Monday, 30 March 2015

Exposure on Global Aid Trust

The fifth post in my series looking at the charities covered on ITV's documentary Exposure: Charities Behaving Badly. I previously looked at the Steadfast Trust (and its defence) and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (and its defence). Now, it is the turn of Global Aid Trust...

Narrator: "With the Islamic State making headlines across the world, reportedly assisted by around 500 fighters from Britain, the Prime Minister has been talking tough on combating the infrastructure that supports terrorism."

A clip from a speech by David Cameron is shown.

Narrator: "The charity commission recently began scrutinising 86 charities believed to be at risk from extremism; 37 of them are raising money for Syria. We want to find out whether charities could be contributing to young British Muslims joining the Jihad, so we sent in our third undercover reporter, Kabir. He's going to offer to work as a volunteer for Global Aid Trust, also known as GIT, that's raising money for Syria."

Kabir: "The evidence we have on GIT suggests there was indeed a need for undercover investigation, we knew the charity was hosting hate speakers."

Narrator: "Global Aid Trust was registered in 2008. In 2013 they received £625,000 of income. According to their profile on the Charity Commission's website, Global Aid Trust's purposes include 'advancing the education of the public', 'relieving sickness and preserving and protecting good health', and 'relieving financial hardship'."

The documentary cuts to undercover filming.

Shaffiq Shabbar.

Narrator: "Kabir starts work at Global Aid Trust. He's put in the charge of a man called Shaffiq who says he used to work at Heathrow Airport. Shaffiq reveals that his world view is not what you might expect from a charity worker: he's a big fan of hate preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, who recruited talent and planned terrorist operations for al-Qaeda and was the mentor of the attackers of Charlie Hebdo in Paris."

Shaffiq: "Anwar al-Awlaki, they spread loads of lies about him as well."

Kabir: "Who is Anwar al-Awlaki?"

Shaffiq: "You don't know who Anwar al-Awlaki is? He's a scholar and basically he was imprisoned and after he came out of prison, he started to incite hatred and telling Western Muslims to bomb. He incited bombings, basically. Bruv, he was a brilliant guy though."

The documentary cuts to a different bit of undercover filming.

Narrator: "Our reporter Kabir asks his supervisor Shaffiq whether it's still possible to go to Syria. Shafiq simply and without any cause assumes he means for fighting, not for aid work."

Kabir: "Is it still possible to go to Syria?"

Shaffiq: "You go to Turkey and jump over the border, and when I say jump over the border, I mean literally. You'll probably have al-Qaeda on the other side there to help you - it's very easy to go in. But the government, British government, if you're returning to Syria, guaranteed jail."

Kabir: "Really?"

Shaffiq: "Yeah. If you're going with, say, UNICEF or a recognised charity, then maybe they won't. Anyone who has gone, or will go, has to go with the intention of never coming home."

Narrator: "Shaffiq then goes on to suggest that fighting jihad in Syria is a duty justified by Islamic scriptures, known as Hadiths"

Shaffiq: "'On the gates of Damascus and on the gates of Palestine, there will be an army of might that will never stop fighting.' And other Hadiths say it's obligatory upon you, when this happens, Syria, you have to help. Doesn't mean you have to go there, but you have to help. Even by which ever means necessary. You can't just go there and start fighting. I tell you why: because you've never experienced this before, okay? You're going to be scared, and plus your training is not going to be enough. You're going to end up being a headache so other people are going to have to take care of you. So, for me to go there's no point."

The undercover footage ends.

Kabir: "I realised, some of my colleagues had very dangerous views and politics on Islam and the west. It was apparent that fighting abroad, to them, was a viable option with a religious justification. What stood out was just how easy it'd be for a young Muslim man to be indoctrinated and brainwashed into holding a rather dangerous point of view."

Return to undercover footage.

Narrator: "Kabir then meets Rizwan Hussain, who is Global Aid Trust's Chief Executive Officer, a trustee, and a director. He's also often the public face of the charity, appearing on stage and on television hosting Global Aid Trust fundraisers. Global Aid Trust is gearing up for an appeal on the online channel, Ramadan TV. Rizwan tells the team that the fundraiser will be for Gaza as well as Syria. He says for him it's personal, having briefly been detained by the Israelis."

Hussein: "When I talk about Gaza, I talk about a place I'm very connected with. I go there, sometimes I go through the tunnel. I was imprisoned in Israel, so I know what the situation is. They charged me with 'enemy of the state', I was a threat to national security."

Cut to a different piece of footage.

Narrator: "Rizwan also appears to make an antisemitic comment."

Rizwan Hussein.

Hussein: "They have these tunnels from the various parts of the West Bank as well as Jordan and other borders. And when a conflict hits, these tunnels what cost you £100 to drive a car through into Gaza, costs you £2000."

Kabir: "Who's in charge of those tunnels?"

Hussein: "Gangsters, Jewish people. They sell it, they sell these tunnel routes."

Narrator: "We've researched this point. We can find no reference to Jewish people being in charge of any tunnels into Gaza."

We are shown footage  from a Ramadan TV show, where Shaffiq Shabbar comments on the crisis faced by Syrian refugees.

Narrator: "It's the day of the Ramadan TV fundraiser. Our reporter Kabir is taking calls from donors. Kabir's supervisor Shaffiq takes his seat on the sofa."

The two resident experts Chetan Bhatt and Francesca Quint again appear on the documentary.

Bhatt: "What's striking about it is that it's glossing over completely the nature of Anwar al-Awlaki's ideas, and they included for example things like the war against unbelievers and the killing of unbelievers must go on until the end of all time. To simply say that Anwar al-Awlaki's a brilliant guy is to ignore this evidence."

Quint: "To encourage an innocent volunteer to think that it's alright to behave like terrorists, and actually making a hero out of a terrorist."

Narrator: "Are you shocked by it?"

Quint: "I'm very shocked by it."

A return to undercover footage.

Narrator: "Global Aid Trust has organised an event on a board sailing down the river Thames. It's to feature speakers and raise funds for relief in Syria and in Gaza. Our reporter Kabir is out with his supervisor Shaffiq and paid member of staff Tanveer to deliver tickets to the event. 19-year-old Tanveer is in charge of booking the speakers."

Kabir: "What is the procedure with calling in speakers? Like, what if it's a dodgy guy?"

Tanveer: "That's what they start saying, 'check if they're banned in this area' and I'm all like 'you haven't taught me how to check', but you tell me to run them through the Home Office and I'm like, 'how do I do that?'"

Kabir: "Who asked you to do that?"

Tanveer: "Rizwan."

Narrator: "He said he checked with CEO Rizwan Hussein, but he wasn't much help."

Tanveer: "I was like, 'how do I do it?', completely got ignored so..."

This footage is shown to Francesca Quint.

Quint: "It's a disgrace. There may be incompetence at the lower levels of the volunteers, but there's no excuse for the people who should know better not to take these matters seriously. The CEO is the employee of the trustees of the charity. The trustees of the charity must have regards to what is being done in their name by their employees."

We are shown footage from videos uploaded by "Dawah Man".

Narrator: "The day of the boat party has arrived. The guest speaker booked by the charity is a preacher called Dawah Man. Dawah Man has a friendly online persona; he has a 100,000 likes on Facebook. But when he appears at live events he makes controversial speeches."

We see a clip from one of Dawah Man's speeches, although what he is saying is mainly inaudible.

Narrator: "Dawah Man was recently banned from speaking at the University of East London because he called homosexuality a 'filthy disease'. He reveals that no=one at Global Aid Trust has briefed him  on what he's there to talk about, or even the reason for the event."

Cut to undercover footage of Dawah Man at the event.

Dawah Man: "What is our role today?"

Second man: "Bruv, you know what, I don't know nothing but freestyle."

Dawah Man: "Honestly, I'm telling you that if you say that to me, I'll say some stuff... come on brother, that's not nice. Give me guidelines, or I'll talk about jihad or something, or the ISIS crisis."

Narrator: "Dawah Man then launches into an apparently antisemitic speech."

Dawah Man: "America, European countries, whatever you call it, these countries are controlled by Zionists. Because if you look at the biggest bankers in the world that fund these countries, they are Zionists, and Zionists run Israel.  So we can safely say that anytime there was an American or English or whatever invasion of the Muslim lands, it is all a problem coming back to the children of Israel. Allah, it would seem ,is punishing the greatest ummah [community] alive by the worst ummah alive."

Narrator: "After the event, Kabir catches up with Dawah Man and another speaker, Musa Adma. He asks them about the purpose of their speeches."

Musa: "Essentially we cannot tell them , 'go on jihad'. We can't tell them that. You know why we can't tell that. But what we can tell them is to learn the Qu'ran, to start praying. Once they have the iman in their heart and they feel that the ummah's problem is their problem, they will start to act by themselves.

Dawah Man: "The first level is to worship, the second level is on top of that worship with more action. The more action you give, the more charity you give, the more dawah you make, the more you go there, whether you make jihad peaceably or you make jihad defending your brothers and sisters."

Kabir: "What if you have an option, if I have an option to go and help?"

Dawah Man: "And you're already someone who's praying? And you think you can go? Then go. If I go over there I'll probably be less helpful here as I can be here. But there could be someone here who's a doctor maybe, who's got money, who's got strength, he can go over there. He'll be more help there than he will be here. So you have to ask yourself, 'what can I do for this ummah?' Everyone must ask that question."

Kabir: "If a person comes to the realisation that he's probably more helpful in Syria than he is here raising money for them, and his faith is strong, you know...?"

Dawah Man: "Do you want to go to Syria? At the borders or in Syria?"

Kabir: "In Syria."

Dawah Man: "May Allah give you the power to keep you sincere, guide you every step of the way."

Narrator: "At a charity event, an influential speaker, far from dissuading our reporter from joining the struggle in Syria, is instead offering him a blessing. I want to ask Dawah Man a few questions. Eventually we find him at his mother's flat.

The documentary shows host Mark Austin meeting Dawah Man.

Austin: "We have video of you saying that many of the wars in the world are caused by Jews. Is that what a charity like the Global Aid Trust should be espousing?"

Dawah Man: "No, sir, I never said that. I said the majority of the conflicts and the wars against the majority of the Muslim countries go back to Zionists. Now Zionism is a political ideology that is not just specifically..."

Austin: "Did you not think that's antisemitic?"

Dawah Man: "Not at all, because there's Christians that are Zionists - in fact, believe it or not, there are some Muslims that are Zionists!"

Austin: But my problem here is that this is inflammatory, it's antisemitic... is it right that a charity - it has charitable status - should be inviting you to talk like this?"

Dawah Man: "My question to you, sir, is how can you say it's antisemitic when it's about the Zionists..."

Austin: "You were saying that the wars of the world go back to the children of Israel."

Dawah Man: "I didn't say that! I said that it goes back to the Zionists. The problem refers back to the children of Israel, just as much the problem refers back to the people of Gaza there, because they're both a party to the conflict. I'm not saying the problem ARE the children of Israel, the problem is the Zionists. They're two separate entities."

Austin: "Also, saying it's okay going to fight jihad in Syria...?"

Dawah Man: "On the contrary, if you go and look at my videos recently, all I've ever said is not to go there. From what I remember, this guy... either he was a Muslim or he was posing as a Muslim, so I'm speaking to him at least with the understanding that he understands the concept of Jihad in the broader technical sense. Anyone who knows the word jihad from an Islamic theological perspective knows that jihad in no way, shape or form exclusively refers to fighting."

We are then shown Global Aid Trust's response to the accusations.

"We firmly condemn and reject comments made by Shaffiq Shabbar and the external speakers. We express our great regret at these incidents, which were the result of a process failure in the organisation. GAT no longer employs Mr Shabbar and Tanvir Khan; both were temporary workers. 
Mr Shabbar indicated no extremist tendencies during his job interview and the remit of their roles was made clear to them. Rizwan Hussein has now stepped down as CEO and Trustee of GAT. It has never been suggested that he has made any comment that could be deemed to be racist, anti-Semitic or inciting hatred. However, he understands that his comments could be cast in a certain light and accepts he made an error in phrasing them. 
When booking speakers, we require completion of a due diligence form by the CEO - or Director of Operations, and clear instructions are given in respect of speakers booked. On this occasion the form was completed and a script was requested from the speaker but not provided, and the event went ahead. The staff member responsible was suspended and resigned thereafter. As soon as this incident was highlighted to us we made a decision not to book Dawah Man again. 
We have processes to make sure we carry out our work to the highest standards. We accept that some of these processes have failed and have taken remedial action, and consulted a number of experts to assess and help us devise new, robust processes and policies to improve internal governance. We apologise to our supporters and those for whom distress is caused, and will do our utmost to ensure no such situations occur again." 
Austin: "Just over a year ago, the charity commission was described as 'not fit for purpose' by a House of Commons committee, and a highly critical report by the national audit office warned that the regulator's failures risked undermining public faith in charities. We gave the Charity Commission two days to consider our findings."

Cut to Austin speaking to Michelle Russell, head of investigations and enforcement at the Charity Commission.

Austin: "What is your initial reaction to what you've seen there?"

Russell: "The footage you've showed me there clearly damages public trust and confidence in charities. It's absolutely shocking..."

Austin: "Why don't you simply deregister them?"

Russell: "Legally, we can't."

Austin: "So you can't just close down these organisations as a charity?"

Russell: "No. We haven't got the power to deregister a charity because it's a bad charity."

Austin: "Who can deregister a charity?"

Russell: "The trustees have power to close down a charity if it ceases to operate..."

Austin: "Trustees of...?"

Russell: "...The charities themselves."

Austin: "The charities...? The trustees of the charities are very unlikely to close themselves down."

Russell: "I know, it's..."

Austin: "I think the public would be quite shocked to hear that you can't do that."

Russell: "And that's why the draft charities bill... we've asked for a specific power for us to wind up a charity that we think is no longer fit for purpose."

Austin: "So, so you admit that, at the moment, with the authority you have you are failing to regulate charities effectively?"

Russell: "Absolutely not, I think that we would say that we are taking regulatory action to charities. The number of enquiries - which are investigations that we carry out - has risen significantly, particularly over the past years..."

Austin: "But to me, if these charities are existing, this suggests to me and perhaps to people watching this that you are failing."

Russell: "Well, two out of three of those organisation that you flagged up here, we have got live cases into looking at them. The first one that you have showed up on the footage... our view is that Steadfast is not a charity and never was a charity."

Austin: "And you think it will cease to be a charity very soon?"

Russell: "Well, we have issued and given notice that we intend to remove it from the register of charities because it is not a charity, and that process will take its course in the next couple of months."

Austin: "The second charity we looked at..."

Russell: "Global Aid Trust is an organisation where we already have existing engagement with the charity into similar concerns which you're raising there. The evidence that you've got will be added to the existing evidence of the issues that we're dealing with already."

Austin: "Do you think that when it comes to HSS, that is an abuse of charitable status?"

Russell: "My view from what Ive seen in the footage that showed me is that there is a serious cause for concern about the potential evidence of misconduct and mismanagement in the administration of the charity by the trustees."

Austin: "Just to be clear though, you can't close down the charity, but you can remove some of the people from it?"

Russell: "If there's sufficient evidence for misconduct, mismanagement, and the reason for that is the individual trustee's behaviour that is responsible for that, then there are limited circumstances where we can excercise our powers to do it."

Austin: "But the bottom line is, the charity can be hijacked by fascist  and extremists, you really can't do anything about it."

Russell: "We really don't have the power to shut down an ineffective or a troubling charity in that way."

The documentary wraps up with this statement:
"The Charity commission has confirmed it is investigating the serious concerns raised by Exposure about Global Aid Trust and HSS (UK). They have removed the Steadfast Trust from the Register of Charities."
Austin: "The combination of the rise in extremism so often in the headlines, and government budgets being cut, has resulted in some UK registered charities being used for some very uncharitable purposes It's time we took a closer look at who we're giving our money to, because not everything they do is necessarily for a good cause."

As before, I will take a closer look into the charity myself with the final post in this series.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh: Following up on Exposure

From one of the clips shown in Exposure: Charities Behaving Badly.

In the previous post in my series looking at the extremist charities that were documented in ITV's Exposure: Charities Behaving Badly, I outlined how the documentary portrayed Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh. To recap, this is the charity's response to the programme:

"The depiction of us as anti any other religion is wrong and counterproductive to the positive work HSS has done in building interfaith relations. We promote Hindu values which are about cohesiveness, duty to society and universal peace. Our actions over the years show that HSS promotes diversity and unity in Britain. Our training camp is attended by a cross section of society and we try to give our volunteers an opportunity to discuss their opinions and understand all views. There are some strong views on interfaith issues but these are personal views. We do not deny these views exist nor do we seek to censor or ignore them, and we strongly oppose any suggestion that by not censoring them we promote or agree with them. 
We are investigating these alleged comments to make sure those who made them are better informed, trained or prevented from making statements that may be interpreted as anti another community. The teacher said to us that he does not intend any harm or hurt to other peoples or cultures, and regrets that any words could be misconstrued to create disharmony. 
HSS is not an admirer of Nazi Germany any never will be. We focus on the pro-Hindu aspect of Golwalker's teachings and take precautions to ensure that this comment made well before the full nature of the Nazis' atrocities were known - is not misunderstood by youngsters to mean that we have to follow the Nazi approach."

I was not previously familiar with the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh; and out of the three charities covered on the Exposure episode, it was given the least airtime. When I searched for "Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh extremism", I was faced with reports summarising Exposure's findings without adding any further information.

I was starting to wonder if the undercover reporter had, indeed, simply stumbled across a small group of kooks making use of an otherwise respectable organisation. Still, I pressed on, and in the hopes of finding something that I didn't already know, I adjusted the Google results to preclude anything published after January 2015 or after.

The results? Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh turns out to have its roots in some very bad soil.

Back in 2004, the Awaaz secular network launched a report entitled In Bad Faith? British Charity & Hindu Extremism. The report is focused on a notorious Indian group named the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh:

"Violent hate politics against Muslim and Christian minorities has grown massively in India in recent years. This resulted in the death of 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, and the displacement of 200,000 more in the state of Gujarat in 2002. Victims included British citizens. The ideology behind this hate-driven politics is called ‘Hindutva.’ 
The organization at the core of Hindutva activities is the extremist, paramilitary, Fascist-inspired Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS is dedicated to turning India from a secular democratic multi-religious society into an authoritarian anti-minority ‘Hindu nation’. 
Gandhi’s murderer was an RSS activist. The RSS and its family of closely-allied organizations have been repeatedly indicted over several decades by international and Indian human rights organizations, judicial commissions and official bodies for their role in large scale violence and hatred against minority groups, including the Gujarat pogroms in 2002."

The report goes on to identify HSS as a front group for the RSS:

"The Leicester-based HSS, a registered charity, is a branch of the Indian RSS. It runs about 70 weekly physical and ideological training cells in the UK. The HSS is modelled on the RSS, actively promotes RSS ideology and shares the RSS aim of turning India into an exclusive ‘Hindu nation’. The RSS in India considers the HSS to be its UK branch. 
The Vishwa Hindu Page 1 Parishad UK and the Kalyan Ashram Trust UK, both registered charities, are also branches of the RSS family operating in the UK. The full report details numerous, extensive, deep and active connections between the HSS and the RSS. 
Sewa International is the fundraising arm of the HSS. The main purpose of Sewa International is to raise funds from the British public for RSS projects in India. Sewa International and the HSS have misled donors, the public and patrons about their long-standing, deep and committed relationship with the Indian RSS. 
Neither Sewa International nor the HSS informed donors and the public that their donations were used almost exclusively to support RSS front organizations, and that the main purpose of HSS and Sewa International fundraising is to channel money to these RSS fronts."

The documentary demonstrated the anti-Christian and anti-Muslim views held by people involved with HSS, so we should not be surprised that the organisation is also very anti-secularist. This 2011 report from Kathmandu Post interviews an HSS member named Rakesh Mishra:

"Mishra remains unequivocal about the influence of RSS on the HSS, yet says his organisation only has 'philosophical and ideological linkages' with the former—never mind that the current RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat recently addressed HSS members in Kathmandu. 
The HSS’ chief grouse against the Nepali state is that it has been declared secular, which it believes was at the behest of certain interest groups that were 'against Hinduism'. 'Just like the world’s biggest lie is communism, secularism is as big a lie…no one can be completely secular,' the organisation’s pamphlet Why a Hindu State? reads. 
'We supported the 2006 Jana Andolan against king Gyanendra, but we disagreed on the 18th point of the 23-point agreement between the Congress and the Maoists that said Nepal should be declared a secular state,' says Mishra, 'Hinduism is not a religion. It is a lifestyle; it is how we live our daily lives.' The anti-secular nature of the organisation is not very surprising, since the RSS in India too believes in a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. 
The HSS here has a different explanation for its opposition. It believes that declaring Nepal a secular state is a conspiracy by 'Christian missionary organisations.' 
'Secularism wasn’t what Nepalis fought for in the second Jana Andolan—it wasn’t on the agenda at all. We hadn’t exploited any religious minorities. Then why did we need a secular state?' asks Prahlad Kumar Regmi, an under-graduate student of Business Studies and a member of HSS. The HSS’ vitriolic against a secular state stems from the earlier-noted perception that Hinduism is constantly under threat. A secular state makes it easier, according to them, for missionaries to proselytise and convert."

Awaaz released another report touching upon HSS in 2014. Entitled Narendra Modi Exposed, it closes with a chapter headed "Hindutva Fascisim in the UK". Like the Exposure documentary, this report discusses HSS's support for the Nazi sympathiser Madhav Golkwalkar:

"The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been established and active in the UK since 1966 under the name of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS). HSS shares the same ideology as the RSS in India, and models its organ- isational structure and family of UK affiliated organisations on the Indian parent organisation. 
Together with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad UK (a branch of the violent, Hindu supremacist VHP in India), HSS UK maintains very close and extensive links with the Indian RSS and works under the latter’s direct guidance. 
Just like the Indian RSS, HSS UK targets young Hindu boys and girls, incorporating them into cells called shakhas (lit. branches). Youngsters are taught to revere the RSS’s two ‘Supreme Leaders’ – both of whom were admirers and conscious emulators of Nazism and Fascism – and the RSS’s saffron flag (see ‘Hindutva, RSS and the Sangh Parivar’).  
To this very day, the HSS glorifies and celebrates the personality and work of the RSS’s second leader, Madhav Golwalkar, a strong advocate of Nazi-like ideas for India."

The report goes on to identify some of the groups affiliated with HSS, including Labour Friends of India, National Hindu Students’ Forum, Hindu Sevika Samiti and Hindu Sahitya Kendra. It closes with a round condemnation of Labour MP Barry Gardiner:

"Barry Gardiner has been the most important political figure in the endeavour to rehabilitate and normalise extreme right-wing Hindutva fascism in Britain. It is ironic that a figure identified with the labour movement colludes with the most extremist of right-wing ideologies, one that was inspired by Fascism and National Socialism and led to the murder of Gandhi. Gardiner has had a very long association with the RSS’s family of organisations in the UK, including HSS, VHP UK, OFBJP and Sewa International among others, energetically supporting the events and activities of UK Hindutva organisations. He has defended VHP and RSS positions in Parliament and worked tirelessly to promote Narendra Modi in the UK."

To get an idea of the kind of thing that HSS's parent organisation the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh gets up to, take a look at this Human Rights Watch report from 2002:

"Between February 28 and March 2, thousands of attackers descended on Muslim neighborhoods, clad in saffron scarves and khaki shorts, the signature uniform of Hindu nationalist groups, and armed with swords, sophisticated explosives, and gas cylinders. They were guided by voter lists and printouts of addresses of Muslim-owned properties-information obtained from the local municipality. In the weeks following the attacks, Hindu homes and businesses were also destroyed in retaliatory attacks by Muslims. 
The groups most directly involved in the violence against Muslims include the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, VHP), the Bajrang Dal, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that heads the Gujarat state government. Collectively, they are known as the sangh parivar, or family of Hindu nationalist organisations."

The extremist connections of HSS are strong enough for an entire episode of Exposure, perhaps more than one.

As a representative stated in the documentary, the Charity Commission does not have the ability to deregister a charity for holding extremist views (the Steadfast Trust was deregistered on a technicality). Still, the Commission has opened an investigation into the HSS, although judging by the official statement this will focus on the anonymous teacher featured in the documentary rather than on the charity as a whole.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Exposure on Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh

This is the third in my series of posts on the recent ITV documentary Exposure: Charities Behaving Badly. Previously I documented Exposure's coverage of the Steadfast Trust before giving my own thoughts on how that charity was represented. Now, I will move on to the documentary's coverage of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh.

Footage from what appears to be an HSS promotional video.

The sequence begins with narrator Mark Austin introducing us to Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh and demonstrating how it presents itself to the world.

Narrator: "...But we've heard allegations that, in private, it's also teaching young Hindus to denigrate other religions. To see if we can find out more our second reporter, Ravi, is going undercover to the HSS annual leadership camp at a school in Hertfordshire."

Ravi talks to Austin about the stressful nature of working undercover; this is followed by clips of HSS learning activities.

Narrator: "On arriving in camp, the first thing Ravi spots is a portrait of this man, Golwalkar, taking pride of place on the stage in the main hall."

Footage of an HSS classroom; the portrait to the right is of M. S. Golwalkar.

The documentary quotes M. S. Golwalkar's 1939 book We, Our Nationhood Defined:
"To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by purging the country of the Semitic races - the Jews. Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by."
We are then shown an undercover clip of an unnamed teacher recommending Golwalkar's book A Bunch of Thoughts. The narrator identifies this as being one of Golwalkar's more moderate works, before adding that

Narrator: "But this book still contains a chapter entitled 'Internal Threats', with the subcategories 'the Muslims', 'the Christians' and 'the Communists'."

The documentary cuts.

Narrator: "At his first Hindu history class, Ravi discovers that teaching the children to distrust other religions isn't just confined to textbooks. It's also a key message in lessons. Some of the boys here are just thirteen years old; they're taught about great moments in India's history."

Teacher: "First democracy to elect woman prime minister is India. India was seventh nuclear power in the world, now it is fourth. These are all the things credit to Hindus. Not everybody.

One of the pupils is asked to recap a previous session with the same teacher.

Pupil: "So it was an agenda that the British had against the Hindus in India, to try and make them feel inferior and make them feel lesser than them. 

The documentary cuts to another of the teacher's lessons:

Teacher: "To destroy the Hindu history is the secret conspiracy of the Christians."

Then, a clip from later in the same lesson:

Teacher: "So 2,500 years back was the Buddha. He has spread the message of Buddhism, which is nothing but part of Hinduism."

After that, we hear the teacher's thoughts on Islam:

Pupil: "Do you think Muslims are the biggest problem in Britain?"

Teacher: "For everybody, for everybody."

This gets a laugh from the class. Ravi then films an after-class talk with the teacher:

Teacher: "You see, when it comes to Islam, they are the world's worst religion and they don't have common sense to find out what is humanity."

Narrator: "Our reporter Ravi is himself Hind, but the language and form of the religion being taught to these young boys is alien to him, so he decides to challenge the teacher."

The documentary cuts to another class.

Ravi: "Aren't we taught to go out there and get world peace through non-violent actions?"

Unnamed pupil: "You can't really unify with Muslims."

Ravi: "I'm just putting it out there, it's..."

Unnamed pupil: "You can't unify with Muslims. Doesn't work."

Teacher: "Nowhere! Nowhere does it work, not in America, not in Germany, not in India, not in Bangladesh, nowhere! But there are some good Muslims, but they can be counted on fingers."

This gets another laugh from the class. The documentary then cuts to Ravi confronting the unnamed pupil who spoke in this sequence.

Ravi: "You know that whole chat that we've just had, how much to you agree with the whole anti-Muslim...?"

Unnamed pupil: "I hate Muslims. I live in Bradford, I have to hate Muslims."

Ravi: "You've got a big community in Bradford?"

Unnamed pupil: "Massive, it's full of Pakis. Terrible."

Ravi: "But then, I don''t think we should..."

Unnamed pupil: "Shouldn't kill them, obviously, not like them. Keep them out of society somehow without killing them."

Narrator: "And Ravi finds another classmate with similar views."

Second unnamed pupil: "These people, they think they have the rights, yeah, to build a mosque anywhere they want. We can't build a temple anywhere we want. But it's just Pakis, they can build any... they could literally demolish this [he gestures to the school building] and turn it into a mosque if they want. If I was the Prime Minister, I would have bombed every single..." [he trails off, mumbling, before laughing]

Narrator: "Day after day, our reporter follows shouted orders and is told to march in military formation."

The documentary shows clips to illustrate this.

Narrator: "The discipline of the camp is illustrated in this promotional video posted by an HSS supporter. Many of the leaders talk about the camp in entirely positive terms."

Back to undercover filming.

Unnamed leader: "I think there's 80 different towns and cities represented here , and we've all come together. That's like one big superhero. You're part of this superhero."

A cut to another unnamed leader, or possibly the same one - it's hard to tell.

Unnamed leader: "By bringing Hindus together, we can spread this word of world peace. World harmony."

Narrator: "But Ravi runs into one young man who's aware of the origins of HSS."

Unnamed pupil: "Shakha is known as a right wing movement, complete right wing - nationalist - and we're equated as like, Hitler's Youth."

The conversation is interrupted by two approaching leaders. The pupil begins talking again after the two men leave.

Ravi: "So it's completely right wing and nationalist?"

Unnamed pupil: "It's completely right wing and nationalist, yeah. It's going back to Hitler's Youth, when Hitler's youth army... "

Ravi: "For real?"

Unnamed pupil: "Yeah."

The documentary then cuts to the footage being shown to the two experts who had previously commented on the Steadfast Trust.

Chetan Bhatt: "You have a charity here promoting hate-driven ideas, ideas that have caused considerable violence in India, to British youngsters - and doing that under charitable purposes. What you see here is an environment being created in which hate speech like this is completely acceptable. And if you have that inculcated into young children, what do you expect apart from this kind of hate speech? You're seeing the promotion of sectarianism and hatred, and hatred towards other religions. And you have to see that in the context of Britain and living in Britain, and living with different groups and communities."

The documentary repeats footage of the teacher condemning Christians and Muslims.

Francesca Quint: "Obviously this is a respected elder who is going to be looked up to and that leads to prejudice which is very hard to shift."

Chetan Bhatt: "Now, surely a charity should be encouraging young children to think about other people, to think about how we live in a society like Britain? Instead what we see is the promotion of division. Here, you see the children are hanging on his words and he's coming out with the most foul views. It's chilling that a charity could be promoting this kind of view to young children."

The documentary then provides HSS's response to the allegations:

"The depiction of us as anti any other religion is wrong and counterproductive to the positive work HSS has done in building interfaith relations. We promote Hindu values which are about cohesiveness, duty to society and universal peace. Our actions over the years show that HSS promotes diversity and unity in Britain. Our training camp is attended by a cross section of society and we try to give our volunteers an opportunity to discuss their opinions and understand all views. There are some strong views on interfaith issues but these are personal views. We do not deny these views exist nor do we seek to censor or ignore them, and we strongly oppose any suggestion that by not censoring them we promote or agree with them. 
We are investigating these alleged comments to make sure those who made them are better informed, trained or prevented from making statements that may be interpreted as anti another community. The teacher said to us that he does not intend any harm or hurt to other peoples or cultures, and regrets that any words could be misconstrued to create disharmony. 
HSS is not an admirer of Nazi Germany any never will be. We focus on the pro-Hindu aspect of Golwalker's teachings and take precautions to ensure that this comment made well before the full nature of the Nazis' atrocities were known - is not misunderstood by youngsters to mean that we have to follow the Nazi approach."

I will be taking a closer look at HSS's defence in my next post.