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British Public Funding Anti-Minority Program in India, Alleges New Report

By Rahul Verma
OneWorld South Asia, 26 February 2004 original

NEW DELHI, Feb 26 (OneWorld) - A new report released in the United Kingdom Thursday claims the British public is donating millions of dollars as charity to organizations linked to Indian groups accused of spearheading a campaign against minorities in India.

The report, slated to be presented before the British Parliament's House of Lords Thursday, has called for an end to public funding of groups affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an Indian organization that has been advocating "Hindutva" - a militant brand of Hinduism.

The report, called "In Bad Faith? British Charity and Hindu Extremism," has been prepared by a London-based South Asian network - Awaaz: South Asia Watch -which has been campaigning against religious hatred and violence.

"Most British donors would be horrified if they knew the nature, history and ideas of the RSS," says Awaaz. "British individuals raised funds and donated in good faith... but would not have done so had they known that the organization raising the money was closely linked to the Fascist-inspired and extremist RSS," says Awaaz.

The RSS has criticized the report, describing it as a document "full of lies." "There is not an iota of truth in the report," asserts RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav.

The report states that the British people have been donating funds to groups to tackle the aftermath of natural calamities, such as a deadly earthquake in the western Indian state of Gujarat in 2001 and a massive cyclone in the eastern state of Orissa in 1999.

"We do not think it is a coincidence that the two Indian states where Hindutva networks, violence and hatred have grown phenomenally in recent years had natural and human tragedies... followed by massive amounts of funding to Hindutva organizations from overseas under the guise of humanitarian charity," the report states.

Much of the money donated for relief work after the Gujarat earthquake was spent building schools run by the RSS, the report says. "...(The) schools indoctrinate children into Hindutva and promote anti-minority hatred," it says.

The groups named in the report include the Leicester-based charity, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) and its fund-raising arm, UK-based Sewa International. According to the report, Sewa International, sent two million pounds (US $3.6 million) raised for Gujarat earthquake relief to its Indian counterpart, Sewa Bharati.

The HSS, the report underlines, is the UK branch of the RSS. A registered charity, it "shares RSS's aims and ideology," it says.

"Sewa Bharati... proudly proclaims its association with the RSS and its desire to expand Hindutva networks," says the report, based on site visits to Gujarat villages in September, 2003, interviews in Gujarat conducted between March and May 2003 as well in the UK and analysis of paper and electronic documents.

Madhav admits that Sewa Bharati is linked with the RSS, but stresses that its transactions have all been "overboard." "The money was used for the purpose it was meant for," he says.

Awaaz disagrees. "Sewa International has tried to dupe politicians, donors and the general public," says spokesperson Suresh Grover. "Its main purpose is to fund, expand and glorify hate-driven RSS organizations, several of which have been at the forefront of large-scale violence, pogroms of hate campaigns in India," he alleges.

The report calls for withdrawing the charitable status of HSS and other associated charities. "Public sector funding and political patronage of these organizations should end," it urges.

The report has been lauded by Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (Anhad), a New Delhi-based rights group advocating religious harmony. "The report underlines the fact that money being donated for development is being used for killing people," says Shabnam Hashmi of Anhad.

Both Orissa and Gujarat have witnessed anti-minority violence in recent years. In 1999, an Australian Christian missionary was burnt to death with his two minor children in a village in Orissa. In February 2002, anti-Muslim riots broke out in Gujarat, killing 2000 people and displacing several thousand others.