Factories of fanaticism: Hindutva groups in the US export intolerance and sow seeds of division in India
Genocidal violence against India’s religious minorities is being funded and mobilised in broad daylight by Hindu nationalist groups within the United States. But local, state and federal authorities seem to not notice or care, despite the US Congress putting forward a resolution earlier this year that condemned the Indian government for human rights violations against Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and other religious and cultural minorities.
For years, dozens of Hindu nationalist groups, which advocate Hindu supremacist rule over religious minorities in India, have operated “under the radar,” even evading the attention of progressive Democrats, who typically have an attentive eye for human rights concerns.
But one of these groups – Global Hindu Heritage Foundation (GHHF) – slipped up on 27 November, when it organised a fundraiser in Frisco, Texas, among other causes, for forced religious conversions of Christians and demolition of Churches in the southern Indian city of Tirupati.
"The fact that the GHHF has been able to operate for so long without drawing attention to its incendiary rhetoric tells us a lot about the growth of Hindu nationalism in America. It’s time for all of us to take note and stand up to this hate in our community"
GHHF is a 501(C)(3) registered non-profit organisation based in Frisco, a city near Dallas, Texas.
It adheres to the political ideology known as Hindutva, which aims to transform India’s secular democracy into a tyrannical Hindu theocracy in which religious minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims, are expelled or reduced to second-class citizens.
This is an ideology whose founders expressed deep admiration for European fascist movements of the 1930s, including Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party.
In fact, the first systematic explication of the Hindutva ideology was published in 1939 by M.S. Golwalkar in a book titled Our Nationhood Defined. It asserted India to be a Hindu-only nation in which the country’s religious minorities should suffer the same treatment the Nazis dished out to the Jews.
Golwalkar was the second sarsanghchalak or head of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a fascist paramilitary group that sits at the top of a network of Hindu nationalist offshoots, both in India and abroad, including US-based Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), Sewa International USA, Ekal Vidyalaya, Hindu American Foundation (HAF), and Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) – whose Indian counterpart Vishwa Hindu Parishad has been designated a “religious militant organisation” by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for carrying out attacks against minorities and political assassinations in India.
GHHF expresses admiration on its website for all of the above US-based Hindutva organisations, particularly HSS and HAF. Notably, GHHF wrote a letter to India’s education ministry in 2014 that urging it to include in the Indian high school curriculum praise for the RSS member – Nathuram Godse – who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.
But GHHF also has a long history of spewing hatred towards Christians and Muslims, referring to Christian pastors as “leeches”; falsely claiming Hindus are “condemned to hellish agony and persistent terror by Muslims”; and that Christianity spreads “through deception, force, killings, rapes, torture, stoning."
The group raises money in the United States to fund its genocidal ambitions in India, particularly its effort to forcibly convert Muslims and Christians to Hinduism, demolish churches, and stop religious minorities from freely practising their faith. In December 2020, GHHF claimed to have converted 200 Christians to Hinduism. Earlier this year, it claimed to have converted another 57.
Many or most of these conversions are carried out under the threat of violence.
“The fact that the GHHF has been able to operate for so long without drawing attention to its incendiary rhetoric tells us a lot about the growth of Hindu nationalism in America. It’s time for all of us to take note and stand up to this hate in our community,” argues The Dallas Morning News in response to GHHF’s campaign to raise money in Texas for the demolition of churches in India.
Indeed, the funding activities of these nefarious groups should now be firmly on the radar of the government and law enforcement agencies, given that American activists, academics and journalists have been sounding the alarm bell on the growing influence of the Hindutva Lobby in the United States. Given the considerable media attention heaped on the recent India Independence Day celebrations in Edison, New Jersey, where a bulldozer – a symbol of hate against Indian Muslims – was paraded.
"It’s high time the US government officially recognise the grave threat posed by domestic Hindu supremacist hate groups to peace and harmony in our communities here in US and India"
Moreover, this is not the first time a Hindutva organisation has been caught out raising money in a Western country for the purpose of committing dastardly deeds in India.
For example, an investigation by UK-based Channel 4 revealed funds raised from British donors by Sewa International for earthquake relief in 2002 were misappropriated and redirected to Hindu nationalist organisations in India, specifically groups directly responsible for the anti-Muslim pogrom that occurred in the state of Gujarat that same year.
Sewa International, which also operates in the US, is a self-described charity organisation that serves the ideological interests of the Nazi-inspired RSS by performing volunteer work in marginalised and impoverished Hindu communities that are not naturally drawn to middle-class-centric Hindu nationalist appeals.
Alarmingly, Sewa International, along with a handful of other Hindutva organisations, was also the beneficiary of US-taxpayer funded Covid relief money in 2021, receiving $150,000, according to an investigation by Al Jazeera journalist Raqib Hameed Naik.
But despite these revelations, Sewa International, GHHF and other proxies of foreign hate groups continue to operate freely in the United States, despite espousing hateful rhetoric and ideas that run counter to American democratic values.
“GHHF efforts will fund and grow a militant group committed to violating principles of basic human rights and freedom of religion enshrined in the Indian constitution,” Justin Sabu, pastor at Zion Church, which has a campus in Frisco, Texas said during a city council meeting.
Many US-based civil rights groups including the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA) and Indian American Muslim Council have called on the US government to revoke GHHF’s 501c3 non-profit status and initiate an investigation into the funnelling of US taxpayers’ money to persecute religious minorities in India.
“It’s high time that the US government officially recognise the grave threat posed by domestic Hindu supremacist hate groups to peace and harmony in our communities here in US and India. US soil should be the last place on the planet to fund the impending genocide of 200 million minorities in India,” said IAMC Executive Director Rasheed Ahmed.
With leading human rights watchdogs like Genocide warning the preparation for genocide is well underway in India because of the policies and rhetoric of the Hindu nationalist Indian government, the US government must put in place safeguards to ensure the persecution of religious minorities abroad is not being funded from American soil.
CJ Werleman is a journalist, columnist, and conflict analyst.
Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman