begins in the donation box
By Ashish Kumar Sen
Asia Times Online, March 3, 2004 original
WASHINGTON - For the second time in less than two years, an
in-depth recent report has been released providing in detail
links between charities based in the West and militant Hindu
organizations in India.
The latest report, "In Bad Faith? British Charity and Hindu
Extremism", has been published by Awaaz, a London-based
secular network. According to the report, a significant portion
of funds collected in the name of humanitarian causes is being
spent on schools run by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS),
a hardline Hindu organization whose philosophy is intolerant
of other religions and which advocates Hindutva - a militant
brand of Hinduism.
In New Delhi, an RSS spokesman dismissed the allegations as "wild
and false". "The whole report smacks of a sinister
conspiracy to defame Hindu organizations," said RSS spokesman
Ram Madhav. "We take strong objection to the propaganda
unleashed by persons and organizations hither to unknown against
the RSS and organizations connected with it like the Sewa Bharati
[a fundraiser] with wild and false allegations of misuse of funds
received from abroad."
In the past, independent human rights groups including the New
York-based Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and India's
National Human Rights Commission have reported that RSS projects
directed at tribal and lower caste groups in Gujarat played a
critical role in fomenting communal riots in 2002.
The Awaaz report claims that the RSS's front organizations collected
millions of pounds from the British public, which was unaware
of the charities' links to Hindu militants. A majority of these
funds were collected by the Leicester-based and registered charity,
Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) and its fundraising arm, Sewa International
The HSS, an overseas branch of the RSS, actively promotes its
ideology of turning India into a Hindu nation.
Sewa International (UK), though not a registered charity, became
a high profile fundraising organization after the Gujarat earthquake
in 2001. Allegedly using the HSS' charity registration number,
its India Quake Appeal raised around US$4.2 million. The British
public and patrons of Sewa International were apparently at the
time unaware of its connections to the RSS.
Lord Adam Patel, member of the House of Lords and patron of
Sewa International, resigned from his latter affiliation last
year after learning of the group's links to RSS. Speaking at
the release of the report in the House of Lords on February 26,
Lord Patel said that Sewa International had "cheated me
and cheated the residents of the UK".
"Like Lord Adam Patel, people have been shocked at the
level of deceit carried out by Sewa International," said
Suresh Grover, an Awaaz board member.
London-based Charity Commission is investigating the HSS and
Sewa International. Last year, the Indian government denied visas
to investigators from the commission who wanted to travel to
India as part of their inquiry. Confirming that the commission
had been "refused" visas, Rebecca Drake, a spokesperson
said: "We have contacted them [the government of India]
to ask them to reconsider their decision and are awaiting a response."
Another Charity Commission spokesperson said: "We are looking
into potential links between the charity [HSS] and extremist
organizations in India and alleged payments to these groups by
the charity. We are looking at the relationship between the HSS
and Sewa International, and also the administration of the funds
that were collected for the Gujarat Earthquake Appeal."
Many are unaware of the extent of the political influence the
HSS has cultivated within the UK. "It's a striking fact
that as prime minister, Margaret Thatcher put a garland on [RSS
founder Keshav Baliram ] Hedgewar's bust," said Awaaz spokesperson
Explaining the lack of public outcry, Bhatt said: "That's
part of the British didactic multiculturalism ... people don't
want to be labeled racist."
According to Grover, the main goal of the HSS and Sewa International
is to "channel money to extremist RSS fronts in India, despite
their claim to be non-sectarian, non-religious, non-political
and purely humanitarian organizations". Funds raised by
Sewa International run into millions of dollars.
While the report links the HSS, Sewa International and the Kalyan
Ashram Trust to RSS-sponsored violence in India, Grover said: "Although
we cannot say pounds collected here were used to buy guns in
India, we can say with confidence that the money was used to
build hatred against a minority. Most donors would be horrified
if they knew the nature, history and ideas of the RSS," he
The Hostel-Dispensary-Cultural Center for Children and Nurseries,
an affiliate of a US-based charity implicated in a similar report,
states in its literature: "The Muslims are also trying to
create chaos in these communities, either by enticing these tribals
or by raping the tribal girls by force. The Kalyan Ashram at
Sidumbar [Gujarat] is trying to put a stop to these activities
of Muslims as well as Christians ... The workers of Kalyan Ashrams
are required to give a tough fight to the Christian missionaries
because they keep on harassing the local residents."
According to the Awaaz report, the village of Chapredi, rebuilt
after the Gujarat earthquake, included an important dedication
plaque glorifying the RSS, its founder and a key RSS affiliate.
A Hindu temple topped with saffron flags was built in the village.
No evidence was found of Sewa International funding the rebuilding
of mosques or churches, though many of these were destroyed in
Some funds meant for earthquake reconstruction were also allegedly
channeled to the RSS's Lok Kalyan Samiti in Chanasma village,
which has been directly implicated in the violent "cleansing" of
all Muslims from the village and the illegal occupation of premises
and land belonging to the statutory Muslim Waqf board. Another
RSS project, Jankalyan Samiti, was allegedly the recipient of
Sewa International (UK) earthquake funds. The Samiti's Maharashtra
branch has been involved in violence against Christians.
The report makes a pointed reference to the fact that despite
these charities' claims of being non-sectarian and non-discriminatory,
Sewa International (UK), the HSS (UK) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad
(VHP - World Hindu Forum) did not launch any humanitarian appeals
following the Gujarat violence in 2002. The majority of victims
of that tragedy were Muslims.
Saying that the Sewa Bharati was governed by Indian laws, Madhav
added: "Every single penny received by Sewa Bharati from
within or outside India is judiciously spent on the causes for
which it has been collected."
The Awaaz report is not the first to expose links between Hindutva
groups and violence. In 2002, a Channel Four investigation in
the UK documented the communal ideology espoused at Vanvasi Kalyan
ashrams in India. Last year, the Financial Times reported a similar
story. The Madhya Pradesh government has revoked Sewa Bharti's
license because of its alleged involvement in violence against
The Awaaz report claims a large proportion of the $484,000 raised
by Sewa International for Orissa cyclone relief in 1999 enabled
the expansion of major RSS affiliates. "Funds were used
for building RSS schools. The RSS and its leaders were glorified.
The HSS said Orissa cyclone funds would be channeled through
RSS volunteers and given to organizations which get their work
force from the RSS," the report says.
Bhatt says that the British public was "duped" into
believing they were contributing towards relief efforts for victims
of the Orissa cyclone and the Gujarat earthquake.
Grover added: "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 both had natural and
human tragedies followed by massive amounts of funding to Hindutva
organizations from overseas."
Almost a quarter of Sewa International earthquake funds raised
from the British public were for building sectarian, highly controversial
RSS schools. "These schools are mainly run by the RSS's
Vidya Bharati, whose teaching material has been condemned by
India's statutory National Council for Educational Research and
Training as blatantly promoting bigotry, fanaticism and hatred."
Madhav claimed that the Sewa Bharati had constructed 124 schools,
and that 49 of these had minorities on their rolls. "Sewa
Bharati [Gujarat] has served the minorities without any discrimination
during the relief activities," he added.
The UK report echoes findings by US-based groups in November
2002. The Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (CSFH) put out an exhaustive
document linking a Maryland-based charity, the India Development
and Relief Fund (IDRF), to the RSS. The authors of that report, "The
Foreign Exchange of Hate", alleged IDRF was sending money
to organizations implicated in violence against Christians and
Muslims in India.
"The British report corroborates the assertion of the FxH
[The Foreign Exchange of Hate] report that front organizations
raise money in the Indian expatriate communities, ostensibly
for the purposes of development and education, but channel these
funds towards political agendas that are inimical to a tolerant,
secular and plural society," said a CSFH spokesperson.
Linking the two reports, a spokesperson for Awaaz said: "Sewa
International is the UK equivalent of the American charity, the
India Development and Relief Fund; both organizations work towards
the same purpose - to fund, promote and glorify extremist RSS
fronts in India."
In a response to the CSFH report, "Factual Response to
the Hate Attack on the IDRF," the "Friends of India" refuted
charges against the charity saying: "Here is what a rational
individual should ask: Is being for something always being against
something else? Does loving your wife lead to hating other women?
Is loving your nation an indication of hating other countries?
Is helping those closest to you an attempt at undermining others?"
"Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or
a state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as
religious Hindu fundamentalism," the authors of the "Factual
"The response of the HSS has always been to simply deny
all allegations rather than deal with specific charges," said
Bhatt. "They never answer the key allegations which have
been made to them repeatedly - which is that they are RSS fronts,
they are raising money for the RSS and its affiliates, they are
funding organizations which are linked to violence, and they
are accountable to the British public from which they have raised
The Awaaz report has asked the UK Charity Commissioner to withdraw
charity status of the HSS (UK), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (UK)
and the Kalyan Ashram Trust.
In New Delhi, Madhav remains confident that his organization
will ride out the storm. "Similar futile efforts were made
last year also by some groups in the US to denigrate and defame
Hindu organizations working for the welfare of the people of
our country," he said. "These campaigns have not harmed
us earlier and they are not going to do so now either."
Ashish Kumar Sen is a Washington DC-based journalist.