Sattion Dollars: How Hindu Nationalist Organizations Fund Ethnic Violence in India with Money Raised in the U.S

By Din, Suleman | Colorlines Magazine, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Sattion Dollars: How Hindu Nationalist Organizations Fund Ethnic Violence in India with Money Raised in the U.S


Din, Suleman, Colorlines Magazine


at first glance, it seemed like a typical rubber-chicken political dinner.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Giant Indian and U.S. flags draped downwards and covered much of the center wall in the ballroom at the Royal Albert Palace in New Jersey last March 20.

"INDIA SHINING: TO A BRIGHTER DESTINY," proclaimed a large plastic banner. Speaker after speaker praised India's development under the Bharatiya Janata Party--India's Hindu nationalist coalition government, which was in power from 1998 until its defeat to the Congress Party in May 2004.

The gala typified the substantial support that Hindu nationalists in India have managed to organize in the United States. Human rights organizations, along with the U.S. State Department and the United States Commission on International Freedom, have identified Hindu nationalists as a source of communal violence. But the State Department has not listed Hindu nationalists on its lists of terrorist groups, and the Justice Department is not investigating their fundraising in the U.S., leading critics to claim that the Bush Administration is more concerned with improving strategic relations with India than examining its human rights record.

After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took full control over the Indian government in 1998, some Indian states signed new laws against Christians, banning conversion activities. Hindu nationalist groups continue attacks against India's Christians and its Muslim minority, which still numbers close to 150 million in a country of one billion.

BJP leaders have been present during violent episodes, and the party maintains close ties to groups identified by human rights advocates as instigators and perpetrators of ethnic violence. Even the basis on which the party was elected in 1998 is considered inflammatory by some, with the premise of building a temple on the ruins of a mosque demolished by Hindu nationalists. The mosque, in the northern Indian city of Ayodhya, was reduced to rubble in 1992, poisoning relations between India's Hindus and Muslims and leading to rioting and the murder of hundreds of Muslims.

Patrons of Hate?

On the surface, supporters of Hindu nationalists in the U.S. do not appear to be stridently fanatic about religion. Many are affluent and well-educated, working in corporations, living in middle-class suburban neighborhoods, with families. Indian Americans who support Hindu nationalists do not dispute the occurrence of violence in India, but say it begins because Muslims attack Hindus. "Look at Muslim countries like Afghanistan and Iraq," said Arish K. Sahani, a leader for the Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party. "The whole America is after Islam, and why?"

This undercurrent of communal attitudes is worrisome to secular Indians, Indian Muslims and Hindus not aligned with the nationalists. They claim India's ethnic hatred has found a patron in the U.S., through the contributions of Hindu nationalists who have settled in here, and that other Indian Americans are unwittingly donating money to their cause because they do not know the true intent of their work.

One central focus of their concerns in the U.S. is a Maryland-based charity called the India Development and Relief Fund, which is accused by secular Indian groups of raising millions for Hindu nationalist groups in India alleged to be involved in the harassment and killings of Indian Christians and Muslims. The worst incident occurred in 2002, in the western Indian state of Gujarat, where 2,000 Muslims were killed in such fashion that India scholars and activists likened the violence to pogroms.

Fiery Nationalism

Inside a basement classroom at Hunter College, Teesta Setalvad, the Hindu editor of Communalism Combat, a secularist Indian magazine that reports exclusively on the country's ethnic and religious tensions, had been invited to speak about violence between Hindu nationalists and the Muslim and Christian minorities. …

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