In an 80-page report—In Bad Faith? British Charity and Hindu Extremism—released in the House of Lords on February 26, just before the second anniversary of the post-Godhra Gujarat carnage, ASAW has urged the UK Charity Commission to revoke the charitable status of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh-UK (HSS-UK), VHP-UK and Kalyan Ashram Trust-UK (KAT-UK), all part of the Sangh parivar, and act against their trustees for keeping unsuspecting British donors in the dark about their affiliations and funding of extremist RSS organisations on the sly. ASAW has also appealed to donors, politicians and organisations to refuse funds to these outfits and publicly dissociate from them.
The ASAW report, dedicated to those who died in the Gujarat riots, begins with the story of a victim of the post-Godhra carnage and goes on to say that those at the receiving end got no assistance from either the Sewa International-UK (SIUK) or the HSS. The report alleges this was because many of the Sangh organisations involved in the rioting were being funded by their UK-based fraternal organisations. The report reads: "Most striking of all was the behaviour of these organisations in the wake of the Gujarat carnage in 2002, which left 2,000 dead and over 2,00,000 displaced and languishing in refugee camps. The response of the SIUK, the HSS, the VHP, the National Hindu Students Forum and every other UK Hindutva group to appeals for humanitarian relief was silence. This was despite considerable coverage of the carnage in the UK media and desperate appeals by secular Gujarati NGOs. This is not surprising: the majority of the victims were Indian citizens who were Muslims.They were victims of the VHP, the RSS and the Vanvasi Kalyan Samiti, organisations which are promoted and glorified by the HSS-UK, the VHP-UK and the SIUK." The report goes on to say the money collected after the Gujarat quake and Orissa cyclone had all gone into funding groups that promoted communal hatred.
ASAW's charges are serious:
- About a third of the money collected for earthquake rehabilitation was spent in setting up RSS schools.
- The charity money went to Sangh outfits like the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (allegedly involved in the Gujarat riots), Lok Kalyan Samiti, Border Jankalyan Samiti, Sewa Bharati and Orissa's Utkal Bipanna Sahayata Samiti (UBSS).
- Sewa Bharati, on the vanguard of several anti-minority crusades, received over £2 million from SIUK, the fund-raising arm of HSS-UK.
- The money was collected in Britain but the RSS leaders in India jumpstarted projects and handed the money over to the concerned people only after the projects were completed. This was meant to bring these territories into the parivar's grip.
- The money was also used to glorify the RSS, which used it to provide relief to upper-caste Hindus, run shakhas in camps, spread anti-minority messages, rebuild temples, villages and community centres, which it named after its leaders.
- ASAW alleges accounts have been doctored—while SIUK claims it funded between 10 and 25 Gujarat villages after the quake, ASAW says it funded only six.
- HSS-UK and SIUK have intentionally refrained from providing any comprehensive data on the disbursement of funds.
"We don't think it's a coincidence that the Gujarat and Orissa, 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 organisations from overseas in the guise of humanitarian charity," says the report. "It's ironic that Sangh organisations have attacked foreign funding of minority groups when they themselves use such funding to expand their own influence."
The HSS, for instance, runs around 70 physical and ideological training cells in the UK. SIUK, now a private limited company sharing its address with the HSS-UK's Leicester office, is not a registered charity and has been using HSS' registration number to raise money, often without mentioning the parent organisation. These connections were unknown even to SIUK patrons like Adam Patel, a British Muslim and a member of the House of Lords, who eventually resigned on learning about it. Incidentally, even before the report, the UK Charity Commission had started probing the HSS and SIUK.
The ASAW report states that "the main purpose of SIUK is to raise funds in the UK for RSS projects in India in order to directly help the expansion of the extremist RSS's networks across Indian society in line with the long-term political and sectarian aims of the RSS".
ASAW says it now has evidence that almost all the £ 2.3 million raised by SIUK during its India quake appeal were meant exclusively for Sewa Bharati, its Indian counterpart, whose licence in MP had been cancelled for its anti-Christian violence. HSS-UK has declined comments, so has the RSS spokesperson in New Delhi. But VHP's Ashok Chowgule said in an interview: "We deny all the allegations. We do genuine social work for the downtrodden and it is not the Hindu way to discriminate against people."
According to the report, RSS affiliates, keen to make their presence felt, hijacked relief supplies donated by other agencies, prevented international NGOs from undertaking relief operations, accused even the likes of Janpath, which ran a helpline for children, of "receiving foreign funds for proselytising people" and "prowling for Christians". Further, the report says the RSS ransacked relief camps set up by the likes of ActionAid India and even abducted and tortured a student working for an NGO simply because his name "sounded" Christian.
Money has also been raised by SIUK for other Sangh organisations such as the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, implicated in anti-minority violence in Gujarat, Orissa and elsewhere. Without mentioning the growing participation of adivasi groups in anti-minority violence, the highly controversial Ekal Vidyalayas have been presented in the UK simply as literacy projects aimed at neglected 'tribal' groups.
In Orissa, says ASAW, the main beneficiary of the Orissa Appeal was the UBSS, which enjoys the same address in Cuttack as that of the RSS and received at least £2 million after the 1999 super-cyclone. HSS-UK stated that the funds were channeled through volunteers to organisations which got their workforce from the RSS. Other SIUK beneficiaries of the Orissa appeal were Vidya Bharati and the abvp.
According to South Asia Solidarity, which had demanded the annulment of the charity status of HSS-UK and SIUK last year, the latter is the biggest Indian charity in the UK and has increased its gross income from £7,48,355 in 2000 to almost £2.2 million in early '03. HSS' total assets have also gone up from £6,66,384 in '95 to around £1.64 million in '02. But Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) regulations prohibit foreign funding for RSS organisations sans prior government permission to discourage interference in India's political affairs. Therefore, notes ASAW, any foreign funding amounts to FCRA violation.
Chetan Bhatt, a reader in sociology at London's Goldsmiths College and ASAW spokesperson, told Outlook: "This report details the depth of the connection between SIUK and the RSS, and the extent to which RSS fronts in India are dependent on overseas funding. One key finding is of SIUK making smaller donations to legitimate British causes to gain respectability here, while sending the bulk of its funds to RSS fronts in India." Of the non-earthquake donations made over March '99-June '02, only around £6,000 had been made for British and non-Indian causes.
The London-based Charity Commission has already been at work on the funding case. "There are some serious allegations. We're looking into potential links between the charity and India's extremist organisations and alleged payments to these groups by the charity," says a commission spokesperson "We're looking at the kinship between the HSS and SIUK, and also the administration of the funds collected for the Gujarat quake," she added.
Rebecca Draka, another spokesperson for the Charity Commission, reveals the commission is "waiting for the trustees of the charity to provide more information, which is taking a long time". After officials of the Charity Commission were denied entry visas last year to carry out research in India, Draka informs the commission has requested the Indian government to reconsider that decision.
Funding has always been a sore point as far as the parivar is concerned. There has been no probe in India into this ever since the nda came to power. Perhaps, an independent international investigation could throw light on the monies that pour in from abroad to keep the Sangh parivar machinery rolling.