Pressure on U.K. Govt. to crack down on Sangh Parivar outfits

By Hasan Suroor

The Hindu, Saturday, Dec 14th original | Letters to the Editor: | Fax: 91-44-8415325

LONDON DEC 13. The British Government is coming under growing pressure to crack down on the fringe Sangh Parivar organisations operating in U.K. as charitable bodies and allegedly using donations to fund sectarian activities in India.

A Channel 4 programme, linking these organisations with the recent communal violence in Gujarat and screened on Thursday evening, has fuelled calls for revoking their charitable status and for freezing their accounts.

The Channel said it would be submitting documents to the Charities Commission as fresh "evidence" of alleged misuse of funds by the largest U.K.- based Indian charity the Sewa International, an offshoot of the Hindu Swayamsevak Samaj (HSS) whose affairs are already being investigated by the Commission.

The Commission confirmed to The Hindu that an inquiry into allegations against the HSS was initiated in September, and that it would be taking "note" of the material shown on Channel 4. "We have already seen the programme and are in touch with Channel 4 journalists," a spokesperson said.

The programme, based on extensive interviews in Britain and Gujarat, sought to show that though Sewa claims to be an independent body, it had close links with HSS, the British variant of RSS, and even used its charity registration number for the purposes of raising funds. It raised over £ 2 million for the Gujarat earthquake amid allegations that some of it was later used to fund sectarian violence.

The programme specifically focused on the activities of the Sewa-funded Kalyan Vanvasi Ashram in Gujarat, whose inmates and officials were alleged to have been involved in attacks on Christians and Muslims. A functionary of the Ashram was quoted as saying that attacks on Christians and churches would continue. A Muslim resident of Baroda Mohammad Haji said the violence against Muslims was "orchestrated" by a senior Ashram functionary.

Justice P.B.Sawant, a retired Supreme Court judge, told the programme that "most of the money" sent to Gujarat by Sewa was used for "indoctrination". The head of the HSS, P.V.Ruparel, admitted that it was not always possible to keep track on where money was going but insisted that funds were raised in "good faith".

Several British Hindu donors said they would not have given money to Sewa if they knew it was being used for a political campaign. A former patron of Sewa, Adam Patel, said he was "shocked" when he was told that the donations were being channelled to promote a hate campaign against the Muslims. He asked for details of how the money was being "deployed" and when the Sewa bosses did not respond, he resigned. Eminent economist, Meghnad Desai, said the British Government was reluctant to act against the Hindu groups fearing that it would be accused of racism.

The Channel 4 expose was hailed by groups, which have been campaigning for action against the allegedly dubious charity organisations. A spokesperson of South Asia Solidarity said they would be pressing the Charities Commission to immediately revoke HSS's charitable status, and organise a protest outside the Commission's offices on December 20.