Foreign direct investment in hatred

By Kalpana Wilson

The Hindu, March 23, 2003 original

Pro-Hindutva organisations have come to rely on the moral and
material support of the Indian diaspora. The key to this is the
fostering of strong idealogical roots in these communities,
especially in the U.K., and favourable State multi-cultural policies
there, says KALPANA WILSON.

ON a bitterly cold and rapidly darkening evening in central London, a
crowd has gathered for a candlelight vigil to "Remember Gujarat". The
banners and placards of the protestors, mainly Indians from different
communities, read "2,000 murdered ... 200,000 dispossessed, still no
justice! And "Gujarat genocide - never again". But the vigil, which
is taking place outside the head offices of Britain's Charity
Commission, the body which monitors the activities of all registered
charities in this country, is also demanding action against the
pro-Hindutva organisations whose fund-raising activities in the
United Kingdom finance the "foreign direct investment" in communal
hatred. Because, ironically, it is the Sangh Parivar, with its
constant evocation of a (fabricated) Indian "tradition", which
constitutes the most globalised political force India has yet seen.
Today, the Sangh Parivar has come to rely on the moral - and more
importantly, material - support of the Indian diaspora which, as has
been well-documented, runs into millions of dollars.

Some of the most direct routes by which donations in Britain reach
the hands of killer gangs in Gujarat were exposed on a Channel 4 News Report broadcast here on December 12, 2002. The programme revealed how one organisation funded by British charity Sewa International - the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram in Gujarat - is directly implicated in the February-March 2002 pogrom. Forensic evidence implicates a leading member, currently absconding, as "leading a mob of 2,000 tribal people" in an attack on Muslim minorities.

The programme also reported that a Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram leader
" threatened the villagers saying that if they didn't join in provoking the Muslims and burning them, they would also be treated like Muslims and burnt", while another activist told the reporter:
" the Christians have made a church in our village. We have thought
several times of destroying it. One day we will definitely break it
down". But while the British Charity Commissioners have been
investigating the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's (RSS) international
wing, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh or HSS (a registered charity in
Britain and the founders of Sewa International), since last September, there are little signs of action. The commissioners privately admit that nothing will be done to stem the flow of funds without the go-ahead of the Foreign Office.

So where does this money come from? While the Gujarat earthquake
provided an opportunity for Sewa International and other Sangh
Parivar groups to fundraise on a massive scale from the general
public, (with Sewa International winning the praise of Prince Charles
and other prominent figures), the major long-term source of funding
is Britain's Gujarati communities. Many people, particularly women,
are unwittingly, drawn into the Sangh Parivar networks through the
latter's "social work" activities, and via temples. But the Sangh
Parivar has also succeeded in putting down strong ideological roots
in these communities in Britain.

In contrast to the situation in the United States, Gujaratis in
Britain are still predominantly working class or petty bourgeois. In
the 1970s, factory workers from these communities, particularly women workers, waged some of the most militant industrial actions including the well-known Grunwick's strike led by Jayaben Desai, in the process forcing the racist trade union establishment to take up the demands of Asian and other black workers. However in the 1990s, with most such factories closed down, and many Gujaratis entering family-run small businesses (mainly shops), the Sangh Parivar has established a strong presence, channelising experiences of racism and alienation into virulent Hindu chauvinism.

The fact that Gujarati Hindu communities are dominated by those who
migrated to Britain from East Africa has also been an important
factor in this process. First, this community's role as "middlemen"
under British colonial rule in East Africa gave it a particular
susceptibility to fascist ideology. At the same time, there is a
strong sense of Gujarati pride - and Gujarat is invariably conflated
with India (in fact, in Britain, Indian has become synonymous with
Gujarati in many areas). Second, the community has from the outset
been organised along caste lines, with migration to Britain itself
taking place through caste linkages. There is, therefore, an
established pattern of people in Britain donating money to be sent
back to Gujarat for welfare purposes, via caste associations. But
during the last decade, the Sangh Parivar groups have usefully
incorporated many of these caste organisations into their own
networks and effectively taken control of this flow of funds.

The ideas of Hindutva have also slotted in comfortably with the
repackaging of Indian culture for NRIs as something globalised and
" modern" in terms of consumption patterns, and "traditional",
patriarchal and implicitly communal in terms of values. Bollywood
hits like "Hum Aapke Hain Kaun" and "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham'' not only epitomise this repackaging and commoditisation of culture, but are also notable for their targeting of British and North American
NRIs as both subject matter - whose perceived lifestyles are
glamourised and simultaneously ridiculed - and an important potential
audience. And when British Asian primary school girls in West London
are taught dance routines from "Kabhi Khushi Gham" in school as an
example of Indian culture (and in the name of multicultural education), this process appears to have come full circle.

But the British State's multicultural policies have also played a
more direct role in the rise of the Sangh Parivar in this country. A
number of Sangh Parivar organisations across the country receive
large grants from local government, ostensibly for their "community
work" activities. The funding of pro-Hindutva groups by the
government is a direct result of New Labour's approach towards
" ethnic minorities". This has its roots in the attempts of the
British state to undermine the anti-racist struggles of its black
population which began in the 1970s - State funding for community
organisations was used to successively divide these communities
firstly between those of Asian and African-Caribbean origin, then
according to linguistic group (Punjabi, Gujarati, Bengali, etc) and
finally, since the late 1990s, according to religion or what New
Labour terms "faith communities". This promotion by the British
government of the notion of "faith communities" has strengthened a
variety of right-wing religious forces, giving them legitimacy as
self-styled "community leaders". In the case of Hindutva, it has
meant that by setting up local groups, claiming to represent Hindu
" faith communities", the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and HSS have
direct access to British government funding for their activities.

At the same time, since the end of the 1980s we have seen Islam come to be identified as the primary enemy of the U.S. and its allies. The demonisation of Islam in the discourse of America's global strategy fed into existing images of "ethnic minority communities" in Britain to generate a specifically anti-Muslim racism, promoted and
intensified by the state and the media. Key events in this process
were the Rushdie Affair, and the Gulf War in 1991. The construction
of the "Muslim" as fanatical, fundamentalist, violent, and, crucially, owing allegiance to political forces external - and hostile - to Europe has thus come to the forefront of racist imagery. Today state racism and its anti-Muslim aspect have gained new legitimacy in the context of September 11 and the "war on terror".

One effect of this is to further deepen the divisions among South
Asian communities, as the discourses of the state, the media and the
Sangh Parivar "community leaders" intersect. In Bradford for example, where Asian youth, mainly of Pakistani and Kashmiri origin, fought pitched battles with the police in riots caused by years of poverty, unemployment and racism, a recognised "leader" of the "Hindu community", Hasmukh Shah, is also a VHP leader. Early on, Shah attempted to project the disturbances as having a communal character, while he later actually aligned himself with the white supremacist British National Party.

On a day-to-day level too, communal divisions have intensified. As
ever, these divisions are sought to be reinforced by controlling and
policing the behaviour of women. A group of Indian schoolgirls in
North London explained that their fathers' rule about boys they
associated with, was "No BMWs - No blacks, Muslims or Whites - but a
Muslim would probably be the worst". Meanwhile, Indian boys in their
(state) school attended HSS shakha meeting which were held regularly and rent-free in the school premises. As in India, the Sangh
Parivar's youth organisations, which include a network of student
groups, the National Hindu Students Federation, have focused on
" protecting" Hindu women from relationships with Muslim men.

South Asian women's groups in Britain have always organised along
secular lines bringing together women from different communities in
campaigns against violence and oppression in the home, the community and in wider British society. Today more than ever, their struggles against patriarchy involve confronting communalism within their own communities. This year's International Women's Day on March 8 saw the first national South Asian women's conference to be held in Britain. Along with domestic violence, State racism and the impending war, the participants discussed ways forward in an ongoing battle against communalism - including an increasingly globalised Hindutva.

The writer is a research fellow in the Department of Development
Studies at SOAS, University of London.