Five groups linked to Hindu nationalist organisations in India including Vishwa Hindu Parishad America (VHPA) received $833,000 in direct payments and loans.
Five organisations with links to Hindu right-wing and religious groups received $833,000 in direct payments and loans as part of US federal Covid-19 relief funding, according to Al Jazeera.
The amount was calculated from data released by the United States’ Small Business Administration (SBA), a federal agency in charge of administering several types of programs to support small businesses.
To tackle the economic fallout from the pandemic, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress in April 2020 created two new SBA programs – the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) advance grants program.
SBA records show that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) obtained over $150,000 under PPP and another $21,430 under the EIDL program.
The VHPA is linked to the militant Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an affiliate of a larger family of the Hindu nationalist organisations known as ‘Sangh Parivar’ – the umbrella term for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), of which India’s current ruling government the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is an electoral offshoot.
Despite claiming to be legally distinct groups, the Massachusetts-based VHPA, which was setup in 1970 and now boasts 23 chapters across the country, says that it shares the “same values and ideals” as the VHP.
The Texas-headquartered Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation, a non-profit involved in education and development in rural and tribal villages in both India and Nepal, received $64,462 under PPP and $7,000 in direct payments.
Ekal schools have long been suspected of functioning as an indoctrination for tribal youth into the RSS fold through a diet of Hindu supremacism and anti-minority prejudice.
The third group, the Infinity Foundation, received $51,872 in federal funds. Based in Princeton, New Jersey, the non-profit is focused on research and higher education and has given over 400 grants promoting Hindu nationalism in academic spaces.
Infinity’s founder, Rajiv Malhotra, is a well-known right-wing ideologue in diasporic Hindu nationalist circles and a divisive figure in academia.
RSS-affiliate Sewa International received a total of $150,621 in funds. The group is known to raise funds for social projects and disaster assistance, with a history of funds being funneled to RSS groups and to build RSS schools.
Ramesh Bhutada, an Indian-American businessman who is the national vice president of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) – the US wing of the RSS – is also the board chairperson at Sewa International.
Washington DC-based advocacy group the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) received the largest amount of federal funds with $378,064 in PPP loans and $10,000 in EIDL.
HAF often operates as a spin machine for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Capitol Hill, countering any criticism of BJP government’s policies, most recently defending the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and New Delhi’s abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy in 2019.
Out of the five organisations, VHPA and Sewa International responded to allegations of their support for Hindu right-wing groups in India, declaring they will be spending the federal funds as mandated by the CARES Act to assist their employees during the crisis and not on any activities outside the US.
Co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights, Sunita Viswanath, worries that the funds will further amplify hate campaigns against Muslims and other minorities in India, who have borne the brunt of the BJP’s reign since 2014.
“All these organisations are sympathetic to the Hindu supremacist ideology. Their parent organisations continue to spread hatred in Hindu communities towards Muslims and Christians,” she told Al Jazeera.
“Any American non-profit that perpetuates Islamophobia and other forms of hate should not receive federal relief funds in any form.”
For decades, members of the Sangh Parivar have embedded themselves in Indian-American communities, turning the American diaspora into a vocal base of support for the BJP.
In 2014, a report on Hindu nationalism in the US explored the financial links between the RSS’s various affiliates and their US counterparts that send them millions of dollars every year.
From 2001-212, it found that Ekal Vidyalala donated $27 million to Hindu nationalist charity groups, the VHPA sent $3.9 million and Sewa International $3.3 million during the same period, while the Infinity Foundation gave $1.9 million in academic grants.