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Indian charity in UK funded Gujarat Hindu extremist groups: Report

By Vijay Dutt

Hindustan Times, December 13 original | Letters to editor: feedback@hindustantimes.com | Fax: 91 11 3704600

The British TV network Channel 4 News, in an investigative report, has alleged
that a high-profile Indian charity group SEWA International has been raising
funds for extreme Hindu groups involved in Gujarat massacre in the name of riot
victims.

SEWA, which has been praised even by Prince Charles and backed by eminent
British Asians, "has been raising funds for extreme Hindu groups involved in the
massacre," the channel alleged in the special report telecast on the eve of
Gujarat polls.

"We show that some of its donations are channelled directly to Hindu
fundamentalists in India," it said.

Jonathan Miller was named as the reporter on unsuspecting help for violence in
India. He described a meet in west London of "young Hindus attending a local
branch of the RSS, India's biggest Hindu nationalist group. Its British arm, the
HSS, is a charity registered here for nearly 30 years. Every week across Britain
there are 72 meetings like this one."

One Rahul Deolia told him, "As most ethnic minority youngsters will tell you it's
important to know who you are and where you come from in order to face the
rest of society that's the way it is and that's how HSS has helped me coming to
shakha develop a sense of identity."

But the reporter asked the question is the HSS really just a watered down
version of this?

Up to 60 British volunteers, like Rahul, come to India for training every year on
funds raised by the HSS charity.

Critics express concern about the organisation's ideology.

But, Lord Desai who is with the London School of Economics says on the
programme, "The RSS is like a fascist youth movement like black shirts or
something like that but perhaps with deeper roots because the RSS has been
there for 75 years plus. "

In that time the RSS has evolved a unique and some say potentially lethal
philosophy.

Chetan Bhatt of the Goldsmith College in London opined: "The core ideas of the
RSS are based on an ideology called Hindutva or Hindu nationalism. This was an
idea formed in the 1920s and at the root of it is the idea that India has to be an
exclusive nation state, where minorities must demonstrate unconditional love
and obedience to the nation.

Otherwise they will be converted forcibly or removed. So for example one
popular Hindutva slogan is that Muslims in India have only two places: Pakistan
or kabristan (graveyard).

But, PV Ruperlia, Secretary HSS (UK) countered: "It boils up my blood. Hindus in
India have gone through a period of humiliating subjugation for the past seven
hundred years, we are prepared to forgive for that we can not forget it."

The report alleged that the "Hindu nationalist backlash was immediate (to
Godhra incident), in Gujarat more than 2,000 Muslims were killed and several
hundred thousand displaced, in the worst communal disturbance since partition.

Several inquiries including one by the British High Commission saw the hand of
the RSS and its associated organisations behind the violence.

Back in Britain, Channel Four News has learned how special branch responded to
the Gujarat violence: they started a watching brief on the HSS.

In addition, the charity commission were alerted to allegations that money
raised for the HSS in Britain might fund communal violence in India.

In September they announced a formal investigation into the Leicester-based
charity. This is focusing on Sewa International, the HSS's welfare and relief arm,
which raises millions for Indian emergencies and development.

Simon Gillespie, director of operations, Charity Commission, said: "Our concern
is to make sure that any charity directs its funds properly to that charitable
cause to make sure that they are not misleading donors in the process so we
want to make sure there's a very clear line between the money given here in
the UK and the needy people in Gujarat."

It was claimed that for months Channel Four News had been investigating

The activities of the HSS, how they raise money and what they do with it. Their
appeal for earthquake victims in Gujarat last year raised more than £4-million
and could hardly have been more high-profile.

"It earned the praise of the Prince of Wales whose office wrote that 'the Prince
continues to be most impressed by the excellent work being done by SEWA
International (and sends his best wishes to all the staff and volunteers)."

SEWA recruited four peers as patrons, including President of the Liberal
Democrat Party Lord Dholakia; and Cabinet minister Paul Boateng, who
attended a fund-raising event.

Many donors, the report alleged, have been unaware that SEWA International
was part of the HSS. That's because SEWA is not actually a registered charity, it
simply borrows the HSS charity registration number.

Lord Adam Patel who was one of the patrons of the appeal for earthquake
victims, seems to feel that he has been deceived. "Well, I was absolutely
shocked. They were involved directly or indirectly in many communal riots, they
were involved in the destruction of the Ayodhya mosque. So I said what's going
on? Have I lent my name to the wrong organisation?"

Asked by Channel 4 News: "Does it appear they have indeed done good work,"
Lord Adam Patel responded: "If they (SEWA) have I congratulate them, but I
don't approve of their association."

In August, Lord Patel allegedly wrote a letter demanding details of SEWA's links
to Hindu nationalist groups in India. When he did not receive answers, he
resigned.

The Channel 4 raised the question, "So just what is the money raised by SEWA
used for in India? And what is its connection with SEWA's parent organisation the
HSS and the extremist activities of the RSS in India?

It said: " We logged on to the SEWA International website. You can make a
donation by credit card. Unless you specify a particular cause, SEWA will then
pass your money on to any one of a whole host of projects they support in India
no doubt many of them good works.

"But one of the most high-profile is the Kalyan Ashram, a project to help the
poorest of the poor in India, the tribal people. The Indian project's website says
it's 'dedicated to weaning' tribal people 'away from the evil influence of foreign
missionaries and anti-national forces'."

The Channel then alleged, "We heard about a campaign by Kalyan Ashram to
convert thousands of tribal people to Hinduism in Gujarat. The conversion
campaign started in 1997, the year in which accounts filed with the Charity
Commission show SEWA International began funding Kalyan Ashram."

Chetan Bhatt added, "The activities of individuals led to systematic violence for
example attacks on churches the burning down of churches in towards the end
of 1988 and in 1999, increased violence and hostility towards the Christian
population in Gujarat."

The HSS when asked about this by the Channel provided a statement from
Kalyan Ashram in Gujarat which said: "Kalyan Ashram has never destroyed any
Places of worship."

The TV reporter then wanted to find out whether money given by British donors
to SEWA International, "apparently to help the poor in India, could actually end
up funding sectarian violence there". It sent a team to Gujarat to find out.

There, the team alleges to have heard allegations that "sectarian violence by
Kalyan Ashram was still going on". The team went to the Baroda region of
Gujarat which was reportedly scene of some of the worst violence. The TV
report said: "Fifty-six people were killed here in just a few days, hundreds more
injured, 29 mosques were destroyed, thousands were driven from their homes.

The Channel report said that a Hindu activist who had witnessed Kalyan Ashram
operations at first hand gave it the inside story on the riots. "We've had to
protect his identity. He told us the local Kalyan Ashram boss had organised the
attacks in Mohammed Haji 's area. He allegedly threatened villagers threatened
that if they didn't join in provoking the Muslims and burning them, they would
also be treated like Muslims and burnt.

"And he said the government is on our side, nothing will happen to you. So the
Kalyan Ashram activists gave the villagers bows and arrows and revolvers and
such arms."

But the report admitted that when the Channel 4 team went to the Ashram boss'
home village his family said he was on the run from the police. The police
accuse him of leading a mob of 2,000 tribal people in another big attack.

The retired Indian Supreme Court Judge PB Sawant who has been hearing
evidence for an independent tribunal on the Gujarat violence is quoted saying :
"The organisation called Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram through which the tribals are
being indoctrinated into communal philosophy was roped in and all those who
were trained there were also enrolled for violence."

But, the president of Kalyan Ashram in Gujarat denied his organisation was
involved in violence. He also denied any dealings with the HSS and even, at first,
with SEWA International.


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