IN BAD FAITH? BRITISH CHARITY & HINDU EXTREMISM
Awaaz — South Asia Watch Ltd, 2004
SECTION 3: THE SEWA INTERNATIONAL — FUNDED VILLAGES
1 - An alarming chain links unsuspecting donors in the UK to the active political promotion and glorification of the extremist RSS in Gujarat. UK donors gave funds in good faith to SIUK for humanitarian reconstruction and rehabilitation following the 2001 Gujarat earthquake; these funds went from SIUK to the RSS’s Sewa Bharati which managed the work, with additional funds from government agencies; work was started through RSS ceremonies, or completed villages were inaugurated by very senior RSS officers – SIUK funds Sewa Bharati; the RSS hands over the completed village to residents. The extremist RSS and its dangerous ideology were actively promoted in Gujarat through these processes. The Hindutva political agenda of the RSS was explicit in the reconstruction and opening ceremonies of several villages funded by SIUK. The agenda to glorify and expand the RSS was well known by SIUK but not revealed to donors. SIUK enthusiastically promoted extremist organizations in India whose activities, history and ideology would horrify most British donors.
2 - One village (Chapredi) funded by SIUK included an important dedication plaque glorifying the RSS, its founder and its affiliates. A Hindu temple topped with saffron flags and funded through SIUK was also built in this village. No evidence was found of SIUK funding the rebuilding of destroyed mosques or churches in any adopted village.
3 - The RSS supreme leader, K. S. Sudarshan, presided over the foundation stone laying ceremony for one village (Mithapasvaria) funded by SIUK. The new village was ‘handed over’ to residents by an RSS joint general secretary. Chief guests included the western sector RSS head (who is also a Sewa Bharati Gujarat trustee), and the Gujarat state RSS service section head. There was no clear organizational distinction between Sewa Bharati Gujarat and the RSS.
4 - The RSS supreme leader, K. S. Sudarshan, undertook the opening ceremony for another village (Rapar) funded by SIUK. At the ceremony, Sudarshan stressed the need to expand RSS organizations and networks in the area. Funds were raised for this village through a multicultural event in the UK.
5 - RSS physical and ideological training cells (shakhas) were initiated by Sewa Bharati during the rebuilding of another village (Badanpur) funded by SIUK.
6 - In the villages claimed to have been ‘totally funded’ by SIUK, we found substantial government or other NGO contributions.
Approximately £1 million from SIUK went to Sewa Bharati for reconstructing six villages. SIUK said it had ‘totally funded’ the construction of the villages. The RSS Gujarat media section reported that four of the villages (Badanpur, Rampura, Sayan, Rapar) were funded by the Government of Jharkhand, a BJP ruled state. Sewa Bharati Gujarat documents also show substantial government funds for these villages. With Chapredi village, another NGO constructed permanent housing and other buildings at the original village location. We look below at five of the six villages in order to evaluate SIUK’s claim that it is a non-sectarian, non-religious, non-political organization that only provides funds for humanitarian relief and rehabilitation.
We are aware that SIUK funded some homes for Muslims and we are aware of the extent and quality of the reconstruction work overseen by Sewa Bharati. This is not the point. The key issue is that SIUK used earthquake funds as a vehicle for the promotion of a hate-driven and divisive organization whereas numerous other NGOs undertook reconstruction and rehabilitation work transparently and on a large scale without promoting an extremist and dangerous political agenda. We show Hindutva supremacist strategies at work in what should have been purely humanitarian activity. There was a chain of links the exact nature of which SIUK never made transparent. At one end, in Britain, were genuine, non-sectarian donors who gave funds in good faith to SIUK. At the other end, in Gujarat, was the expansion and glorification of the extremist RSS and its networks. SIUK knew exactly what it was doing and how it suited the aims and agenda of the RSS.
CHAPREDI VILLAGE (BHUJ SUB-DISTRICT, KUTCH DISTRICT)
Chapredi was considered an important, high profile village by SIUK. It was adopted by the Coventry branch of SIUK and by ‘the people of Coventry’ and visited by a SIUK delegation in January 2002, which included Barry Gardiner MP, representatives of the Labour Friends of India, the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Coventry and the former Lord Mayor of Derby. Chapredi was adopted by two NGOs: Sewa Bharati, which reconstructed the village at a new site; and the Malayala Manorama Charitable Trust, which reconstructed the village at its original location. Rebuilding by Sewa Bharati was also done with financial contributions from the Vajpayee Nagar Vikas Yojna, a government rural infrastructure development programme. The Sewa Bharati-rebuilt Chapredi, renamed ‘Atalnagar’ after the BJP prime minister, was opened in March 2002.
Whereas SIUK denied the nature of its RSS links, the RSS backing is stated very clearly on Sewa Bharati boards in the village. A dedication plaque in the new village (original in Gujarati, translation ours) states:
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
Venerable Keshav Baliram Hedgewar established the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 5026, 1926 in the Christian calendar, on the auspicious day of Vijaya Dashmi. Removing all the differences in social life, creating a united society based on Hindutva and through it creating a powerful, autonomous and wealthy nation is the goal of the Sangh. The Sangh, a great tree created from a seedling is a national organization and an idea with international appeal. The Sangh is a vehicle for work. Its volunteers raised in the culture of the daily Shakha, selfless service, clean character and disciplined society are directed towards many fields. Let us spread the Sangh’s work among all classes of this society by kindling the values of love and charity.
Sewa Bharati – Gujarat
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh inspired Sewa Bharati is always and forever at the forefront of service and support of victims at the time of natural or man made disaster. The trust formed to help affected areas in disasters such as the Morbi floods, the terrible drought in Saurashtra and Kutch, the horrible plague in Surat, the earthquake in Latur, the destructive hurricanes in Saurashtra, Andhra and Orissa is Sewa Bharati – Gujarat. Victory to the Holy Motherland!
In response to a Channel 4 News investigation into SIUK, the latter stated that it ‘has never sent money to any parties with the intention of spreading communal violence or hatred, either directly or indirectly’. Examples such as the plaque at Chapredi demonstrate the funding, promotion and glorification by SIUK of an organization and an ideology that is dedicated to religious hatred and whose members and affiliates have been involved in politically and religiously-motivated violence. SIUK knew that it was funding the promotion of the RSS, its founder and its affiliates in Gujarat. SIUK glorified extremist organizations in India whose activities, history and ideology would horrify most British donors.
Figure 7: RSS dedication plaque at rebuilt Chapredi village, translation given in text.
We found no evidence that Sewa Bharati rebuilt any mosques, Muslim shrines or churches damaged during the earthquake. However, it did build Hindu temples using funds from SIUK. The Hindu temple shown below, built in Chapredi and topped with RSS saffron flags, is an example.
Another organization, Malayala Manorama Charitable Trust, associated with the Malayala Manorama newspaper group in Kerala, also reconstructed the village in its original location and built 125 permanent houses. We also did not find in Malayala Manorama’s efforts the kind of sectarian propaganda that accompanied RSS work.
Figure 9: ‘Gateway’ to Chapredi village, stating the name of Malayala Manorama.
Figure 10: Bird feeding shelter (chabutra) and community pavilion built in Chapredi with the help of Malayala Manorama.
MITHASPASVARIA VILLAGE (ANJAR SUB-DISTRICT, KUTCH DISTRICT)
This village was adopted by ‘Derby and Nottingham cities’ and is another village that SIUK claimed to totally fund. A document from Sewa Bharati Gujarat shows that there was also a government contribution of Rupees 9,726,000 towards reconstructing the village. This village has 164 households, of which four households are Muslim. Sewa Bharati had constructed 154 units in the village. When we visited the village in the summer of 2003, the Muslim families were not found living in the newly constructed houses of Sewa Bharati at the new site, but were instead living in the old village area. The foundation stone laying ceremony for Mithapasvaria village was undertaken on 17 April 2001 by the supreme head of the Indian RSS, K. S. Sudarshan. It was also renamed ‘Ramnagar’ (‘the town of Ram’). Sewa International’s banner was prominently displayed behind the RSS leader and other RSS senior figures.
Figure 11: RSS supreme leader K. S. Sudarshan at foundation stone laying ceremony for Mithapasvaria village, near Bhuj, 17 April 2001. The Sewa International banner is displayed prominently. Other individuals include those closely associated with HSS UK. The Sewa Bharati banner (in Gujarati) states its origin as ‘RSS inspired’.
A plaque at the new Mithapasvaria states that the RSS joint general secretary, Madandas Devi (who has also participated in VHP protests regarding the Ayodhya Ram temple issue), handed over the village to residents on 3 June 2002. One of the chief guests at this ceremony was Pravin Maniyar, the western sector RSS media head who is also a Sewa Bharati trustee. Another chief guest was Bharat Amin who is in charge of the state’s RSS service wing. It is in examples like these that the organizational distinction between the RSS and Sewa Bharati becomes highly ambiguous. Why, for example, is virtually every dignitary present at the foundation stone-laying or handover ceremony a senior national or local RSS officer?
It is not simply that Sewa Bharati is ‘RSS inspired’ but appears to be the RSS acting under another name. SIUK provides funds to Sewa Bharati to rebuild a village, but it is the RSS that ‘hands over’ the completed village. The extent of direct RSS involvement is significant enough to raise questions about legal regulations that prohibit the receipt of foreign funds by the RSS.
RAPAR VILLAGE (MORBI SUB-DISTRICT, RAJKOT DISTRICT)
Rapar village was initially adopted by Coventry, UK. SIUK released the following statement:
The Coventry Branch of SEWA International officially adopts Rapar. The village of Rapar, which was totally devastated and destroyed by the Gujarat Earthquake, will be totally reconstructed and adopted by the people from the City of Coventry. Coventry has been asked to be the first city anywhere in the UK to fund the complete rebuilding of a village.
The Government of Jharkhand also reportedly funded the reconstruction of this village. SIUK organized a large fundraising event in April 2001 in Coventry for this purpose. This was a multicultural variety show which raised almost £22,000. SIUK said:
Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities happily worked together to do their little bit…Coventry has emulated the way forward once again - and proved that ALL Religions and Cultures can work together effectively and harmoniously to serve Humanity.
These are admirable goals that demonstrate how UK South Asians from different communities can work together to support victims of natural disasters. But how many supporters of the UK fundraising event were aware of the nature of the opening ceremony of the village on 26 April 2002? The media division of the RSS in Gujarat reported this:
Sewa Bharati of RSS constructed the houses at village Rapar, in association with Sewa International (U.K.) and Govt. of Zharkhand [Jharkhand] at a cost of Rs. 2.60 crores. The work has been completed within one year and the civic facilities like road, tapped-water to each house, school, temple, dispensary etc. have been provided to the village. Shri Sudarshanji [RSS supreme leader] addressed a function at this village which was attended by large number of people of nearby villages. He said that people should not solely depend on Govt. help but they themselves should come forward to assist others like Sewa Bharati according to Hindu Sanskruti and Hindu Dharma [the RSS’s version of Hindu culture and Hindu religion]. He emphasized that one should not depend for everything from school admission or for job, on MLA or MP [politicians]. Everyone should stand on its own. Villages should develop themselves and therefore, the RSS shakhas are creating an atmosphere of cooperation for people everywhere. He advised the Swayamsevaks [RSS members] to create 5 committees for social education, social health, social security, social samrasta [‘harmony’] and social prosperity. People are always good but they should be motivated to undertake tree plantation and water conservation activities, he said. RSS is doing such a yeoman sewa [service] activities for which not only people connected with RSS donate money but even those, who are not attached to RSS, also donate funds to Sewa Bharati…Shri Pravinbhai Maniar, the Sampark Pramukh [publicity head] of Western region of RSS stated that for the earthquake affected persons, 1823 new houses are constructed in 14 villages at a cost of Rs. 40.54 crores and 294 school-rooms are constructed in 64 villages at a cost of Rs. 6.57 crores by Sewa Bharati. Prant Sanghchalak [RSS regional head] Shri Amrutbhai Kadiwala said that we are committed to remain with the people in their time of sorrows as per ideals of Dr. Hedgewar [RSS founder].
The same pattern emerges: British individuals donate funds in good faith, this time through a multicultural fundraising event in the UK, but these end up being used in India for a project organized entirely by the RSS and its affiliates, aimed at spreading the RSS organization and its cells, and fuelled by an ideology of Hindutva extremism that has resulted in hatred, violence and the death of thousands.
BADANPUR VILLAGE (JODIYA SUB-DISTRICT, JAMNAGAR DISTRICT)
This is another of the six villages said to be totally funded by SIUK. The Government of Jharkhand was also involved in funding village reconstruction. The dynamics of Sewa Bharati's engagement with ‘lower’ caste groups in a badly damaged village Badanpur can be compared with Sewa Bharati's involvement in Rampura village which contained a homogeneous and relatively ‘higher’ caste group and which was not as seriously affected by the quake (see below).
Badanpur village is made up of four mostly ‘lower’ caste groups and contains 205 families. During the earthquake, about seventy per cent of the village buildings were destroyed. Several NGOs came to the village to assist in rehabilitation and reconstruction. The first of these was SETU from Ahmedabad, which undertook the immediate relief work and constructed 205 temporary dwellings. Soon after, some workers of the RSS camped at the end of the village and donated their labour. Through the RSS group, a new organization came into the village – Sewa Bharati Gujarat. An RSS physical and ideological training cell (shakha) operated throughout the period of Sewa Bharati’s rehabilitation work in Badanpur. Children enlisted on an educational programme run by a secular NGO wanted their class times to be changed. On further inquiry it was discovered that the reason for this was a time clash with the RSS shakha started by Sewa Bharati.
Sewa Bharati Gujarat called a meeting of the villagers and discussed their project to build 205 homes. All villagers initially accepted this scheme and agreed to have the village relocated to a new site (relocation was a common option if the proportion of severe damage was assessed to be very high.) However, at the next meeting Sewa Bharati said that the villagers would have to bear the cost of clearing the new land. A dispute eventually emerged between Sewa Bharati and many of the villagers, resulting in 150 villagers removing their names from Sewa Bharati’s proposed scheme.
Disputes between villagers then multiplied and have reached a serious level. The reasons given to us for the disputes relate to the inability of Sewa Bharati to create trust among the villagers, and, in particular, a dispute over non-agricultural, publicly-owned common land (‘khara’ land) used by all the villagers for crop threshing and other activities. Local sources claimed that Sewa Bharati contrived to have this land brought under private ownership on behalf of the 55 families that accepted its scheme, but against the wishes of the other 150 families. By law, this land should have been auctioned publicly, but we were told that Sewa Bharati used its influence with the BJP Gujarat state government officials to get its own way. When the other 150 families occupied this public land, they were vacated by the police. A court case is on-going regarding this issue. However, Sewa Bharati built a new village (Siddhnath) on the disputed land and a handover ceremony was conducted. The 150 remaining families have lost their rights over their public land. We were told that the new village committee formed in Siddhnath is made up of staunch Hindutva supporters and this has resulted in constant clashes in the village.
RAMPURA VILLAGE (SANTALPUR SUB-DISTRICT, PATAN DISTRICT)
This village is also one of the six said to be totally funded by SIUK although the Government of Jharkhand was funding Sewa Bharati for the construction of houses, the community hall, the water supply network, the water tank and the drainage network, and the Gujarat state government funded the construction of the school building. The funds allotted to this village by Sewa Bharati from SIUK funding were Rupees 7,323,000 (approximately £108,000). Rampura contained seventy households, of which sixty-five were from the relatively ‘higher’ Thakur caste. While parts of the village were damaged by the earthquake, only 5 houses were damaged according to the criteria for complete non-repairable damage used by the government. No other houses were apparently damaged according to any other official criteria of lesser damage. Given the low level of permanent shelter damage it was curious that Sewa Bharati / SIUK had adopted this particular village.
Sewa Bharati had previously been looking for a maximum of two villages in Santalpur sub-district for complete rehabilitation and was ready to adopt any village that would accept a partnership proposal and contribute land. The first village adopted, Vavadi did not agree to complete rehabilitation organized by Sewa Bharati, mainly because of emergence of inter-caste differences among villagers. Sewa Bharati then left Vavadi. Meanwhile Rampura villagers had purchased seven acres of land and approached Sewa Bharati to coordinate rehabilitation. We were told that Sewa Bharati adopted Rampura ‘for the sake of fame’ despite partial damage (since only five houses were officially recorded under the most extreme damage category.) No other village nearby agreed to contribute land therefore it was not feasible for Sewa Bharati to adopt any other village. More significantly, with the exception of five households, all others belonged to the same caste community and therefore there was very little chance for disagreement. A board at the new village states ‘RSS Inspired Sewa Bharati’, acknowledges SIUK and shows that the community centre (Samaj Mandir) is named after Deendayal Upadhyaya, possibly the most revered RSS figure after Hedgewar and Golwalkar.
 The details below are from Sewa Bharati Gujarat and show SIUK’s figures with government contribution in brackets (all amounts in Rupees 100,000): Mithapasvaria 114.60 (97.26), Chapredi 233.72 (172.92), Sayan 41.49 (26.7), Badanpur 47.62 (29.37), Rampura 61.46 (38.98), Rapar 126.64 (75.02). Sewa Bharati, ‘Details of Completed / Outgoing Projects: Villages’, Sewa Bharati Gujarat, Ahmedabad, not dated. The area of government contributions during the earthquake rehabilitation was based on the official assessment of the severity of damages to buildings and the proportion of buildings, houses and infrastructure damaged. The government offered six different packages of funding. In cases of complete village reconstruction and rehabilitation funded under one government package, NGOs and government agencies typically worked in partnership, with the government contributing fifty percent of costs and the NGO expected to contribute a minimum of fifty percent of costs. Full consultations with villagers was a requirement, especially when complete village relocation rather than same place reconstruction was involved.
 Sewa International UK, ‘Sewa International’s statement on Channel 4 allegations’, 16 December 2002.
 The Tribune, 4 June 2003; Government of India, ‘Quake-Wiped Chapredi takes rebirth; Dr. Joshi hands over key to village-head’, Press Release, 3 June 2003
 Sewa Bharati Gujarat, ‘Details of Completed / Outgoing Projects: Villages’, Sewa Bharati Gujarat, Ahmedabad, not dated.
 http://www.sewainternational.com/gujarat_quake_coventry_at_work.htm; another news item also reports that ‘Coventry will be adopting the village of Chapredi instead of Rapar according to latest reports from Mukeshbhai Shah of Sewa Bharti in Ahmedabad’ http://www.sewainternational.com/index.php?start_from=16’.
 Sangh Sandesh, May–June 2001, vol. XII, no.3, p.21.
 Sewa Bharati Gujarat, ‘Costing Summary for Projects financed by Sewa International UK’, Sewa Bharati Gujarat, Ahmedabad, not dated.