America’s simmering Hindutva extremism problem


CJ Werleman

The Biden administration, whether aware or not, is aiding and abetting the reach and influence of Hindu nationalist groups through associated charity organisations.

After nearly a full month of domestic and international pressure, Yati Narsinghanand, one of the Hindu extremists who organised an event in Haridwar, India, that called for the genocide of Muslims, was arrested by authorities, following intervention by the Supreme Court.

Narsinghanand is not only the head priest of the Dasna Devi temple in Uttar Pradesh, but is also widely considered a leader of the Hindu nationalist or Hindutva movement. He routinely spews venomous hate towards religious minorities, saying in 2019, “Islam should be eradicated from Earth,” and “all Muslims should be eliminated”.

On the eve of the deadly 2020 Delhi Riots, which left more than 50 Muslims hacked, burned and shot to death, he urged supporters to “finish off Islam”.

Narsinghanand, and the Hindutva movement he supports and leads, is why human rights experts, including Dr Gregory Stanton, founder of Genocide Watch, have warned that the “preparation for genocide is underway in India and Kashmir”. He recently described the Haridwar conference as an “incitement to genocide”.

But the arrest of Narsinghanand not only has implications for India but also the United States, where Hindu nationalist groups have been allowed to operate freely and prosperously as tax-exempt religious and charity organisations.

One such organisation is the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) – the US-based informal affiliate of India’s VHP, which operates as the religious wing of the Hindu nationalist paramilitary outfit Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a million-member army that draws its inspiration from Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party and other European fascist movements of the 20th Century.

In 2018, the CIA identified the VHP as a “religious militant organisation,” responsible for extremist violence.

Last year, the VHPA invited Narsinghanand to be its keynote speaker for an online event, as part of a series of speeches and sermons to celebrate the Hindu festival of Chaitra Navrati. His invite was later cancelled, after Hindus for Human Rights collected hundreds of signatures, calling upon “people of conscience to stand up to Hindutva and all hate perpetuated in the name of religion”.

Rutgers University Professor Audrey Truschke, a scholar in Hindu-Muslim relations in South Asia, slammed the VHPA for inviting Narsinghanand, saying: “Hosting someone who calls for genocide is unacceptable for US-based non-profits.” She called the would-be event: “Another step – a somewhat extreme step – in the acceleration of #Hindutva hate by US organisations.”

So how are these Hindu extremist organisations flying under the radar in the United States, especially given that the Biden administration has made countering “domestic extremism” a top national priority?

Last year, Biden unveiled an unprecedented national strategy to counter domestic extremism, which included a priority to confront “the longstanding drivers of domestic terrorism: racism and bigotry”. Yet somehow, Hindu nationalist groups calling for the genocide of religious minorities as a means to transform India into a Hindu-only country, have escaped his attention.

Worse – the Biden administration is either unwittingly or knowingly aiding and abetting the reach and influence of Hindu nationalist groups, as revealed in a recent investigation by journalist Raqib Hameed Naik. He discovered that the US government doled out nearly $1 million in Covid-19 relief aid to five organisations tied to the Hindu nationalist movement, including the VHPA, which received more than $170,000 in US taxpayer-funded assistance in 2020.

In other words, the US government handed $170,000 to an affiliate of an organisation that the US has accused of extremist violence..

Other recipients include the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), which received nearly $400,000 in Covid-19 aid; Sewa International, which received more than $150,000; the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation, which received $71,000; and the Infinity Foundation, which received $51,000.

Each of these organisations has either direct or informal ties with the RSS, whose founder, MS Golwalkar, accused Muslims and Christians of being “traitors” and “internal threats”, while suggesting that they should be “purged” from India, the same way Hitler ethnically cleansed Jews from Germany.

The failure of the US government to identify and condemn Hindu nationalist organisations has blinded the American public into misbelieving that they are representative of the Hindu religion or Indian secular democratic values, despite some of these groups, including the HAF, openly declaring that: “Hindutva is not the same thing as Hinduism.”

Last year, then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey pledged $2.5 million to Sewa International as part of a $15 million donation for coronavirus relief efforts in India, while internal communications at Google and Microsoft reveal management at the two tech giants encouraged employees to donate to the Hindu nationalist “charity”.

Do they know that Sewa International was stripped of its charity registration in the United Kingdom, after an investigation revealed it raised money from British donors in 2002 for earthquake relief, but instead funnelled funds to Hindu nationalist organisations responsible for the 2002 Gujarat Riots, which left up to 2,000 Muslims dead?

It seems that a big part of the problem is that Western audiences have never heard of Hindutva or Hindu nationalism, which means that the US government has a responsibility to identify, condemn and strip these groups of their tax exempt status.

(CJ Werleman is a journalist, author, and analyst on conflict and terrorism.)

(Courtesy TRT World)