries of Uniting Protestant Churches Netherlands (UPCN) ‘donated’ an initial amount of Rs. 33 lakh in 2006. According to NGO Monitor, GMUPCN is biased against Israel.
- EQUATIONS has received around 7% of its remittances from ECPAT International (Netherlands).
- Other donors to EQUATIONS include: Terre des Hommes-Netherlands (4.4%), Conservation Interntaional Foundation-Arlington, USA (2.3%), Global Forest Coalition-Netherlands (2.7%), African Safari Lodge Foundation-South Africa (3.3%) and Action Aid-UK/Delhi (3.7%).
- It is interesting to note that EQUATIONS has received small sums, on two occasions, from an organization called ‘Alternative Tourism Group’ in, hmm.., wait.. Palestine. Yes, imagine getting donations to Bengaluru from Palestine, of all places.
- Given the character of its fund sources, it is somewhat inappropriate that EQUATIONS would prepare reports on child abuse in Hindu pilgrim cities and on the Amarnath yatra. With such a skewed funding source, these activities nucleate doubts in the minds of observers on EQUATIONS’ motives in the preparation of such reports seemingly directed at the religion practised by the majority of Bharat.
We acknowledge the FCRA Wing of Ministry of Home Affairs for providing FC returns online for public view.
(This aticle first appeared at https://indiahap.wordpress.com/2017/08/12/was-the-tourism-report-on-amarnath-yatra-by-civil-society-foreign-funded/ and is being reproduced with the consent of the author)