Call for US probe into Hindu right-wing groups getting COVID fund

People in New York celebrate the groundbreaking for a Hindu temple in the Indian city of Ayodhya [File: Alba Vigaray/EPA]

Following an Al Jazeera investigation, a broad coalition of Indian American activists and United States-based civil rights organisations has called on the US Small Business Administration (SBA) to probe how Hindu right-wing groups received hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

A statement issued by the Coalition to Stop Genocide in India this week said the Hindu groups that received the funds have “existential links” with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the “fountainhead of Hindu supremacist ideology” and “ideological parent” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Last week, Al Jazeera reported how five Hindu right-wing groups with links to Hindu nationalist organisations in India received more than $833,000 in direct payments and loans, according to data released by the Small Business Administration (SBA), a US federal agency that helps small business owners and entrepreneurs.

The SBA gave the funds as part of its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance (EIDLA), Disaster Assistance Loan (DAL) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) – programmes aimed at providing economic relief to distressed businesses and keeping their workers employed during the COVID-19 crisis in the world’s worst-hit country.

The coalition’s statement said the five groups – Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation, Infinity Foundation, Sewa International and Hindu American Foundation (HAF) – are “US-based front organisations for Hindutva, the supremacist ideology that is the driving force behind much of the persecution of Christians, Muslims, Dalits and other minorities in India”.

“US taxpayers’ money being used to keep hate groups in business is absolutely unacceptable and should concern all who believe in fairness, justice and government accountability,” said Rasheed Ahmed, executive director of Indian American Muslims Council (IAMC).

“There are families across America still reeling from the human and economic toll of COVID-19, while groups that seem to be essentially serving as front organizations for a violent and supremacist ideology are raking in the windfall from federal COVID funding.”

The coalition’s statement said the RSS has been “directly involved in orchestrating anti-Christian and anti-Muslim pogroms and instigating terror attacks, as part of a relentless campaign to subvert India’s secular moorings and turn it into a Hindu authoritarian state where minorities are relegated to the status of second class citizens”.

“Its members and affiliated organisations have been implicated in countless acts of massacres, ethnic cleansing, terrorism, forced-conversions and other forms of violence against religious minorities in India,” said the statement.

Raju Rajagopal is a member of Hindus for Human Rights, which describes itself as “a Hindu organisation that exemplifies the distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva”, as the Hindu nationalist movement is known as in India.

“The rise of HAF and other organisations linked with Hindutva has emboldened Hindu supremacist organizations in India, while also stifling the moderate Hindu voices here in the US,” said Rajagopal.

The coalition of US-based rights groups and activists asked the Office of the Inspector General, which probes fraud, waste and abuse of SBA programmes, to “take cognisance of the expose published by Al Jazeera and open a formal investigation into the matter”.

“Government watchdog groups as well as human rights organisations need to take serious note of the misappropriation of COVID funding by Hindu supremacist groups the United States,” said John Prabhudoss, chairman of Federation of Indian American Christian Organisations (FIACONA).

“A comprehensive probe and corrective action is needed to ensure that hard-working American taxpayers’ money is not funneled towards sponsoring hate, persecution and the slow genocide of minorities and marginalised communities in India.”

Source: Al Jazeera