US Must Stop Funding Religious Violence

Before the terrorist attacks in Mumbai rattled the world last December, the state of Orissa in eastern India was enduring its own gruesome and drawn-out version of religious violence. Following the murder of a hard-line Hindu swami on Aug. 23, extremist Hindus went on a rampage against Orissa’s minority Christians, burning homes and churches; battering people; and raping women, including a nun. The violence has left about 70 people dead and displaced 50,000 into refugee camps. As of last month, thousands remained in such camps. The All India Christian Council, an advocacy and relief group, was still distributing emergency items such as blankets and clothing even as its workers tried to help families earn a living again.
While the four months of violence have finally died down, Orissa’s history of Hindu-on-Christian violence means it may easily revive. And while it might be easy to chalk up the latest attacks to India’s occasional convulsions in communal strife, Americans are missing a crucial piece of the Orissa puzzle: Much of the funding for Hindu extremism comes from the United States.
In India, Hindu nationalist groups aspire to Hindutva – the concept of a “pure” Hindu nation where Hindus have an unassailable dominion over minorities such as Muslims and Christians and in which the caste system is rigidly preserved. During 2002 riots in Gujarat state, the ideology found a deadly outlet with the well-planned retaliatory killing of some 2,000 Muslims. The Hindutva groups fall under the umbrella organization of the Sangh Parivar, and include organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – which helped incite the latest violence in Orissa – and the national Bharatiya Janata Party. Sangh Parivar groups have affiliates in the United States that operate as cultural or charitable groups and gather most of their funding support from U.S. diaspora Indians. Their funding, in turn, of Hindutva groups in India has helped to both fuel and prolong the harassment and attack of Christians in Orissa and other Indian states. U.S. sources of funding for Hindu extremism is not a topic that attracts much press, but California-based anthropologist Angana Chatterji has been following the money for years. She has made 18 trips to Orissa since June 2002, gathered facts in dozens of its villages and has also convened a human-rights tribunal in the state. According to Ms. Chatterji, there are four major Hindutva-affiliated groups in the United States that have funded numerous organizations across India.
The U.S. groups register as charities with tax-exempt status and carry stated goals of providing development and welfare work for needy Indians. In reality, Ms. Chatterji says, the charities offer facades for vast political activities that include the education, conversion and indoctrination of Hindutva ideology in traditionally poor and often illiterate tribal and low-caste Indians. One example is the Maryland-based India Development and Relief Fund, which according to its Web site, has raised $10 million since 1987. According to a 2002 study that Ms. Chatterji helped author, the IDRF’s tax-exempt application form upon its founding named several Sangh organizations in India that it would support. One such organization, Sewa Bharati, is well-known for introducing the regular observance of Hindu festivals in villages where little existed, or for sending in Hindu teachers to counteract the perceived influence of local Muslims or Christians.
The 2002 report further noted that half of IDRF’s funds were going to Sangh-related groups whose main purpose was to convert and Hinduize the poor and marginalized. Less than one-fifth of its funds, in fact, were going to its stated aim of development work, and the IDRF’s political activity has been in direct violation of its tax-exempt status. In 2006, the IDRF disbursed $1.6 million in India, according to its tax records. Other Sangh-affiliated groups have raised similar sums, Ms. Chatterji says: Ekal Vidyalaya, which gave $2 million in 2006; and Sewa International USA, which allocated $284,000. Sewa International is the parent body to Sewa Bharati, the Hindu indoctrination group mentioned above. All told, such organizations form a complex and interconnected web through which U.S. funding travels. In Orissa, the stakes for Hindu extremists are particularly high. Orissa is the country’s poorest state, with almost 40 percent living below the poverty line – double India’s national level. The majority of Orissa’s residents are low-caste Hindus or non-Hindu tribals who have little hope in the discriminatory caste system. Christians, Muslims, tribals and other downtrodden groups are the targets of Hindu extremists in Orissa. Christian churches and groups that offer education, job training and ideas of a classless society understandably are appealing to many, to the anger of higher-caste Hindus who stand to lose their privileged status.
In most international religious conflicts, the United States can do little to curb the violence raging beyond its borders. But in India’s case, Ms. Chatterji notes, Washington can do something to help: investigate and reassess the charitable status of U.S. organizations whose funding is indirectly – or directly – enabling the bloodshed. The Hindu extremists’ 2008 campaign in Orissa was so well-orchestrated, the violence spread to five other states. For Christians still languishing in refugee camps, the next time could be chillingly worse.
Source: Priya Abraham, director of communications at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy.


1 Comment

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One response to “US Must Stop Funding Religious Violence

  1. So .. let me get this straight. Fake-Seculars are scared of $2-3 million dollors of Hindu money but there is no concern for nearly $1 BILLION Dolloars sent by Missionaries to India

    Wah Wah Wah … the only kind of logic that Fake-Seculars are capable of.

    Love India or Leave India.

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