By Savitha Ganesh

On May 10th, Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey announced a 2.5 million dollar donation to Sewa International (SI), which is known to be the international charity wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The donation comes after PM Modi has received international criticism for the handling of the second wave of COVID-19 in the country. (Sewa International will be referred to as SI in this paper.)

What is Sewa International?

Sewa International is the international wing of the RSS charity wing, Sewa Bharati. Sewa Bharati was established in 1989, by Madhukar Deoras, the third chief of the RSS. Sewa International was established soon after, in an attempt to engage specifically with diaspora. Awaz- South Asia Watch Limited, a London based organisation, has carried out research on both Sewa International and Sewa Bharati, in a report that tracked the fundraiser SI conducted in relation to the Gujarat Erathquake in 2002.

The report described both organisations as “dedicated to building a Hindu nation based on Hindu extremist ideas, glorifying the RSS, recruiting for the RSS and expanding RSS physical and ideological training cells (shakhas) in India.”

In an article published by Al Jazeera, they show how the United States’, Small Business Administration (SBA), in its Covid-19 relief initiatives provided around $150,621 to Sewa International as Covid-19 relief. These relief initiatives of the US government include: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance (EIDLA), Disaster Assistance Loan (DAL) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

Members and Composition of Board

While looking at their board and members links to RSS become clear. Peter Friedrich, a journalist on International Affairs has provided a detailed breakdown of how members are linked to the organisation. For one a majority of members of their board are Hindu Swayam Sevak (HSS) activists.

The HSS is the international wing of the RSS, responsible for arranging shakhas or training camps in several countries to indoctrinate diaspora into the RSS fold. According to Anderson and Damle, Sewa International plays an important role in binding swayamsevaks part of HSS to the home base i.e. the RSS activities in India. HSS shakhas often have “sewa services” as part of their programs, where people donate to food banks and high-school students are made to conduct tutoring sessions. Currently the chair of Sewa International (Ramesh Bhutada) is coincidentally the Vice President of HSS USA, and has worked extensively with the Overseas Friends of the BJP USA (OF-BJP USA).

Image and work of Sewa International Abroad:
It is important to note that the image of the Sewa International and other similar charity organisations are not marketed to diaspora and foreigners, as having any affiliation to the RSS. In fact it is marketed as simply a charity organisation with ‘Hindu Values’. The organisation enjoys a reputation of being a well-intentioned philanthropic effort by many abroad. All advertisements related to Sewa International have no sign of association with the Sangh Parivar, even though, benefactors of its funds are all affiliates with the Sangh. On going to the website of the organisation, they mention that the organisation is part of a larger movement that started in 1989. They list their areas of work as mainly disaster and relief work, and development programs related to family services, tribal and refugee welfare, women empowerment, etc.

An example of the organisation’s image building and concealment, is that of its fundraising efforts in the UK. In a report titled In Bad Faith, Awaz reveals how the organisation gained prominence in the UK in its fundraising campaign to help victims of the Gujarat Earthquake in 2001. The organisation presented itself as a humanitarian effort, and gained support of MPs, politicians, local authorities, schools, etc. In total the organisation raised around 4.3 million pounds. Awaz actually managed to track some of the distribution of the funding; they showed how one third of the total finding in the name of rehabilitating victims of the earthquake, actually went into setting up of RSS schools, under the organisation, Vidhya Bharati. These schools specialise in indoctrinating young students, especially young men, into the RSS ideology and mission. This can be seen in the textbooks of Vidhya Bharati schools, where strong anti Muslim and anti Christian sentiments can be seen. In addition, constant emphasis on ‘Aryan supremacy’ can be seen alongside this.

Organisations such as the Sewa Bharati, Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, the Kalyan Ashram Trust (KAT) and the Hindu Vìvek Kendra (HVK), were key benefactors of the funds collected by the organisation. It is important to note that the Vanasvi Kalyan Ashram was implicated in the 2002 Gujarat Violence, in a report carried out by the BBC.

The Awaz report also mentions a number of instances where benefactor organisations of the SI, have been involved in forced evictions of Muslims from a number of villages, as well as change in curricula in schools at the village level. One of the facets of the SI fundraising campaign was the ‘adoption of villages’ by the organisation. Here, the SI sent funds to villages such as Mithapasvaria, Rapar, Badanpur, which were then ‘adopted’ by RSS affiliated groups; ceremonies were held, plaques erected, saffron flags hoisted and RSS ‘Supreme Leaders’ were regularly hosted.

Accordng to the Al Jeazeera article on funding of Hindu charity organisations, Sewa International’s address in older RSS literature was the same as the RSS headquarters in New Delhi.

Diaspora as a Key Means to Consolidate Power at Home
On a policy level many schemes have been put forth by governments, especially BJP governments over time, to encourage the formation of such organisations and networks overseas. Attempts by the RSS and BJP, to engage Indian diaspora (especially from the US and UK), involved in industrial and IT fields can be seen often. An example of this was when several overseas Indian professionals, went back to India to provide IT expertise to the 2013 to 2014 BJP election campaign. It is clear how NRIs and Indian Diaspora play a key role in consolidating power back home, mostly through funding.

While industrialists and IT professionals who have established themselves abroad, are key sources of funding, Indian Diaspora have been utlitised as a tool in other ways that extend beyond funding as well.

Many of diaspora members are affiliated to overseas BJP or RSS. They regularly make visits to India and act as spokespersons on issues of interest to RSS-BJP. Many among them have no academic or scholarly aptitude on the issues they speak of. Notable among them are Rajiv Malhotra, Sai Deepak and Rajat Sethi. Many have made quite a online fan following by catering to the Hindutva fancy with Indian mythology. Most of their audience is also diaspora Hindutva fans and Indian elite for whom a Ramdev is too local but an Indian American who speaks English in American accent is more believable.

These so called Indian American brigade of “scholars” mostly attack Western culture and Indian Left while living in western countries. Their favourite target is “Clash of Civilisations” theory which is a thesis that people’s cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world.The theory has been widely criticised and debunked by many noted academics and scholars but proponents of Hindutva brigade promote it as a justification of clash between Islam and Hinduism in India, something that does work for polarisation and electoral politics of BJP back home.

As The Hindu rightly points out , the Hindutva brigade aims to push the Indian diaspora towards a narrow and intolerant version of nationalism, which draws heavily from a Zionist-inspired narrative.

They lie convincingly and their identity, status and language as Indian American establishes a dangerous credibility, one that passes off Hindutva ideology as rational and rooted in historical accuracy.

With the news of Twitter CEO contributing a 2 million dollar investment to such an organisation, there is a great danger in further projecting the ‘philanthropic’ and ‘well-intentioned’ image that the organisation wants to be known for.

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