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Hindu right-wing groups in US got $833,000 of federal COVID fund

Washington, DC, United States – Five organisations with ties to Hindu supremacist and spiritual groups have obtained COVID-19 reduction funding amounting to $833,000, in response to information launched by the United States’ Small Business Administration (SBA), a federal company that helps small enterprise homeowners and entrepreneurs.

SBA gave the funds as half of its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance (EIDLA), Disaster Assistance Loan (DAL) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

All three programmes aimed to offer financial reduction to distressed companies and hold their workforce employed in the course of the COVID-19 disaster in the worst-hit nation in the world.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America

Massachusetts-based Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) obtained greater than $150,000 underneath PPP and an extra $21,430 underneath EIDLA and DAL programmes.

VHPA’s Indian counterpart, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), was designated as a spiritual militant organisation by the World Factbook of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for years.

VHP is an affiliate of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a far-right Hindu nationalist organisation fashioned in 1925 alongside the traces of hardline nationalist groups in Europe, which goals to create an ethnic Hindu-majority state in India.

RSS is the ideological mentor of India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and boasts of having Prime Minister Narendra Modi amongst tens of millions of its members throughout India.

Although the VHPA, which now has 23 chapters in the US, claims to be legally separate from its Indian counterpart, its website mentions the group shares the “same values and ideals”.

Any American non-profit that perpetuates Islamophobia and different varieties of hate mustn’t obtain federal reduction funds in any kind.

Sunita Viswanath, Hindus for Human Rights co-founder

For a long time, VHP has campaigned to show India right into a Hindu nation and stands accused of orchestrating quite a few assaults on Muslims and Christians in lots of of riots in varied components of the nation.

The VHPA’s membership in the US swelled in the late Nineteen Eighties after right-wing Hindu groups in India intensified their marketing campaign to construct a temple devoted to Lord Ram on the actual web site the place a Mughal-era mosque stood in the north Indian city of Ayodhya.

Hindu groups claimed the Sixteenth-century Babri Mosque, demolished by a mob in 1992, stood on the birthplace of Lord Ram. In a controversial judgment in 2019, India’s Supreme Court handed over the disputed web site to a government-run belief to construct a Ram temple.

The Muslim litigants have been allotted 5 acres (two hectares) of land at an alternate web site in a village 25km (15 miles) away to assemble a mosque.

Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA

Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA, an organisation affiliated with the RSS, obtained direct fee of  $7,000 and a mortgage of $64,462 underneath PPP.

Through its community of colleges primarily in India’s tribal and rural areas, Ekal Vidyalaya has been accused of spreading the RSS agenda of Hindu supremacy and of selling anti-minority hate amongst younger kids.

“The training to the teachers of Ekal schools was mainly to spread communal disharmony in the communities and also to inculcate a fundamentalist political ideology … creating enmity amongst communities on the basis of religion,” mentioned a 2009 report by a committee arrange by India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development.

Infinity Foundation

Infinity Foundation, one other Hindu nationalist organisation with ties to the RSS, obtained $51,872 in US federal funds in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic in response to SBA information.

Infinity Foundation’s founder Rajiv Malhotra, a right-wing creator, is also known as the “Ayn Rand of Internet Hindutva”, because the Hindu nationalist motion is named.

Malhotra, 70, has been accused of focusing on teachers and students vital of right-wing Hindu groups and issuing divisive statements. He has additionally confronted accusations of plagiarism, although that didn’t cease him from being appointed an honorary professor on the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Malhotra’s basis offers grants to researchers and universities to advertise the Hindu nationalist ideology espoused by the RSS in tutorial areas.

Sewa International

Sewa International, an outdated RSS affiliate, additionally obtained $150,621 in COVID-19 reduction.

Sewa International funds a number of RSS-run initiatives throughout India. In reality, in the older RSS literature, Sewa International’s handle was the identical because the RSS headquarters in New Delhi.

Ramesh Bhutada, an Indian-American businessman from Texas and nationwide vice chairman of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), the US wing of RSS, additionally holds the place of board chairperson at Sewa International.

Hindu American Foundation

Of the 5 organisations, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a Washington-based advocacy group co-founded by former VHPA activist Mihir Meghani, obtained the lion’s share of federal funds with $378,064 in PPP loans and one other $10,000 in EIDLA.

HAF lobbies to deflect any criticism of Modi authorities’s insurance policies on Capitol Hill, the latest being its vehement defence of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which the United Nations described as “fundamentally discriminatory”,  and India’s scrapping of the particular constitutional standing of Indian-administered Kashmir – each in 2019.

Though the HAF claims to be a “non-partisan organisation”, it has open hyperlinks with RSS members. Ramesh Bhutada’s son Rishi is a member of the HAF board of administrators and its treasurer.

According to the latest tax returns of the Bhutada Family Foundation, it donated $47,500 to Sewa International and $30,000 every to HAF and HSS in 2018.

People in New York have a good time the groundbreaking for a Hindu temple in the Indian metropolis of Ayodhya [File: Alba Vigaray/EPA]

Al Jazeera reached out to the 5 organisations for his or her feedback on receiving the US federal fund for COVID reduction. The HAF and Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation declined to remark, whereas Infinity Foundation didn’t reply to repeated calls, emails and textual content messages.

Only VHPA and Sewa International responded to the allegations of supporting right-wing groups in India and the way they plan to spend the pandemic funds they obtained from the US authorities.

“Almost every non-profit applied for these funds, and so did we. We will spend them as mandated by the CARES Act. We do not allocate money from the government funds to any activity outside the US,” VHPA president Ajay Shah advised Al Jazeera.

When requested if his organisation financially helps groups affiliated to RSS, Shah mentioned, “We comply with the government regulations and send money to several approved charitable organisations in India.”

However, many non-profits that characteristic in the listing of Indian organisations VHPA helps underneath its Support A Child venture have hyperlinks with RSS. It additionally funds the VHP Foundation in New Delhi.

Sewa International’s communication director, Vidyasagar Tontalapur, mentioned the organisation plans to make use of the federal funds to maintain its “workers employed during the COVID-19 crisis”.

When requested about its RSS hyperlinks, Tontalapur advised Al Jazeera they collaborate with all “registered non-profit organisations across the world”.

Americans ought to be extremely involved that taxpayer-funded stimulus reduction is being utilized by organisations and associates which have disturbing ties to these allegedly participating in non secular violence and bigotry abroad.

Brian Levin, California State University professor

New York-based Sunita Viswanath, co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights, expressed concern that the US pandemic reduction funds would possibly find yourself furthering hate marketing campaign towards Muslims and different minorities in India.

“All these organisations are sympathetic to the Hindu supremacist ideology. Their parent organisations continue to spread hatred in Hindu communities towards Muslims and Christians,” she advised Al Jazeera.

“Any American non-profit that perpetuates Islamophobia and other forms of hate should not receive federal relief funds in any form.”

History of funding Hindu nationalists

In 2014, South Asian Citizen Web (SACW), an internet platform that promotes dialogue on South Asia, launched a report on Hindu non-profits in the US that have been linked to Sangh Parivar – the umbrella time period that refers to all of the Hindu supremacist organisations linked to RSS.

The SACW report, based mostly on an evaluation of official tax information between 2001-2014, discovered that charity groups based mostly in the US despatched tens of millions of {dollars} to RSS-affiliated organisations.

Between 2001-2012, each Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation and VHPA despatched $27m and $3.9m respectively, in response to the SACW report.

SEWA International spent $3.3m throughout the identical interval on varied actions of right-wing groups in varied components of India, whereas Infinity Foundation gave $1.9m in grants to universities and researchers to advertise the Hindu supremacist agenda.

Arvind Rajagopal, professor of media research at New York University and creator of Politics After Television: Hindu Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Public in India, mentioned the RSS has been receiving international funding by means of its associates for a very long time.

“An income tax officer in the 1990s alleged that large sums of money were flowing from the US and elsewhere into VHP in India, and from there to the RSS,” Rajagopal advised Al Jazeera.

Rajagopal was referring to Vishwa Bandhu Gupta, a former earnings tax officer in India who in 1990 issued a discover to the VHP to reveal its earnings and expenditure.

The officer was transferred and later suspended by the federal government, allegedly following strain from the BJP, which then was a coalition companion of the federal authorities.

“It is hard to doubt that Hindu organisations did not receive money from their foreign affiliates and other sources abroad,” added Rajagopal.

‘Americans should be concerned’

Brian Levin, professor of legal justice and director of Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, raised issues about COVID reduction funds and loans being prolonged to organisations with ties to hardline groups.

“Americans should be highly concerned that taxpayer-funded stimulus relief is being used by organisations and affiliates that have disturbing ties to those allegedly engaging in religious violence and bigotry overseas,” Levin advised Al Jazeera.

“Even more disturbing is that these funds could be replacing decking donation revenues caused by the pandemic.”

The SBA declined to touch upon particular person debtors. It, nevertheless, mentioned the PPP is a delegated lending course of the place collaborating lenders act as an agent of the federal government to approve and disburse loans.

“The SBA does not have detail on PPP loan disbursements. That is a third-party transaction between lender and borrower,” Shannon Giles, public affairs officer at SBA advised Al Jazeera in an emailed assertion.

Christian Picciolini, a former white supremacist and founder of Free Radicals Project, termed the disbursement of pandemic reduction funds to right-wing Hindu groups as a “troubling example” of how extremists discover methods to use the disaster and techniques which might be put in place to mitigate it.

“America certainly should not be funding, inadvertently or not, extremist groups or any groups or individuals tied to extremism or polarisation,” he advised Al Jazeera.

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