UK charities 'misled
donors into funding Indian extremism'
By Edward Luce
Financial Times, February 26 2004 original
Charities registered in the UK have played a key role in funding
Hindu extremists responsible for sectarian violence in India, alleges
a report to be released in London today.
The report, In Bad Faith? British Charity and Hindu Extremism, echoes
findings in the US last year in which US-registered tax-exempt organisations
were shown to be funnelling money to groups that allegedly planned
the massacre of up to 2,000 Muslims in the state of Gujarat in 2002.
Produced by Awaaz, a UK-based foundation set up last year by British
Indian academics and lawyers, the report details claims that UK-registered
charities misled donors about their underlying ideology. It says
they raised millions of pounds - sometimes by organising multicultural
events that included British Muslim donors - that funded activities
directly linked to the violent persecution of religious minorities
The groups include Sewa International UK, said to be the funding
arm of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, a UK-registered charity that
is the British branch of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (Organisation
of National Volunteers), India's largest Hindu radical group.
The RSS is the parent body of a network of Hindu radical groups,
including India's ruling Hindu nationalist BJP. The report also focuses
on the Kalyan Ashram Trust, the UK branch of an RSS offshoot that
allegedly indoctrinates Indian tribal groups with Hindu nationalist
The research sets out detailed claims that money raised in the UK
for the victims of disasters in India was devoted to explicitly sectarian
projects, many of which can be directly linked to subsequent violence.
In particular, funds raised for victims of the Gujarat earthquake
in 2001 and the Orissa cyclone in 1999 were spent on setting up schools
to indoctrinate locals in Hindu nationalist ideology, it alleges.
"Both the Orissa cyclone and the Gujarat earthquake appeals
demonstrate a pattern in which a national tragedy is used to enable
the dramatic expansion of RSS institutions, in the afflicted regions," it
says. "Their [the UK charities'] main purpose is to channel
funds to ... organisations repeatedly singled out for hatred, intolerance
and violence in India."
For example, much of the £2m ($3.75m, &euro3m) Sewa International
raised for victims of the Gujarat earthquake was spent on RSS schools,
which allegedly teach pupils that Christianity and Islam are anti-Indian.
Sewa International's website said most of the rest was spent on rebuilding
villages. But the Awaaz report claims other organisations did most
of the rebuilding work while RSS affiliates focused on sectarian
projects such as rebuilding Hindu temples - but not mosques - destroyed
in the earthquake.
In one village of 164 households, the only four Muslim families
appeared deliberately to have been excluded from the reconstruction
carried out for the other families. The report also shows photographs
of plaques erected in the villages in which the RSS claims full credit
for the work.
Sewa denies any links to the RSS, which itself claims to be a purely
cultural body. But Sewa's UK address is the same as that of the RSS
in the city of Leicester. The report demonstrates that almost all
Sewa's funds were forwarded to RSS groups in India. "Sewa International
UK knew exactly what it was doing and how it supported the aims and
agenda of the RSS."
A spokesman for the RSS in New Delhi refused to comment on the allegations,
as did Sewa International and its parent body in India. But Ashok
Chowgule, a senior member of the VHP (World Council of Hindu Churches),
a prominent affiliate of the RSS, said: "We deny all of the
allegations. We do genuine social work for the downtrodden. It is
not the Hindu way to discriminate against people."
The report, which says the donors could not have known how their
money would be spent, calls on the UK's Charity Commission to remove
the charitable status of the HSS, the VHP (UK) and the Kalyan Ashram
The commission is already investigating the status of these charities
and is expected to reach a judgment soon.
Last year officials at the Charity Commission were denied entry
visas to carry out research in India.
None of the leading authors of the Awaaz report is Muslim or Christian.
Researchers of the 80-page report visited villages in Gujarat that
Sewa International had listed as having been reconstructed with the
money it had raised in the UK. Most of the Gujarat earthquake funds
- by Sewa's own breakdown - were channelled to Sewa Bharati (Service
to India), which openly acknowledges that it is part of the "RSS
A number of independent bodies, including the New York-based Human
Rights Watch, Amnesty International and India's Human Rights Commission,
a state-appointed body, have alleged that RSS educational projects
among tribal and lower caste groups in Gujarat played a critical
role in fomenting the riots in 2002. www.awaazsaw.org