Confronting the Sangh Parivar’s international network in a time of imperialist war

LK Advani’s much-postponed visit to London took place in the third week of August. The Deputy PM was welcomed in a lavish reception at the High Commissioner’s residence where wine and vedic mantras flowed equally freely. At the top of the agenda was his accusation that funds are being channeled from Muslim organisations here to separatist groups in Kashmir. The hypocrisy could not be more glaring when fundraising in the Indian ‘diaspora’ for the Sangh Parivar’s genocidal project has reached new peaks during the last year. And it was something Advani was not allowed to ignore: he was dogged throughout his visit by angry demonstrators demanding that the murderers of Gujarat are brought to justice and holding placards with slogans such as ‘Don’t let the BJP profit from genocide – no to elections in Gujarat!’ and ‘Advani – you are a killer and a traitor’.

South Asia Solidarity Group has for the past few months been carrying out a concerted campaign to expose the activities of Hindu fascist groups in Britain. As has been well-documented, the Sangh Parivar raises vast amounts of funds from people of Indian origin living abroad, particularly in the US and Britain, from the notorious gold bricks sent to Ayodhya for temple construction to the millions of dollars collected for earthquake relief in Gujarat and appropriated by the Sangh Parivar to the ongoing fundraising for India Relief and Development Fund projects in adivasi areas aimed ostensibly at ‘bringing them into the (Hindu) mainstream’. Equally disturbing for progressive South Asian organisations in Britain are the propaganda activities of these organisations which are instigating communal conflict among the mainly working class Asian communities in this country, a process which has been facilitated and intensified by the policies of the British state.

The campaign currently has four main areas of activity. Firstly, we are working to expose the nature of the Sangh Parivar groups in Britain among the South Asian communities. At present, we are focussing on publicising the reality of the massacres of the Muslim community in Gujarat and the role of the state and the Sangh Parivar in pre-planning and orchestrating the genocide. A recent public meeting in London focussed on the experience of women, looking at the particularly inhuman forms of sexual violence and murder they faced, the participation of Hindu women in the attacks, and the demands of women’s organisations in India relating to relief and rehabilitation and bringing the perpetrators to justice. Several Asian women’s organisations participated and resolved to organise documentary film shows and discussion meetings to raise awareness in local communities. These organisations have always worked across religious lines on issues such as domestic violence and have been able to maintain a strongly secular character. One of the strategies of the campaign is to try raise awareness among women of what Hindutva stands for, as many women, particularly in Gujarati Hindu communities, are being drawn into the Sangh Parivar organisations here via their thinly disguised ‘social work’ and charity fundraising activities. There is also a need to challenge the misinformation and communal poison spread by big-business controlled Gujarati newspapers published in Britain such as Gujarat Samachar.

A second focus is the fundraising activities of Sangh Parivar organisations in Britain, which enjoy the official status of registered charities, a major factor enabling them to raise funds on a large scale. The biggest Indian charity in Britain is Sewa International. This is actually a project of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), the international wing of the RSS, which states that its role is to ‘take up “global” level care of sewa work carried out under the Sangh ideology”. Under pressure from organisations representing Indian Muslims in Britain, the British Charity Commission is now considering a long overdue investigation into the activities and goals of the HSS and VHP (UK). But it is equally important to challenge these groups’ fundraising activities on the ground: in the wake of last year’s earthquake in Gujarat, Sewa International’s gross income rose from £748,355 in 2000 to £2,175,971 this year.

Thirdly, we are working to expose ‘local’ organisations closely linked to the Sangh Parivar, which receive large grants from local governments for their ‘community work’ activities. The funding of pro-Hindutva groups by the government is a direct result of New Labour’s policies towards ‘ethnic minorities’. This has its roots in the attempts of the British state to undermine the anti-racist struggles of its black population which began in the 1970s – state funding was used to progressively divide these communities firstly between those of Asian and African-Caribbean origin, then according to linguistic group (Punjabi, Gujarati, Bengali etc) and finally, since the late 1990s, according to what New Labour terms ‘faith communities’. By setting up local groups claiming to represent Hindu ‘faith communities’, the VHP and HSS have direct access to British government funding for their activities. They have also developed close links with both the main political parties – Labour and the Conservatives. For instance, the mayors of five London boroughs in the name of multiculturalism felicitated a recent gathering of the HSS in West London! The convergence of the goals of Hindutva forces and of the racists and imperialists can be seen yet again as Hindutva propaganda divides working class South Asian communities in the small towns and suburbs of England and further fuels the anti-Muslim racism of the British state and wider society. It is exemplified by the recent unholy alliance between Bradford VHP leader Hasmukh Shah and the white supremacist British National Party.

Finally, we are confronting attempts by Hindutva groups to penetrate state education here. VHP publications on Hinduism are being promoted as textbooks suitable for teaching Hinduism in religious education classes which are compulsory in British state schools. Sangh Parivar groups, along with other right-wing religious groups, are also planning to take advantage of the government’s new policy of promoting state funded ‘single faith’ schools.

For progressive South Asian groups in Britain, there are clearly uphill but vital struggles ahead, not only to stem the flow of pounds into the Sangh Parivar’s coffers, but also to decisively uproot these fascist organisations from our communities.

This struggle is part and parcel of our ongoing work to build unity, and strengthen the movement against racism, fascism, communalism and war. In the year that has passed since September 11, 2001, we have seen the British state sharply intensifying repression and surveillance with a series of anti-democratic measures targeted particularly against asylum seekers and anyone with a link to a Muslim majority country. Linked to this, state racism, whose specifically anti-Muslim aspect has been growing in tandem with global changes since the end of the 1980s, has gained new legitimacy in the context of the ‘war on terror’. The Home Secretary David Blunkett has been at the forefront of redefining ‘British citizenship’ in explicitly racist terms, proposing compulsory ‘citizenship classes’ where potential British citizens will learn skills such as ‘how to queue’ before being granted their British passports, and has even had the arrogance to proclaim that Asian families must speak English at home in order to fully ‘integrate’ and avoid a ‘generation gap’! The unprecedentedly harsh sentences of up to 8 years imprisonment currently being handed down to Asian youths for throwing missiles at the police in last summer’s Bradford riots further reflects this increasingly authoritarian and racist political climate under New Labour.

However, the last year has also seen the emergence of a dynamic and wide-ranging anti-war movement. In this context one of our tasks has been to generate a strong secular South Asian presence in anti-war mobilisations, in the process combating the media portrayal of South Asian participation in the movement as ‘Islamic fundamentalist’. A year on from 9/11, New Labour’s ideological and political stranglehold has been considerably weakened: a variety of left and progressive forces have been revitalised as issues of imperialism, globalisation and racism, on which the mainstream British left has often failed to act in the past, have been forced to the top of the agenda.

- a report from Britain by South Asia Solidarity Group