Re: US Policy on Hindu Nationalist Groups in India and the US
Dear President-Elect Obama,
As Indian-Americans working for human rights, peace and justice, we are elated with your agenda on civil rights, which includes expanding hate crimes statutes, ending racial profiling, and combating workplace discrimination. And we welcome the diversity of talents in your transition team, including the appointment of several fellow Indian-Americans.
As a coalition representing India’s diversity, and committed to promoting the secular and pluralistic nature of its democracy, we are particularly sensitive to the status of Muslim and Christian minorities in India, who have been facing growing hostility from Hindu nationalist groups such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and their various affiliates, in several states of India. Unfortunately, every terrorist incident directed against the people of India, like the heinous attack on Mumbai last week, seems to only strengthen the hands of these groups, who relentlessly propagate religious stereotypes and commit violent acts against minority communities with impunity. We are writing to you to share our deep concerns in this regard, before your administration shapes its policy priorities towards India.
The alarming rise of Hindu nationalists and the consequent increase in bigotry, violence, and violations of religious freedom have been extensively documented by human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International as well as by the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Reports. To cite just two glaring examples:
RSS and VHP led widespread pre-planned attacks against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, ostensibly in ‘reaction’ to the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims in which sixty people died. In the ensuing days, with the full connivance of the state, rampaging mobs gruesomely murdered over 2,000 Muslims, destroyed their businesses, gang-raped women, and expelled thousands of Muslims from their villages. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Gujarat has been widely held responsible for the worst communal violence in post-independent India. Mr. Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister, who scornfully justified the massacres as a “lesson” to the Muslims, has been censured by India’s Supreme Court as a “modern day Nero” and denied entry into the US by the State Department on grounds of “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
VHP and its affiliates have been orchestrating a systematic hate campaign for years against India’s tiny Christian minority, in response to what they allege are ‘forced’ religious conversions of Hindus and tribal people, despite the fact that even in states with anti-conversion laws on the book there have been virtually no complaints of coercion. The violence against Christians and their places of worship touched new heights recently, when Hindu militias in the state of Orissa (with a BJP supported government) forcibly evicted thousands of tribal Christians from their villages, molested nuns, targeted pastors/priests, and coerced people to ‘reconvert’ to Hinduism. India’s National Commission for Minorities has indicted the state government for failing to curb the violence. The central government too has done very little to prevent the spread of anti-Christian violence to other states and has ignored calls for banning the VHP and its violent street militia, the Bajrang Dal. Members of VHP have been recently accused of terrorist attacks against Muslims in 2006 in the state of Maharashtra and are being investigated by India’s Anti-Terrorism Squad, some of whose members lost their lives in the recent Mumbai attack.
We cite these two examples to underscore the role of the Hindu nationalist groups in endangering human rights and peace in India, through their insidious combination of politics and the threat of violence. When faced with the escalating terrorist attacks from within and outside India, such as the recent carnage in Mumbai, they tend to further target the most vulnerable sections of the minorities. Indeed, the two types of terror seem to constantly feed off each other. The crucial difference, however, is that violence instigated by Hindu nationalist groups against minorities often have not led to fair investigations or justice. As your administration works to strengthen US-India relations and develops strategies to combat terrorism, it is imperative that it exerts all its diplomatic leverage with the Government of India to stem the politics of hatred, through clear signals such as continuing the current policy of denying entry to Mr. Modi.
Our second concern relates to mounting evidence that Hindu nationalist groups have been receiving considerable patronage from certain Indian-American NGOs and related charities in the U.S., ostensibly for legitimate social and educational work, which brings them considerable recognition and support from the community. We are specifically concerned with organizations such as VHP America, India Development and Relief Fund, and Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation, all of which claim to be independent of RSS and VHP in India, but are indeed connected with them through shared ideology and project partnerships. We urge your administration to closely scrutinize these organizations for their linkages to forces spreading communal hatred and violence in India.
In this context, we would like to bring to your attention the case of Ms. Sonal Shah, whose appointment to the Transition Board was widely applauded by sections of Indian and Indian-American community, but who has been less than candid about her connections with the VHP. We have written a letter to her (attached) seeking answers to a number of questions raised by her recent public statement and are awaiting her response.
In the meantime, we sincerely hope that your Transition Board will put in place a process to fully vet all South Asian appointees to the new administration for any direct or indirect association with hate mongering, violence-prone groups; and, if they are found to have had such connections, to restrict their role in any South Asia-related policy matters and as interlocutors of their community (along similar lines as the ethics rules laid out for lobbyists on the team).
In closing, we would like to reiterate our full support for your plans to enhance equal opportunities at home and to end human rights abuses abroad. And we particularly hope to be of service in your efforts to further strengthen bilateral ties with India by addressing mutual national security goals in a way that safeguards civil liberties, especially those of minorities. We wish you all success in meeting the extraordinary challenges ahead and we look to working with your incoming administration.
A Coalition of Concerned Indian Americans
American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin (AFMI), Farmington, MI
American Muslim Physicians of Indian Origin (AMPI), IL (http://ampionline.org)
Association of Indian Muslims in America (AIM), Washington DC
Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (CSFH), CA (www.stopfundinghate.org)
Friends of South Asia (FOSA), San Jose, CA (www.friendsofsouthasia.org)
India Foundation, Okemos, MI
Indian Minorities Advocacy Network (ImanNet), New York
Indian Muslim Council (IMC), Morton Grove, IL (www.imc-usa.org)
Indian Muslim Education Foundation of North America (IMEFNA), (http://imefna.org)
Indian Muslim Relief and Charities (IMRC), Palo Alto, CA (http://www.imrc.ws/)
International Service Society, MI
Network of Progressive Muslims
Non-Resident Indians for a Secular and Harmonious India (NRI-SAHI), MI
Sikh American Heritage Organization, Wayne, IL
South Asia Forum, Madison, WI
South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD), Greater Vancouver, Canada (http://sansad.org)
Supporters of Human Rights in India (SHRI), MN
The Coalition for a Secular Democratic India (CSDI), Chicago, IL
Vaishnava Center for Enlightenment, MI
World Tamil Organization, Inc., Cary, NC
Habeeb Ahmed, Long Island, NY (member Long Island Peace coalition)
Dr. Syed S Ahmed, Chicago, IL
Dr. Waheeduddin Ahmed, Milwaukee, WI
Shahid Ali M.D, Chief, Dept of Medicine, Schuyler Hospital, New York
Aliuddin Azam, Binghamton, NY
Dr. Chinmoy Banerjee, Secretary, SANSAD
Dr. Angana Chatterji, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, California Institute of Integral Studies
Nishrin Hussain, Daughter of congress MP Ehsan Jafri killed in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat
Imtiazuddin, D.I.C. London, Consultant and Social Activist
Dr. Pushpa Iyer, Assistant Professor, Monterey Institute for International Studies, CA
Hyder M. Khan, MD, Ph. D.
M. A. Muqtedar Khan, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations, Director of Islamic Studies, University of Delaware
Wasim Khan, MD, MPH
Dr. Alex V. Koshy, Founder General Secretary of World Malayalee Council and Board Member of MLK Commission of New Jersey
Khursheed A. Mallick, M.D.
Gulamrasul Mansuri, Former President Gujarati Muslim Association of America, Chicago, IL
Biju Mathew, Associate professor of Business, Rider University, NJ
A. R. Nakadar, M.D.
Raju Rajagopal, Entrepreneur and Social Activist
Shaik Saad, Long Island, New York
Dr. Sornam Sankarapandi, Ellicott City, MD
Dr. Shaik Sayeed, Milwaukee, WI
Dr. Svati Shah, Postdoctoral Fellow, Duke University
Dr. Hari P. Sharma, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Simon Fraser University and President, SANSAD
Syed Azmatullah Quadri, Founding Chairman, ImanNet, Chicago, IL
Dr. Shaik Ubaid, Founding President, ImanNet, Chicago, IL
Back in early 2005, just as the world was reeling under the mind-numbing realization that close to a quarter million people perished as a result of the devastating Tsunami, the Sangh Parivar mobilized its mouthpieces and claimed under various guises to be conducting a massive effort to provide succor to thousands in southern India. One place where they gained notoriety immediately was Nagapattinam district’s Keechankuppam village, which lies right next to the harbor. Here, Sewa Bharati threatened NGOs that sought to respond to the community’s requests for assistance. The saffron goons believed the village to be their personal fiefdom, and only after facing the wrath of local villagers did they relent.
Two years after the tsunami the saffron sevaks and their various sangh parivar outfits each claimed to have built 248 units for the village’s inhabitants. As has become common for NGO constructed housing, the completion was marked by a ceremonial handing-over of keys to the houses (see article from The Hindu). Now the residents who live in these units are angry. The two storey houses painted in cheerful pink and accessible through a garish arch that memorializes the Sangh Parivar more than it represents the village and its peoples’ culture, are emblems of horrid construction practices.
Not that this is unique to the Sangh’s work: scores of NGO constructed houses have problems that can only be termed disastrous, pun very soberly intended. In a sense Sewa Bharati succeeded in behaving just like all the other NGOs – it hastily built the houses without giving a hoot about the fact that the site was more than a kilometer away from the coast. But it went further than most other NGOs by warning its beneficiaries that they shouldn’t allow Muslims and Christians into their new village. The residents report that such admonitions were listened to silently, and promptly ignored since they (and the coastal population in these parts) have a long tradition of inter-communal harmony.
As of late November, 2007, the residents of Keechankuppam’s original village and the 248 families living more than a kilometer away have not seen the Sangh Parivar sevaks: Sewa Bharati has practically disappeared from view. All that remains are two storeyed houses where toilets have been built with no septic tanks, walls cracked with rain water leaking in, drain pipes leaking water into houses below, ceilings with holes, dangerous slush filled banks of the backwaters which people are forced to use as toilets, diseases due to standing water and sewage, and most importantly, the feeling that the saffron charlatans skipped town. As for other “seva” activities neither residents of the original village nor those of the new colony could remember anything worthwhile done by the saffron sevaks. Local community organizations run schools and provide other necessary services to the people, but the Sangh’s “selfless warriors” are missing in action from Keechankuppam. And good riddance one might add.
Currently many of the residents of the second storeys have returned back to the sites of their original homes, with some having rebuilt small homes themselves. The economic costs of being away from the coast are too heavy for a community that derives its livelihood from fishing. People who took the permanent houses are adamant about retaining their original spaces despite the government’s demand that they give up rights to those spaces once they receive new houses. Now the horrid realities of living in dangerously constructed houses adds to the desire of these people to head back to the coast and defend their right to the coast with renewed vigor. Sewa Bharati’s chicanery has unwittingly aided this return, but before we laud them for it, lets not forget that even here the Saffron sevaks should share (dis)honors with the herd of NGOs who came blaring trumpets, built castles of sand and ran away.
A few weeks ago, I had written about the Hindu Forum of Britain’s rumor-mongering against British Muslims (the alleged forcible conversions of Hindu and Sikh girls by Muslim men) and the underlying anti-Muslim sentiment.
The HFB’s concern about mistaken identities leading to Islamophobic attacks on Hindus suggests that it’s pretty well aware of the painful manifestations of Islamophobia, so its broadside against Muslim males can only be interpreted as a malicious act intended to whip up more Islamophobia.
I had also pointed to the similarity between the HFB’s stereotyping of Muslim men with that of the Hindutva ideologue Savarkar. And Kallidai’s eulogizing of RSS sarsangchalak Golwalkar clearly showed where his sympathies lay.
Shortly thereafter, Awaaz issued a PR on the irony of having such a guy on the Secretary of State’s Commission on Integration and Cohesion. And Andrew Gilligan of the Evening Standard has now come out with a report on Kallidai (The rise and rise of the Hindu fundamentalist father). The ES report has some interesting nuggets, here’s a summary and more:
- Kallidai defended the VHP while testifying to the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2004. Here’re some excerpts:
Q: VHP, as I understand it, is an organisation of Hindu extremists. Would that be right?
RK: No, that, of course, we would vehemently deny. There have been a lot of media reports about the VHP, of course.
Q: What is the VHP?
RK: The VHP is an organisation that works with social and moral upliftment of Hindus and the VHP UK is a totally autonomous body from VHP India. The VHP had issued a public statement in 2002 saying that terrorism of any form is to be condemned. I think it is wrong, on the basis of media reports, to adjudicate an organisation … VHP has never had in any court of law any evidence proved or provided to link them to a terrorist organisation. So, on the basis of media reports, we should not quickly judge and label an organisation.
Q: It is simply a bona fide organisation concerned with the welfare of Hindus?
RK: Most of the Hindu community in the UK and the world consider the VHP to be a peaceful organisation.
- Hindu Aid and the Hindu Forum of Britain share an office and a lot of top-ranking personnel. Kallidai is the Vice-Chair of Hindu Aid, and Secretary General of HFB. Arjan Vekaria is Chair of both Hindu Aid and HFB, Mahendra Pattni is Treasurer at both Hindu Aid and HFB, Sanjay Gadhvi is an Executive Member at both Hindu Aid and HFB, Venilal Vaghela is an Executive Member at Hindu Aid and Trustee & Vice President (London and South) of HFB.
Hindu Aid’s campaigns page lists some flood relief work done by Sewa Bharati, and a little research reveals that the Hindu Aid’s report on Sewa Bharati’s flood relief activities is very similar to reports by Sewa International UK, Sewa USA, India Development and Relief Fund, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and the Organiser. A few noteworthy differences follow:
- Where Organiser refers to 600 swayamsevaks, Hindu Aid refers to 600 volunteers of SEWA Bharati.
- Where Organiser says: According to Shri Lalit Bansal, Vibhag Karyavah in Surat, more than 80,000 packets of food, 4,500 milk pouches and 1,11,000 pouches of drinking water have been provided to the flood affected people by August 9; Hindu Aid says: Till date the volunteers of Sewa Bharati (partner organisation of Sewa International UK) have distributed 80,000 food packets, 4,500 milk sachets, 1,11,000 water sachets in the flood affected areas.
- Where Organiser says: In Surat, the RSS has set up four relief centres for collecting and distributing relief material under the supervision of senior Sangh activists Shri Nandkishore at Jainnagar, Shri Rajeshbhai Shah at Miranagar-Udhana, Shri Rajkumar Sharma at Bathar Road and Shri Ajaybhai Desai at Station Road; Hindu Aid says: Relief centres at four places in Surat have been started to meet to the needs of the people & attend to the victims without delay.
- Where Organiser says: In Ahmedabad collecting and packaging of relief material is being carried out at 55 centres and swayamsevaks of the entire city are engaged in the collection and preparations of the relief material; Hindu Aid says: 50 centres at Ahmedabad are busy preparing food packets under the supervision of SEWA volunteers.
In short, Hindu Aid has deliberately removed all mentions of RSS, swayamsevaks etc. in its report back on the flood relief activity. This is because thanks to the RSS’s well-deserved notoriety, identifying oneself with the RSS would mean relinquishing the well-trodden ground of multiculturalism, something that the Sangh Parivar organizations abroad are loath to do. Therefore, the RSS’s fundraising fronts abroad raise funds in the name of proxies — Sewa Bharati, for instance. As I mention elsewhere, Sewa Bharati is the service wing of the Sangh and was inaugurated in 1979 by Balasaheb Deoras, the then supremo of the RSS. At the local level, Sewa Bharati and the Sangh merge into one; a distinction between the two is made solely for the purpose of raising funds abroad.
In short, Hindu Aid deceptively provides material and/or public relations support for the Sangh Parivar. Sewa International UK (SIUK) is no different, as is evident from a similar analysis of its report. However, even as the SIUK website only mentions Sewa Bharati, photos of relief work done at Surat clearly show RSS banners.
Such deception is not new to Ramesh Kallidai. In fact, after Awaaz released In Bad Faith, a report documenting SIUK’s links with the RSS in India, Kallidai quickly jumped to SIUK’s defense and sought to discredit the report saying:
If you look at Awaaz’s report, they never substantiate their claims with facts and figures.
Ha! None so blind as those who refuse to see. When the British Charity Commission launched a probe, SIUK/HSS wriggled out claiming there is no formal organisational links with RSS and that there is only an ideological commonality between the two organisations. Not surprisingly, Kallidai has now adopted a similar stance and claimed that the HFB and VHP have no formal relationship. Will he stay afloat with such partial truths (that hide more than they reveal)? Or will he get away playing the aggrieved Hindu? Stay tuned for more.
Organized Religion is like Organized Crime; it preys on peoples’ weakness, generates huge profits for its operators, and is almost impossible to eradicate — Mike Hermann
Earlier this month, CNN-IBN came out with spectacular exposes on money laundering by Hindu godmen. The culprits included Ram Vilas Vedanti (or more respectfully, Vedanti Maharaj), Guruvayur Surya Nambudiri and Kapil Advait (alias Pilot Baba)
- Vedanti is a former chairman of the Ramjanmabhoomi Trust, a former BJP MP, and a star campaigner for the BJP in the recent elections in Uttar Pradesh (where it suffered a humiliating defeat).
- Surya Nambudiri (also spelled Namboodiri) is apparently famous for making prophecies — what’s a godman without the power to prophecy — and after a tough bargain, agrees to turn 100 million of black money into white money for a 15% commission. Not surprisingly, he couldn’t foretell his own future.
- Kapil Advait is a former wing commander-turned-godman, engaged in money laundering for commissions ranging from 20% to 50%.
As expected, the Sangh Parivar jumped to the godmen’s defense. The BJP spokesperson said:
The names that your channel has discussed are all respectable people. I am not sure how authentic this sting operation is.
And the VHP Vice-President Giriraj Kishore said:
What is the purpose behind a sting operation? And why are Hindus always maligned?
Confused? Here’s the train of thought: VHP (and the Sangh Parivar) represents all Hindus, the exposed godmen are sympathetic to the Sangh Parivar, so an expose of their fraudulent activities is equivalent to maligning all Hindus. Besides, as Swami Nirliptananda, Secretary of the London Sevashram Sangha and a member of the Hindu Forum of Britain’s Spiritual Body Commission, recently observed:
Even among human beings, saintly people occupy a different status from others.
According to former income tax commissioner Vishwabandhu Gupta:
[This is] a fit case for criminal proceedings. Two of the biggest religion mafias are the Ram Janmanbhoomi Nyas and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad amongst the Hindus. They have 10 bogus trusts floated from the same address. The names are there (in our record) and so are the addresses. They are getting money from 50 countries abroad and are also getting tax exemptions. There are no accounts as well. You see, this is a big menace. We have calculated and found that religious leaders annually earn $3 billion which is about Rs 10,000 crore -Rs 15,000 crore worth of money. What they do is they get land at throwaway prices. During the last government, 11 including that Sadhvi Ritambhara – whatever her qualifications are – got a fantastic (sic) piece of land at a throwaway price for the services that she heads today. There have fraudulent names, addresses, existences and expenditures. They use it for spreading communal hatred. Money has been used by Bajrang Dal cadres in Gujarat to purchase Motorola, we have got receipts for that.
For instance, the RSS does not have FCRA clearance and cannot directly accept foreign donations, so has created service wings like the Sewa International and Sewa Bharati which have FCRA clearance. The RSS’s fundraising fronts abroad — IDRF, SewaUSA, VHP of America, Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, Sewa International UK, Hindu Forum of Britain etc. — divert funds to the RSS through Sewa Bharati and Sewa International. Given the Sangh Parivar’s access to state power and propensity to violence, its brand of fundamentalism poses the biggest danger to a pluralistic India, but the role of Christian fundamentalist groups like World Vision (which apparently disbursed 95 crores in India last year) cannot be glossed over either.
After the tsunami, when the Sangh fundraising effort was in full gear (Sewausa.org came into being a couple of days after the tsunami), CSFH sent out cautionary notes advising against donating to Sangh organizations such as IDRF, HSS, VHPA and Sewa International.
If donors are interested in ensuring that (a) all people affected by the tsunami receive relief and rehabilitation support, irrespective of their particular caste, religion or cultural affiliation, and that (b) relief and rehabilitation work is not used to create long-term divisions and animosity by manipulating communities already made vulnerable by this catastrophe, THEN giving money to sectarian organizations such as the RSS would indeed be a very bad idea.
The latest issue of the Sangh mouthpiece Organiser provides an instance of the Sangh peddling an ideology of hate in tsunami-affected Kanyakumari. The report is titled: Seva Bharathi new building in Kanyakumari inaugurated, but starts with: New building sponsored by Bharat Vikas Parishad. Confused? The title and the introductory line seem to contradict each other about the building’s sponsor, but not quite. Both Sewa Bharati and Bharat Vikas Parishad are members of the Sangh family:
- Sevadisha, the Sangh’s catalogue of its various service projects includes Bharat Vikas Parishad, and the RSS website lists BVP as a Sangh-inspired organization. IDRF also lists BVP as a sister organization.
- Sewa Bharati is the service wing of the Sangh and was inaugurated in 1979 by Balasaheb Deoras, the then supremo of the RSS (see p141, The Brotherhood in Saffron, by Walter Anderson and Shridhar Damle). For a short profile, see Sewa Bharati: Hindu Consolidation at Any Cost
At the local level, Sewa Bharati / Bharat Vikas Parishad and the Sangh merge into one. So, for all practical purposes, it’s the RSS that sponsored the building. Lets get back to the Organiser report:
New building sponsored by Bharat Vikas Parishad at Pazhathottam near Kanyakumari was inaugurated on 25-3-2007 at Guruji Nivas premises, Pazhathottam near Kanyakumari.
The Guruji referred to above is none other than MS Golwalkar, the second and longest ruling supremo of the RSS, and the man who made it acceptable for hate-filled bigots to kill in the name of Hinduism and the ‘purity’ of the so-called Hindu nation, while continually undermining India’s tradition of religious and cultural syncretism. Any RSS project includes an indoctrination component, and this project in Kanyakumari is no exception.
The inaugural function was held in the presence of Shri Surya Narayana Raoji.
An Organiser article dated May 4, 1997 refers to Surya Narayana Rao as a Seva Pramukh of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Rao also finds mention in more recent Sewa international newsletters (see here and here), so he is obviously an active RSS leader.
What do we have so far? An RSS project inaugurated in the presence of an RSS leader at a building named after an RSS supremo. The report then goes on to list several Sewa Bharati dignitaries that graced the occasion.
What’s most significant, but left unsaid in this report, is that a substantial portion of the money required for such projects is raised by the Sangh’s fundraising fronts abroad — IDRF & SewaUSA in the United States and Sewa International UK in Britain. When IDRF et al report back to their donors, don’t expect the same level of detail as the Organiser report; they would much rather have you believe that Sewa Bharati, Bharat Vikas Parishad etc. are independent NGOs (with no sectarian affiliations).
Stop Funding Hate! Spread the word about IDRF and SewaUSA.