Thursday, 5 March 2015

Exposure on Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh

This is the third in my series of posts on the recent ITV documentary Exposure: Charities Behaving Badly. Previously I documented Exposure's coverage of the Steadfast Trust before giving my own thoughts on how that charity was represented. Now, I will move on to the documentary's coverage of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh.

Footage from what appears to be an HSS promotional video.

The sequence begins with narrator Mark Austin introducing us to Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh and demonstrating how it presents itself to the world.

Narrator: "...But we've heard allegations that, in private, it's also teaching young Hindus to denigrate other religions. To see if we can find out more our second reporter, Ravi, is going undercover to the HSS annual leadership camp at a school in Hertfordshire."

Ravi talks to Austin about the stressful nature of working undercover; this is followed by clips of HSS learning activities.

Narrator: "On arriving in camp, the first thing Ravi spots is a portrait of this man, Golwalkar, taking pride of place on the stage in the main hall."

Footage of an HSS classroom; the portrait to the right is of M. S. Golwalkar.

The documentary quotes M. S. Golwalkar's 1939 book We, Our Nationhood Defined:
"To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by purging the country of the Semitic races - the Jews. Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by."
We are then shown an undercover clip of an unnamed teacher recommending Golwalkar's book A Bunch of Thoughts. The narrator identifies this as being one of Golwalkar's more moderate works, before adding that

Narrator: "But this book still contains a chapter entitled 'Internal Threats', with the subcategories 'the Muslims', 'the Christians' and 'the Communists'."

The documentary cuts.

Narrator: "At his first Hindu history class, Ravi discovers that teaching the children to distrust other religions isn't just confined to textbooks. It's also a key message in lessons. Some of the boys here are just thirteen years old; they're taught about great moments in India's history."

Teacher: "First democracy to elect woman prime minister is India. India was seventh nuclear power in the world, now it is fourth. These are all the things credit to Hindus. Not everybody.

One of the pupils is asked to recap a previous session with the same teacher.

Pupil: "So it was an agenda that the British had against the Hindus in India, to try and make them feel inferior and make them feel lesser than them. 

The documentary cuts to another of the teacher's lessons:

Teacher: "To destroy the Hindu history is the secret conspiracy of the Christians."

Then, a clip from later in the same lesson:

Teacher: "So 2,500 years back was the Buddha. He has spread the message of Buddhism, which is nothing but part of Hinduism."

After that, we hear the teacher's thoughts on Islam:

Pupil: "Do you think Muslims are the biggest problem in Britain?"

Teacher: "For everybody, for everybody."

This gets a laugh from the class. Ravi then films an after-class talk with the teacher:

Teacher: "You see, when it comes to Islam, they are the world's worst religion and they don't have common sense to find out what is humanity."

Narrator: "Our reporter Ravi is himself Hind, but the language and form of the religion being taught to these young boys is alien to him, so he decides to challenge the teacher."

The documentary cuts to another class.

Ravi: "Aren't we taught to go out there and get world peace through non-violent actions?"

Unnamed pupil: "You can't really unify with Muslims."

Ravi: "I'm just putting it out there, it's..."

Unnamed pupil: "You can't unify with Muslims. Doesn't work."

Teacher: "Nowhere! Nowhere does it work, not in America, not in Germany, not in India, not in Bangladesh, nowhere! But there are some good Muslims, but they can be counted on fingers."

This gets another laugh from the class. The documentary then cuts to Ravi confronting the unnamed pupil who spoke in this sequence.

Ravi: "You know that whole chat that we've just had, how much to you agree with the whole anti-Muslim...?"

Unnamed pupil: "I hate Muslims. I live in Bradford, I have to hate Muslims."

Ravi: "You've got a big community in Bradford?"

Unnamed pupil: "Massive, it's full of Pakis. Terrible."

Ravi: "But then, I don''t think we should..."

Unnamed pupil: "Shouldn't kill them, obviously, not like them. Keep them out of society somehow without killing them."

Narrator: "And Ravi finds another classmate with similar views."

Second unnamed pupil: "These people, they think they have the rights, yeah, to build a mosque anywhere they want. We can't build a temple anywhere we want. But it's just Pakis, they can build any... they could literally demolish this [he gestures to the school building] and turn it into a mosque if they want. If I was the Prime Minister, I would have bombed every single..." [he trails off, mumbling, before laughing]

Narrator: "Day after day, our reporter follows shouted orders and is told to march in military formation."

The documentary shows clips to illustrate this.

Narrator: "The discipline of the camp is illustrated in this promotional video posted by an HSS supporter. Many of the leaders talk about the camp in entirely positive terms."

Back to undercover filming.

Unnamed leader: "I think there's 80 different towns and cities represented here , and we've all come together. That's like one big superhero. You're part of this superhero."

A cut to another unnamed leader, or possibly the same one - it's hard to tell.

Unnamed leader: "By bringing Hindus together, we can spread this word of world peace. World harmony."

Narrator: "But Ravi runs into one young man who's aware of the origins of HSS."

Unnamed pupil: "Shakha is known as a right wing movement, complete right wing - nationalist - and we're equated as like, Hitler's Youth."

The conversation is interrupted by two approaching leaders. The pupil begins talking again after the two men leave.

Ravi: "So it's completely right wing and nationalist?"

Unnamed pupil: "It's completely right wing and nationalist, yeah. It's going back to Hitler's Youth, when Hitler's youth army... "

Ravi: "For real?"

Unnamed pupil: "Yeah."

The documentary then cuts to the footage being shown to the two experts who had previously commented on the Steadfast Trust.

Chetan Bhatt: "You have a charity here promoting hate-driven ideas, ideas that have caused considerable violence in India, to British youngsters - and doing that under charitable purposes. What you see here is an environment being created in which hate speech like this is completely acceptable. And if you have that inculcated into young children, what do you expect apart from this kind of hate speech? You're seeing the promotion of sectarianism and hatred, and hatred towards other religions. And you have to see that in the context of Britain and living in Britain, and living with different groups and communities."

The documentary repeats footage of the teacher condemning Christians and Muslims.

Francesca Quint: "Obviously this is a respected elder who is going to be looked up to and that leads to prejudice which is very hard to shift."

Chetan Bhatt: "Now, surely a charity should be encouraging young children to think about other people, to think about how we live in a society like Britain? Instead what we see is the promotion of division. Here, you see the children are hanging on his words and he's coming out with the most foul views. It's chilling that a charity could be promoting this kind of view to young children."

The documentary then provides HSS's response to the allegations:

"The depiction of us as anti any other religion is wrong and counterproductive to the positive work HSS has done in building interfaith relations. We promote Hindu values which are about cohesiveness, duty to society and universal peace. Our actions over the years show that HSS promotes diversity and unity in Britain. Our training camp is attended by a cross section of society and we try to give our volunteers an opportunity to discuss their opinions and understand all views. There are some strong views on interfaith issues but these are personal views. We do not deny these views exist nor do we seek to censor or ignore them, and we strongly oppose any suggestion that by not censoring them we promote or agree with them. 
We are investigating these alleged comments to make sure those who made them are better informed, trained or prevented from making statements that may be interpreted as anti another community. The teacher said to us that he does not intend any harm or hurt to other peoples or cultures, and regrets that any words could be misconstrued to create disharmony. 
HSS is not an admirer of Nazi Germany any never will be. We focus on the pro-Hindu aspect of Golwalker's teachings and take precautions to ensure that this comment made well before the full nature of the Nazis' atrocities were known - is not misunderstood by youngsters to mean that we have to follow the Nazi approach."

I will be taking a closer look at HSS's defence in my next post.

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