Sabrang India: Why did Twitter CEO give millions to RSS-affiliated Sewa International?

The US-based organisation’s affiliation with the right wing RSS, and its Hindutva ideology has been questioned by many

US-based Sewa International has recently got a donation of 2.5 million dollars from Twitter, proudly announced on the micro-blogging site by its CEO Jack Dorsey. Sewa International on its own website states that it “aspires to be the pre-eminent, Hindu faith based, humanitarian organization that serves selflessly, and with compassion to create a positive impact,” adding that they “strive for a world in which all people live in harmony, free from suffering.” Sewa International, is well known to be the American version of Sewa Bharti, which is an affiliate of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Basically it is a part of what is known as the right wing collective Sangh Parivar.

Twitter has donated a total of $15 million (Rs 110.22 crore) to three organisations in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic’s devastating impact in India. Jack Dorsey shared that the money was given to: CARE, Aid India and Sewa International USA. CARE got USD 10 million, Aid India and Sewa International USA each got USD 2.5 million.

Twitter also described Sewa International as a “Hindu faith-based, humanitarian, non-profit service organisation” and said the donation “will support the procurement of life-saving equipment such as oxygen concentrators, ventilators, BiPAP (Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure) and CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machines as part of Sewa International’s ‘Help India Defeat Covid-19’ campaign.”

According to news reports, Sewa International’s vice president for Marketing and Fund Development, Sandeep Khadkekar said, “Twitter’s generosity will go a long way in helping us do the work we want to do and that we need to do.” The organisation has reportedly raised USD 17.5 million for  its “India Covid-19 relief efforts”.

However, it is the organisation’s affiliation with the right wing RSS, and therefore an affiliation to its Hindutva ideology that has been questioned by many.

According to Pieter Friedrich, a freelance journalist, who posted an in depth analysis of Twitter’s donation to the Sangh Parivar, the affiliation illustrates that there may be a bigger reason than philanthropy at play here. The donation comes soon after the Indian Government reportedly “ordered Twitter to censor tweets” critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic policy. Friedrich recalled that  British Lord Adam Patel in August 2002 had said that he was “satisfied that Sewa International is a front for controversial militant Hindu organisations”. Patel had helped it raise relief funds in the aftermath of the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, however he resigned in disgust, wrote Friedrich quoting his statement, “I very much regret ever having been part of this racist organisation.”

It is a matter of record that Sewa Bharati was founded in 1989 by Madhukar Deoras, the third chief of the RSS, as a ‘welfare service’ wing, then Sewa International was subsequently launched “to engage the Indian Diaspora (NRI) worldwide” and the US branch, now cash-rich thanks to Twitter, was registered in 2003.

Journalist Neha Dixit had in fact appealed to NRIs not to donate to right wing organisations as the funds could be misused. She quoted from an Al Jazeera report that, “Five organisations with ties to Hindu supremacist and religious groups have received Covid-19 relief funding amounting to $833,000, according to data released by the United States’ Small Business Administration (SBA), a federal agency.” These included Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA, Infinity Foundation, Sewa International.

Right Wing blog OpIndia confirmed that Rashtriya Sewa Bharti and Sewa International are affiliated to RSS, “Rashtriya Sewa Bhar[a]ti operates nationally, Sewa International has volunteers working both in the US and India, coordinating the work of raising funds.” Friedrich quotes Awaaz, who says the  organizations “are dedicated to building a Hindu nation based on Hindu extremist ideas, glorifying the RSS, recruiting for the RSS and expanding RSS physical and ideological training cells (shakhas) in India.” According to reports Sewa International, is “managed mainly” by the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), the international wing of the RSS. He added that “Sewa International’s sentiments towards the Hindu supremacist paramilitary are no secret.”

This article first appeared in Sabrang India