Sewa Bharati: Hindu Consolidation at Any Cost
Sewa Bharati, like Sewa International described in the previous Appendix, is a Sangh organization involved in the work of consolidating Hindu communities. As described in the previous Appendix, Sewa Bharati’s efforts also use development/service as a cover to consolidate communities at the margin of mainstream Hinduism into a politicized field of Hindutva and also to intimidate and convert Muslim and Christian minorities to “Hinduism.”
D. 1 Sewa Bharati and Sewa International
Accordingly, this Appendix will remain brief with the sole intent of establishing the similarity of the work. Probably the most coherent way of understanding the links between Sewa Bharati and Sewa International is to think of them as complimentary to each other in terms of geographical spread and replicating each other’s projects in substantial terms. Historically, Sewa Bharati is an older institution set up with the objective of using the structure of service/development to spread Hindutva. As the diasporic connection became more important within RSS’s internal organization, Sewa International was started with an initial intent of coordinating foreign funds to Sewa operations within India and also to undertake necessary Sewa activity within diasporic communities. However, this distinction has not been strictly held in place with Sewa International also operating directly in India.
D. 2 Sewa Bharati as a Sangh Organization
The RSS recognizes Sewa Bharati as one of its key organizations. Sewa Bharati functions as an umbrella organization for many different projects and has many branches all over the country. Its range of operations extends from urban slums to tribal areas, purportedly for welfare/development functions. However, as in the case of Sewa International, this claim is easily proven to be false. In the book, ‘RSS: A Vision in Action’ , H.V.Sheshadri, a former general secretary of the RSS, recounts many examples of Sewa Bharati involved in conducting Hindu religious functions in slums, teaching and conducting Hindu rites and rituals (such as the home, havan and kirtan), building temples and organizing visits to Hindu pilgrim sites. A brief example should suffice:
Neiraich is a village near Agra with a population of 3 to 4 thousand. For many years, the place had not partaken of any religious programmes like home, haven, katha or kirtan. With the entry of the Seva Bharati, the villagers came forward to conduct haven followed by the Ramayana [the televised version of a Hindu epic] screened on the VCR. And now the village life has become enlivened with religious fervour and community life.
So also, Sewa International's website  speaks extensively about Sewa Bharati, and its religious inclination rather than a developmental inclination. The page on Social Harmony describes Sewa Bharati volunteers organizing Ram Lila, Holi, Makar Sankranti and Ugadi (all Hindu festivals) celebrations in different localities. The page on ‘Ennobling Social Conduct’ further describes Sewa Bharati volunteers engaging the community in singing religious songs (bhajans), celebrating Krishna Janmashtami (a Hindu festival), or offering Hindu prayers.
D.3 Hindu Consolidation Revisited
A visit of the Supreme Leader of RSS to a function organized by the Sewa Bharati is described as follows :
The pradhan [chief] from Deenapurgaon said, ‘Because of Sewa-karya [the work of Sewa Bharati], in our locality the fanaticism of the Muslims has subsided’. ... The elder from Samatadham Basti said with folded hands, ‘[If] Sewa Bharati had not reached our Basti, many of our people would have been converted to Christianity, as there were none of guide us.’ He continued, ‘After Sewa-karya started, a temple has come into being. Daily pooja [prayer service] takes place in the temple with Arati. Because of this, the feeling of Hindutwa in our households has been awakened. All this is the contribution of Sewa Bharati.
Yet again, the mode of working is very clear. Muslim and Christian communities are the ones from which difference is to be drawn, and the “Hindu” population of an area so differentiated, is then initiated into a series of activities that consolidate them into active agents of Hindutva. As usual there is little of no evidence of developmental work.
Where possible, the agenda goes further to conversion from Islam or Christianity to Hinduism as in the case titled ‘Hindu Identity Reclaimed’ in Western Uttar Pradesh :
A Samskar Kendra [an activity of the Sewa Bharati, meant to help children develop ‘character’] had been opened in the Nagla Singi extension near Hathras in Braj. On the first day, when the teacher asked the children's names, one replied, 'Mahmood', another 'Rashid', and so on. The teacher was surprised, since Nagla was predominantly a locality of the Hindus. How could there be so many Muslim boys? It came out that a certain Moulvi [a Muslim preacher] had been visiting the area from time to time, and it is he who had named the children. Hindu priests had hardly ever come to them. Even dead bodies were disposed of in the Muslim fashion.
Such was the state of affairs in this hamlet. The people belonged to the Ghumantu Banjara caste and traditionally lived by cattle-rearing. They had no contact at all with Hindu society. This had encouraged the Moulvi.
After activities of Sewa Bharati started, things changed. Children got new names. The life-style of the people too began changing. Children began to take an interest in learning. They were gradually introduced to tenets of Hinduism.
The script is clear and similar to what we have already seen in Appendix C vis a vis Sewa International. The community in question is identified as Ghumantu Banjara caste of cattle-rearers. Cattle- rearing is traditionally a backward caste occupation, with some tribal populations on occasion also being involved in the same. Whichever the case maybe, what should be clear is that backward caste Hindus would share very few of the upper caste Hindu rituals and practices, and would hold themselves as distinct from upper caste Hindu formations. Even if the basic premise as described in the story – a moulvi converting Ghumantu Banjaras to Islam is taken as true – then, as Muslims the community would have been escaping, at least nominally, distinctions of caste. The process of conversion to Hinduism is thus effective at two levels: first, it clearly is an effort to consolidate a Hindutva identity and second, it brings the community back into the traditional caste order by virtue of which the community is yet again, subject to a hierarchy.
D.4 Hindutva at Any Cost
Probably the most recent example of how Sewa Bharati works to differentiate “Hindu” communities and sow the seeds of tension between “Hindu” communities and other minorities is during the Gujarat earthquake last year. Sewa Bharati, Gujarat, received a lot of funds last year following the earthquake, from foreign donors as well as the Indian government for rebuilding villages in Gujarat . Sewa Bharati utilized these funds to include a temple and a crematorium in each village that it rebuilt and built no mosques, churches or graveyards . Either all the villages that Sewa Bharati chose to rebuild were predominantly Hindu villages (which begs the question as to why it chose villages so selectively), or it built only temples in villages that had significant non-Hindu populations. The reason why this example is a critical one is simply to show how fundamentally instrumental the Sangh is. Even the most disastrous of human calamities are for Sangh operations like Sewa Bharati moments for political/religious consolidation rather than humanitarian aid. This example will be revisited in some detail in a later appendix that details such discrimination on the part of the Sangh in situations of extreme crisis.
In summary therefore, like Sewa International, Sewa Bharati is fundamentally a part of core Sangh activity, and uses every instance possible to consolidate a Hindu identity and involve itself in conversion activity. Thus it is simply important to underscore the fact that when funds from the US are received by Sewa Bharati, its primary use is for ideological/religious propaganda work.
116. Social Harmony, http://www.sewainternational.org/social.html ; Ennobling Social Conduct, http://www.sewainternational.org/ennobling.html
117. Inspiring visit of P. P. Sarsanghchalakji, Delhi http://www.sewainternational.org/ennobling.html
118. Hindu Identity Reclaimed Braj Prant (Western Uttar Pradesh), http://www.sewainternational.org/ennobling.html
119. An article about Goa state funds being used by Sewa Bharati for rebuilding Gujarat villages, Parrikar uses Goa funds to boost RSS image in Gujarat, http://www.freenewsgoa.net/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=42
The Foreign Exchange of Hate IDRF and the American Funding of Hindutva © 2002, Sabrang Communications & Publishing Pvt. Ltd, Mumbai, India, and The South Asia Citizens Web, France