By Edward Luce and Demetri Sevastopulo
Financial Times, February 20 2003 original
leading Hindu nationalist group - the Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh, or Organisation of National Volunteers - told
the country's Muslims last year that their future safety
lay "in the goodwill of the majority".
The warning, made towards the end of one of the country's
worst episodes of sectarian violence, in which up to 2,000
Muslims died, fuelled allegations that the RSS and its affiliates
were implicated in the pogroms. Yet far from deterring the
the controversy has encouraged greater militancy - including,
in December, the landslide election victory of the BJP, the
political arm of the RSS, in Gujarat.
The allegations against the RSS have been widely published
in India. But an investigation by the FT has found that the
increasingly strident campaign is receiving significant,
albeit largely unwitting, assistance from western taxpayers.
A number of Hindu groups in the US and Britain, classified
as charities and therefore entitled to tax-exempt status,
raise funds for ostensibly apolitical projects in India and
the west. In fact, the FT has learnt, significant sums go
to causes controlled by members
of the RSS. As Ravi Nair, head of the South Asian Human Rights
Documentation Centre, a consultant to the United Nations,
large majority of those who give money are traditional,
peace-loving Hindus who do not realise what it is spent on."
Set up in 1925, the RSS aims to make India a Hindu state
in which minorities following religions that originate outside
India - principally Islam and Christianity - would be treated
as second-class citizens.
the past four decades the RSS has helped set up dozens
of "branches", including the BJP, which now leads
India's multi-party coalition government; the Vishwa Hindu
Parishad, or World Council of Hindus, its religious arm;
and the Sewa Bharti, its welfare
arm. The groups are collectively known as the Sangh Parivar,
or Family of the RSS (see above).
A series of inquiries - by India's National Human Rights
Commission, by Human Rights Watch in New York, and by the
Concerned Citizens Tribunal, composed mostly of retired Indian
judges - have accused the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its youth
Bajrang Dal, of helping to plan the massacres that occurred
in Gujarat between February and April last year.
themselves do little to refute complicity in the violence,
itself triggered by the massacre of 58 Hindu
train passengers by a Muslim mob. Praveen Togadia, the VHP's
international head, recently told India's Muslims to take
blood tests to prove they were
not of "Arabian" descent. "Hindus have the
tradition of wearing a garland of flowers. But our Hindu
deity wears a garland of human heads," he said in a
speech. "I advise all Muslims to get themselves genetically
tested for their Hindu origin."
|Although it does not exist as a formal
legal entity in India, the RSS has powerful defenders
into the highest levels of government. No rolls are published
but estimates range from 2.5m to 6m members. Those who
admit to belonging to the RSS include Narendra Modi,
the BJP chief minister in Gujarat, L.K. Advani, India's
deputy prime minister, and numerous other senior figures.
"The RSS is a very sophisticated and secretive organisation
whose purpose has never wavered," says D.R. Goyal, a
former member and a leading scholar on the organisation. "It
would be impossible to describe the RSS and its 'family'
as anything other than political."
By law, charities in the US and Britain are not permitted
to spend funds on political or sectarian activities. But
drawing on independent inquiries and the FT's own investigations,
it is clear the charities in question have either failed
to keep an eye on the
RSS's activities or have remained silent about its political
however, the charities have come under scrutiny in Britain
and the US. "The Gujarat riots really were
a clarion call to us," says an official at the US state
department. "It is not dissimilar to where American
Muslims who were contributing to what they
thought were benevolent organisations that have been charged
with more insidious activities."
according to returns filed with the Internal Revenue Service
in Washington DC, US-based affiliates of the RSS
had assets of almost $11m, much of it raised from Indian
nationals or people of Indian origin. The UK Charities Commission,
which is formally
investigating two RSS affiliates - Sewa International and
the HSS - and is considering an inquiry into the VHP, says
the groups raised £4.3m in 2001.
However, the total amount raised for RSS activities is almost
certainly higher than the sums that go through the official
route. Other sources include cash informally transmitted
via the hawala system, funds raised by religious trusts (which
are not required to file
returns to the IRS) and money diverted through a sophisticated
network of US tax shelters that are less easily traced to
the Sangh Parivar.
"We strongly suspect that Hindu temples in the US which
are affiliated to the Sangh Parivar raise a lot of tax-exempt
money for India," says Shalini Gera, whose California-based
group published a report on RSS fundraising.*
year Lord Adam Patel, a British Muslim and member of the
House of Lords, resigned as a patron of Sewa International
complaining that it incited "racial hatred and is both
outrageous and offending". But according to Lord Desai,
the economist and
another peer: "There are almost certainly other trustees
and patrons out there who have no idea what their charities
are really up to. The RSS is expert at managing very benign-
sounding front organisations which conceal their true purpose."
charities in the US and Britain deny any links with sectarian
projects in India. Yet their own data,
and interviews with their counterparts in India, provide
good reason to suspect they are part of the "family".
the India Development and Relief Fund, based in Maryland,
says it raises funds for "economically
and socially disadvantaged people irrespective of caste,
sect, region or religion". Vijay Pallod, a senior executive
at IDRF, denies any formal links with the RSS. But he told
the FT: "Some IDRF volunteers may be inspired by the
Sangh Parivar, particularly its aspiration of serving needy
According to IDRF's tax filings, more than 80 per cent of
the almost $3.2m it directly sent to India between 1994 and
2000 went to projects managed by groups that are explicitly
part of the RSS family. In November, in response to such
findings, Cisco, Sun
Microsystems and Oracle suspended the IDRF from the lists
of charities eligible for funds to match employee donations.
International, the IDRF's sister body in Britain, is the
funding arm of the HSS, as the UK branch of the RSS is
known. The HSS has told the Charities Commission it has no
formal links to the RSS. But M.G. Vaidya, India spokesman
for the RSS in New
Delhi, told the FT: "The RSS has international branches
in the US and the UK called the HSS. My son, Ram Vaidya,
is a leading pracharak [full-time volunteer] for the HSS
in the UK."
the RSS readily admits that Sewa Bharti, an acknowledged
Indian counterpart of Sewa International and
the IDRF, is part of its "family". "We make
no secret of the fact that we are members of the RSS," says
D.V. Kholi, senior vice-president for Sewa Bharti in New
RSS-linked charities include the Ekal Vidyalaya (school
programme) in the US and the Kalyan Ashram Trust (the tribal
development group) in the UK. The former says it funds schools
that "wean children of remote tribal areas of India
away from illiteracy . . . ill-health, poverty and crime".
The latter more openly admits to projects that "wean
tribals away from the evil influence of foreign missionaries,
anti-social and anti-national forces [standard code for Christianity
and Islam]". Both groups are run by RSS volunteers.
late 1990s the Sangh Parivar opened hundreds of schools
in tribal parts of Gujarat, including the Dangs in the south
of the state. A typical question published in an RSS educational
booklet that is widely used as material for courses in Sangh
Parivar schools asks: "Who shed rivers of blood to spread
Islam?" The answer is the prophet Mohammed.
"The Kalyan Ashram and other RSS educational groups
indoctrinate tribal and disadvantaged Indians into hatred
of Islam and Christianity," says P.B. Sawant, a retired
judge of India's supreme court. "I have no doubt that
this contributed to last year's
violence in Gujarat."
Mander, a former civil servant, now head of ActionAid in
India, says that such groups operate in tandem with other
RSS bodies, including the VHP. "They move into areas
identified by the RSS with the aim of manufacturing communal
hatred," he says. " It is meticulously
District commissioners - the most senior civil servants
- in the tribal belt of Madhya Pradesh, a state which borders
Gujarat, say that RSS charities have dramatically stepped
up their presence in the past two years. There are similar
reports from numerous districts in the states of Chattisgarh,
Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. Most of these states are
either outside the traditional Hindi-belt heartland of the
RSS or, like Madhya Pradesh which is ruled by the opposition
Congress Party, face key assembly elections later
Sanjay Dubey, commissioner for Dhar in Madhya Pradesh, says
that dozens of Sangh Parivar schools funded by foreign
donations have been opened up in his district over the
past 12 months. Volunteers who teach at such schools frequently
organise Shakhas, or
RSS paramilitary training sessions, he says. The drills,
modelled on those devised by Benito Mussolini, Italy's dictator
in the 1920s, often take place on school premises.
"The schools are part of an integrated RSS attempt
to split the community along communal lines so that Madhya
Pradesh will go the same way as Gujarat," Mr Dubey says. "Madhya
Pradesh is holding elections in November. There is no doubt
that this is co-ordinated with the BJP for electoral reasons."
Meeraj Mandoli, Mr Dubey's counterpart in the neighbouring
district of Jabhua, says that since Sangh Parivar charities
became active about two years ago, formerly peaceful communities
have seen attacks on the district's tribal Christian community,
rape of four nuns and the razing of several churches. Last
month, senior leaders of the VHP attended a ceremony to honour
the mother of Dara Singh, an activist awaiting trial for
the murder of Graham Staines, a Christian relief worker for
lepers, and his two children in a gruesome car arson attack
in Orissa three years ago.
"Until recently these groups did not operate in Jabhua
and there was absolutely no communal tension between Christians
and Hindu tribals," says Mr Mandoli. "Now the Christians
live in constant fear of being attacked."
Official government data support that view. Since 1998,
there have been almost 500 violent attacks on India's Christian
minority, which makes up 2.3 per cent of the 1bn population,
down from 2.9 per cent in the 1950 census. Between 1950 and
1998 there were only 50 recorded attacks on Christians.
"There has been an explosion of violence against Christians
in remote parts of India which has accompanied the arrival
of Sangh Parivar groups," says John Dayal, head of the
All-India Christian Council. "The official figures record
only a small proportion. A
large number of India's Christians live in terror."
Arjun Dev, a professor formerly in charge of the Indian
government's curriculum for the social sciences, says that
the basic objective of RSS schools is to make sure that disadvantaged
groups which have been largely ignored by the state blame
religious communities for their plight. "They teach
pupils about Islam and Christianity in the form of a catechism.
There is no room for question, debate or reflection. These
are semi-literate people who are grateful that someone is
finally paying them attention."
Indeed, much of the success of the RSS in spreading its
influence to new areas of the country over the past two decades
can be attributed to the shortcomings of the Indian state.
In large swaths of rural India, where the battle for the
country's political future is
being most fiercely fought, the government has failed to
provide schools, hospitals or welfare services for the disadvantaged.
communities may be isolated and traditionally shunned by
upper-caste Hinduism. But India's "scheduled" castes
and tribes make up roughly 25 per cent of the country's population.
to incorporate such groups into a nationalistic version
of Hinduism, the RSS hopes to win millions of new
voters for the BJP. And the first port of entry is through
the minds of the young. "You can compare the RSS schools
to the Jesuits or perhaps
more accurately to the Islamist welfare networks in the slums
of the Middle East where the state has simply failed to deliver," say
Biju Matthews, a researcher into RSS charities.
Since the attacks of September 11 2001 on New York and Washington,
western governments have worked intensively to shut off the
flow of funds to Islamist groups. Over the same period rightwing
Hindu groups in the UK and the US have become adept at passing
themselves off as purely cultural or educational bodies.
Bhatt, a senior lecturer at Goldsmiths College in London,
says the VHP and others play on people's fear of
appearing critical of other cultures. In the UK, the VHP
has even received public funding from a number of town and
county councils and has advised the department of education
on textbooks for religious teaching. "People in the
UK and the US are very politically correct nowadays and fear
they will be accused of racism if they do not indulge groups
such as the VHP or HSS," Mr Bhatt says. "Perhaps
if they understood the nature of these groups, they would
see the terrible irony."
*A Foreign Exchange of Hate: www.ektaonline.org/cac/about/