Indian diaspora funding Hindu extremism

By Angana Chatterji

The Milli Gazette, Sun, Dec 15, 2002 original

"In the United States, where substantial funds are raised for Hindu extremist agendas, the U.S. Government must act to ensure that organizations that broker terror should not continue to enjoy their non-profit status within the USA."

It is now no secret that the Sangh Parivar, the collective name given to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal and other Hindu extremist organizations, is exploiting religion (Hindutva) to foment communal violence in India. To this end they are organizing the ultra-right, non-secular and undemocratic forces in India. What is less known is how these forces of injustice and bigotry are funded, especially by the Indian-Hindu communities living abroad.

These organizations receive substantial contributions from Hindus in the United States and elsewhere. The Indian magazine, "Outlook," in its July 22, 2002, issue published an article by A. K. Sen, titled, 'Deflections to the Right'. The piece highlighted a component of the chain of funding that sustains Hindu extremism. The article states that the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) is one of the more conspicuous charity organizations that raises funds in the United States to support the RSS battalions in India. IDRF lists Sewa International as its counterpart in India. Sewa International and the various organizations it oversees receive over two-thirds of the IDRF funding. Incidentally, Sewa International, in its mission to transform India, states on its website in a section on 'Experiments and Results' with 'Social Harmony' that social consolidation can be achieved through social cohesion. Among other things, the website quotes Manya H. V. Sehadarji, Sarkaryawah of the RSS, as saying: "The ultimate object of all these endeavours is Hindu Sangathan-consolidation and strengthening of the Hindu society."

Hindu extremism, like other xenophobic movements, functions through carefully fashioned exclusionary principles whereby all non-Hindus and dissenting Hindus, identified as Hindu traitors, become second-class citizens. In addition, justification of caste inequities, subordination of Dalits ('lower' caste communities), women, adivasis (tribal) and other minorities, and the consolidation of a cohesive middle-class base are critical to its momentum.

In the United States, where substantial funds are raised for Hindu extremist agendas, the U.S. Government must act to ensure that organizations that broker terror should not continue to enjoy their non-profit status within the USA. It is interesting that in 1999, the VHP failed to gain recognition at the United Nations as 'a cultural organization' because of its philosophical underpinnings. However, the VHP of America is an independent charity registered in the United States in the 1970s, where it has, and continues to, receive funds from a variety of individuals and organizations.

Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and Americans of Indian descent must examine the politics of hate encouraged by extremist Hindu organizations in the name of charity and social work. Indians, one of the most financially successful groups in the United States, must take seriously their moral obligation to ensure that their dollars are not funding malice and scrutinize the organizations that are on the receiving end in India. The issue is not whether these organizations are undertaking charitable work, but whether they are doing so to promote separatist and non-secular ideals. Param Vaibhav Ke Path Par (On The Road To Great Glory), written by Sadanand Damodar Sapre, and published in 1997 by Suruchi Prakashan, Jhandewalan, New Delhi, the central publication house of the RSS, lists the 40-plus organizations maintained by the RSS in India for its multivariate programs.

In addition, the VHP and other Parivar outfits aim at the communalization of education through the 'Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram' and 'Ekal Vidyalas' (schools). One strategy is to Hinduize adivasi communities, exploit divisions among the marginalized and indoctrinate the youth, in order to both turn them against one another and use them as foot soldiers in the larger cause of religious nationalism. Such inculcation has had serious repercussions in Gujarat, India, this year where tribals were manipulated into attacking Muslims during the carnage in February and March 2002.

While Hindu fundamentalists do not have a monopoly on religious intolerance in India, their actions are holding the country hostage. Well-organized, widespread and acting in the name of [Hinduism] the majority religion in India, Hindu extremism is positioned to silence diversity through force and terror, the rhetoric of Hindu supremacy and the positioning of minority groups as depraved enemies who must be punished.

Indians at home and abroad must oppose the deep infiltration of the Hindutva brigade into the press, as well as other institutions -- political, military, bureaucratic, civic, business, educational and law and order -- of India. Such infiltration is creating a nation where religious fundamentalists violate the Constitution of India and the state tolerates such violation. While the present BJP regime at the center has overt and close links to organizations within the Sangh Parivar, citizens are assured that secularism and democracy are sacred and secure. The reality is different. The Indian government's handling of communal violence and sanctioning of communal discourse is clear to the observers and threatens to jeopardize India's capacity to function as a nation.

The VHP, in its meeting with Muslim leaders in New Delhi on July 15, 2002, stated that if Muslims agreed to resettle Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir, Muslims in Gujarat would be rehabilitated. The Hindus must understand that issues connected to the democratization of Pakistan, ethical resolutions to Kashmir, or gender reforms within Islam are separate from India's commitment to upholding the rights of minorities or to reforms within Hinduism.

Hindu extremism against Muslims and other minorities in India collapses distinctions that must be made to honour human rights in India. Also, Hindutva's discourse of history posits Hindus and Hinduism as being under siege and preposterously asserts the idea of India as a Hindu Nation. Such revisionist history strategically and hideously poses that a vengeful justice can be found for the crimes of history committed by non-Hindu rulers. Retribution is sought by attacking contemporary Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and others in India.

Hinduism is critical to the fabric of India, as are all the other cultures and religions that inhabit it and frame the imagination of the Indian nations. It will require considerable effort on the part of progressive Indians to conceive a secular nation where religion is indeed separate from the integrity of the state and where pluralism guarantees rights and respect to the religious and non-religious alike. Every Hindu, and every citizen, must denounce that to be Indian is to be Hindu, challenge assertions that a secular Constitution is anti-Hindu and refute the call for a Hindu Nation in India as anti-national. Patriotism and nationalism demand that all social, political and religious groups work for an India free of disenfranchisement, institutionalized violence, corruption and rampant inequities. The Indians cannot permit India's secular and democratic fabric to be irreparably compromised. q

Angana Chatterji is a professor of social
and cultural anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies.