RSS-backed charities under UK scanner

Rashmee Z Ahmed

TIMES NEWS NETWORK [FRIDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2002 10:27:47 PM ] original | Letters to editor:

LONDON: In a significant knee-jerk response to allegations that the saffron pound helped pay for the Gujarat violence, the British authorities have widened the scope of an "open inquiry" into the alleged hate-funding activities of two leading Hindu charitable organisations, Sewa International and the Hindu Swaymsewak Sangh (HSS).

The move was confirmed to TNN on Friday by the British Treasury-funded charities watchdog, the Charity Commission, who said it planned to investigate thoroughly the alleged links of Sewa and HSS with Indian groups such as the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram in Gujarat.

It comes within weeks of a similar move across the Atlantic, in the US.

On Thursday night, Channel 4 television reported that Vanvasi Ashram, which it said was directly implicated in the Gujarat violence, received millions of pounds from Sewa International.

Sewa International President Shanti Lal Mistry told TNN he reserved comment on these "false allegations" until the British authorities make up their minds. He said he
wanted to see Channel 4's dossier of evidence and, if refused, would use legal means to do so.

If the allegations are proved, both groups could technically be stripped of charitable status. According to campaigners putting pressure on the government to "ban" the groups, the loss of charitable status would be a black mark against organisations claiming to represent Britain's one million Hindus.

The Channel 4 special investigation, which travelled to Gujarat and started in a West London shakha, one of 72 run by the HSS in the UK, firmly indicted Sewa and HSS for "raising funds for extreme Hindu groups involved in the massacre (of Muslims)".

It said, "The HSS remains a British registered charity - eligible for tax breaks, respected by the establishment and recipients of local authority moneyâ ¦(including from the Indian-dominant areas of) Brent, Newham, Leeds, Bradford, Hillingdon (LOSE), Coventry".

It quoted Lord Meghnad Desai to say the HSS is confident that political correctness would guarantee a steady flow of funds.

But highly placed sources within Sewa insisted the bulk of the £2.5 million it raised for the Gujarat earthquake, in concert with the VHP and other groups, was given to
Sewa Bharti in India.

The sources admitted Sewa International had paid Vanvasi some money, but insisted it was just a "couple of thousand pounds for sponsoring one or two students for education".

Late on Friday, members of Awaaz-South Asia Watch, an umbrella coalition "against fascism", issued a call for the government, local authorities, British MPs and political parties, including people like Prince Charles, to "refuse to accommodate sectarian Hindu organisations".

In the past, the Prince has publicly praised Sewa International's charity work.

On the lines of a British government on-campus ban on the radical Islamist youth group, the Hizbut Tahrir, it called for a ban on the National Hindu Students Forum

The NHSF, which regularly meets visiting Indian ministers, including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani, is the largest Hindu youth group in the UK.

VHP spokesman Hasmukh Shah denounced the allegations as "lies" and recalled how Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi himself had received £1 million from Sewa International on behalf of Sewa Bharti earlier this year. "They then went and said he used the money to kill Muslims. It's absurd".