CHICAGO, IL, USA—Communities of Non-Resident Indians are deeply disturbed by news that Mohan Bhagwat, Sarsanghchalak (Supreme Leader) of the Rashtriya Swaymsevak Sangh (RSS), will keynote the September 2018 World Hindu Congress in Chicago, Illinois.
“The RSS follows a fascist ideology modeled directly from Hitler and Mussolini,” says Arvin Valmuci, a spokesperson for Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI). “They are linked to every major pogrom in India in the past 30 years — all of which occurred during Bhagat’s active years in the organization. There is no place in the USA for a terrorist group like the RSS.”
Scheduled to occur in Chicago from September 7 to 9, the World Hindu Congress (WHC) will be chaired by Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. The first WHC occurred four years ago in November 2014 in New Delhi. It was inaugurated by Mohan Bhagwat and the late Ashok Singhal, who was then General Secretary of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a sister organization of the RSS.
“Proud Hindus have finally come to rule Delhi,” declared Singhal at the opening of the 2014 WHC. “It is necessary to make Hindus invincible…. It’s time to create a Hindu mahashakti (superpower) in the world.”
The RSS is the original member of what became a collective of ideologically aligned groups called the Sangh Parivar (Family of Organizations). The political outlet of the RSS is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist party which currently rules India. According to a 2009 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), “Sangh Parivar entities aggressively press for governmental policies to promote their Hindu nationalist agenda, and adhere in varying degrees to an ideology of Hindutva, which holds non-Hindus as foreign to India.”
When K. B. Hedgewar founded the RSS in 1925, he stated, “Hindustan is a country of Hindus.” Hedgewar insisted the purpose of the RSS was to oppose “daily onslaughts by outsiders on the Hindu society,” writing, “It is to fulfill this duty of protecting the Hindu society that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has come into existence.” He developed the RSS as an all-male, uniformed, paramilitary organization in which members attend daily meetings, train with weapons, and receive ideological indoctrination.
“Bhagwat not only embraces but advances Hedgewar’s ideology,” remarks OFMI Founding Director Bhajan Singh. He points to a 2014 speech by Bhagwat in Odisha. “The cultural identity of all Indians is Hindutva and the present inhabitants of the country are descendants of this great culture,” said Bhagwat.
Since becoming leader of the RSS in 2009, Bhagwat regularly refers to India as an Hindu Rashtra (nation). For instance, in February 2015, he said, “Hindustan is a Hindu Rashtra, which is a fact.” Again, in November 2016, he claimed, “Our country is Hindu Rashtra and our ancestors are Hindus.” In January 2018, he stated, “India is a Hindu Rashtra.” Since the BJP took power under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bhagwat has also promoted several other key elements of Hindutva.
In December 2014, for instance, he called for a national law criminalizing religious conversion without State permission. Defending the practice of Ghar Wapsi (homecoming), in which religious minorities are “reconverted” to Hinduism, he stated, “We are trying to create a strong Hindu society. Those who have strayed, they have not gone on their own. They have been allured and have been forcibly taken away.”
Participants in past Ghar Wapsi programs allege that they were coerced and that organizers blackmailed them into “reconverting” by threatening loss of government benefits such as food ration cards if they refused to abandon their minority faiths in favor of Hinduism
Bhagwat also demands a national law criminalizing cow slaughter. In April 2017, he stated, “We desire that cow slaughter be banned across India. Now law-making is the work of the government. Many State governments — where there are RSS volunteers in government — have brought this law. We desire such a law across India.”
Violence related to cow protection has been a feature of Indian society for a long time, but the country has undergone a massive spike in incidents since 2014. Journalism website IndiaSpend, which conducted the first statistical analysis of cow-related attacks and lynchings, documented and analyzed all reported incidents since 2010. “Of 63 attacks recorded since 2010, 61 took place under Mr. Modi’s government,” reported IndiaSpend.
Further data analysis reveals several shocking trends. Of 28 people killed, 24 were Muslim. Out of 63 attacks, 32 victims were Muslim, five were Dalit, and one was Christian. In 13 of 63 attacks, police pressed charges against the victims. In 23 of 63 attacks, the attackers were identified as members of Hindu nationalist groups. Of 63 attacks, 32 occurred in states governed by the BJP. Finally, 2017 saw a 75% increase in attacks versus the same period in 2016.
“Conditions for religious minorities have deteriorated over the last decade due to a multifaceted campaign by Hindu nationalist groups like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh… and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to alienate non-Hindus or lower-caste Hindus,” explains the USCIRF in its 2018 report. “The victims of this campaign include Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains, as well as Dalit Hindus, who belong to the lowest rung in the Hindu caste system.”
Bhajan Singh warns that the RSS is at odds with American values. “Our declaration of independence celebrated the equality of all people and our rights to life and liberty,” says Singh. “The agenda of the RSS is to destroy the independent cultures of Christianity and Islam, impose supremacy over the indigenous Mulnivasi Bahujan people of the subcontinent, and crush the bones of the suffering masses under their feet.”