Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh: Following up on Exposure

From one of the clips shown in Exposure: Charities Behaving Badly.

In the previous post in my series looking at the extremist charities that were documented in ITV's Exposure: Charities Behaving Badly, I outlined how the documentary portrayed Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh. To recap, this is the charity's response to the programme:

"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 was not previously familiar with the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh; and out of the three charities covered on the Exposure episode, it was given the least airtime. When I searched for "Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh extremism", I was faced with reports summarising Exposure's findings without adding any further information.

I was starting to wonder if the undercover reporter had, indeed, simply stumbled across a small group of kooks making use of an otherwise respectable organisation. Still, I pressed on, and in the hopes of finding something that I didn't already know, I adjusted the Google results to preclude anything published after January 2015 or after.

The results? Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh turns out to have its roots in some very bad soil.

Back in 2004, the Awaaz secular network launched a report entitled In Bad Faith? British Charity & Hindu Extremism. The report is focused on a notorious Indian group named the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh:

"Violent hate politics against Muslim and Christian minorities has grown massively in India in recent years. This resulted in the death of 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, and the displacement of 200,000 more in the state of Gujarat in 2002. Victims included British citizens. The ideology behind this hate-driven politics is called ‘Hindutva.’ 
The organization at the core of Hindutva activities is the extremist, paramilitary, Fascist-inspired Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS is dedicated to turning India from a secular democratic multi-religious society into an authoritarian anti-minority ‘Hindu nation’. 
Gandhi’s murderer was an RSS activist. The RSS and its family of closely-allied organizations have been repeatedly indicted over several decades by international and Indian human rights organizations, judicial commissions and official bodies for their role in large scale violence and hatred against minority groups, including the Gujarat pogroms in 2002."

The report goes on to identify HSS as a front group for the RSS:

"The Leicester-based HSS, a registered charity, is a branch of the Indian RSS. It runs about 70 weekly physical and ideological training cells in the UK. The HSS is modelled on the RSS, actively promotes RSS ideology and shares the RSS aim of turning India into an exclusive ‘Hindu nation’. The RSS in India considers the HSS to be its UK branch. 
The Vishwa Hindu Page 1 Parishad UK and the Kalyan Ashram Trust UK, both registered charities, are also branches of the RSS family operating in the UK. The full report details numerous, extensive, deep and active connections between the HSS and the RSS. 
Sewa International is the fundraising arm of the HSS. The main purpose of Sewa International is to raise funds from the British public for RSS projects in India. Sewa International and the HSS have misled donors, the public and patrons about their long-standing, deep and committed relationship with the Indian RSS. 
Neither Sewa International nor the HSS informed donors and the public that their donations were used almost exclusively to support RSS front organizations, and that the main purpose of HSS and Sewa International fundraising is to channel money to these RSS fronts."

The documentary demonstrated the anti-Christian and anti-Muslim views held by people involved with HSS, so we should not be surprised that the organisation is also very anti-secularist. This 2011 report from Kathmandu Post interviews an HSS member named Rakesh Mishra:

"Mishra remains unequivocal about the influence of RSS on the HSS, yet says his organisation only has 'philosophical and ideological linkages' with the former—never mind that the current RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat recently addressed HSS members in Kathmandu. 
The HSS’ chief grouse against the Nepali state is that it has been declared secular, which it believes was at the behest of certain interest groups that were 'against Hinduism'. 'Just like the world’s biggest lie is communism, secularism is as big a lie…no one can be completely secular,' the organisation’s pamphlet Why a Hindu State? reads. 
'We supported the 2006 Jana Andolan against king Gyanendra, but we disagreed on the 18th point of the 23-point agreement between the Congress and the Maoists that said Nepal should be declared a secular state,' says Mishra, 'Hinduism is not a religion. It is a lifestyle; it is how we live our daily lives.' The anti-secular nature of the organisation is not very surprising, since the RSS in India too believes in a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. 
The HSS here has a different explanation for its opposition. It believes that declaring Nepal a secular state is a conspiracy by 'Christian missionary organisations.' 
'Secularism wasn’t what Nepalis fought for in the second Jana Andolan—it wasn’t on the agenda at all. We hadn’t exploited any religious minorities. Then why did we need a secular state?' asks Prahlad Kumar Regmi, an under-graduate student of Business Studies and a member of HSS. The HSS’ vitriolic against a secular state stems from the earlier-noted perception that Hinduism is constantly under threat. A secular state makes it easier, according to them, for missionaries to proselytise and convert."

Awaaz released another report touching upon HSS in 2014. Entitled Narendra Modi Exposed, it closes with a chapter headed "Hindutva Fascisim in the UK". Like the Exposure documentary, this report discusses HSS's support for the Nazi sympathiser Madhav Golkwalkar:

"The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been established and active in the UK since 1966 under the name of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS). HSS shares the same ideology as the RSS in India, and models its organ- isational structure and family of UK affiliated organisations on the Indian parent organisation. 
Together with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad UK (a branch of the violent, Hindu supremacist VHP in India), HSS UK maintains very close and extensive links with the Indian RSS and works under the latter’s direct guidance. 
Just like the Indian RSS, HSS UK targets young Hindu boys and girls, incorporating them into cells called shakhas (lit. branches). Youngsters are taught to revere the RSS’s two ‘Supreme Leaders’ – both of whom were admirers and conscious emulators of Nazism and Fascism – and the RSS’s saffron flag (see ‘Hindutva, RSS and the Sangh Parivar’).  
To this very day, the HSS glorifies and celebrates the personality and work of the RSS’s second leader, Madhav Golwalkar, a strong advocate of Nazi-like ideas for India."

The report goes on to identify some of the groups affiliated with HSS, including Labour Friends of India, National Hindu Students’ Forum, Hindu Sevika Samiti and Hindu Sahitya Kendra. It closes with a round condemnation of Labour MP Barry Gardiner:

"Barry Gardiner has been the most important political figure in the endeavour to rehabilitate and normalise extreme right-wing Hindutva fascism in Britain. It is ironic that a figure identified with the labour movement colludes with the most extremist of right-wing ideologies, one that was inspired by Fascism and National Socialism and led to the murder of Gandhi. Gardiner has had a very long association with the RSS’s family of organisations in the UK, including HSS, VHP UK, OFBJP and Sewa International among others, energetically supporting the events and activities of UK Hindutva organisations. He has defended VHP and RSS positions in Parliament and worked tirelessly to promote Narendra Modi in the UK."

To get an idea of the kind of thing that HSS's parent organisation the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh gets up to, take a look at this Human Rights Watch report from 2002:

"Between February 28 and March 2, thousands of attackers descended on Muslim neighborhoods, clad in saffron scarves and khaki shorts, the signature uniform of Hindu nationalist groups, and armed with swords, sophisticated explosives, and gas cylinders. They were guided by voter lists and printouts of addresses of Muslim-owned properties-information obtained from the local municipality. In the weeks following the attacks, Hindu homes and businesses were also destroyed in retaliatory attacks by Muslims. 
The groups most directly involved in the violence against Muslims include the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, VHP), the Bajrang Dal, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that heads the Gujarat state government. Collectively, they are known as the sangh parivar, or family of Hindu nationalist organisations."

The extremist connections of HSS are strong enough for an entire episode of Exposure, perhaps more than one.

As a representative stated in the documentary, the Charity Commission does not have the ability to deregister a charity for holding extremist views (the Steadfast Trust was deregistered on a technicality). Still, the Commission has opened an investigation into the HSS, although judging by the official statement this will focus on the anonymous teacher featured in the documentary rather than on the charity as a whole.

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