Chapter 1: DO ALL HSC ROADS LEAD TO THE SANGH PARIVAR?
The Sangh Parivar is a family of violent, ultra-right organizations that espouse a Hindu supremacist ideology – Hindutva. Several international and national human rights organizations have documented the violence that has been associated with the activities of the Sangh Parivar over the last two decades – violence that also clearly appears to be a product of the ideology espoused by the Sangh Parivar.2
The Hindu Students Council (HSC) is a US-based organization with chapters at several university campuses across the country. The HSC claims to be “an independently run and funded” organization for Hindu students to connect with their heritage (www.hscnet.org/fact.php). How true is this claim?
In this chapter we summarize the structural, institutional and personnel connections between the Sangh Parivar and the National HSC by presenting (1) a time line that shows that the HSC, despite its claims to have become independent of the Sangh Parivar in 1993, continues to maintain and cultivate links with the Sangh, and (2) a more detailed enumeration of five structural/organizational links between the National HSC and the Sangh.
1.1. Fifteen Years of the HSC: A Joint Strategy of Growth for the Sangh and HSC
The National HSC was started in 1990-91 as a project of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHP-A). The timeline below shows that despite claims of “severed connections” after 1993, the HSC continued to have ideological, political, organizational and personnel connections with the Sangh.
1.2. Hindu Students Council Timeline
Figure 1 below presents a simple picture. Despite the HSC’s claimed independence from the VHP-A in 1993, there continue to be structural, institutional and personnel based links with the Sangh. The question to which the National HSC owes an answer to the public at large is: Why does the Hindu Students Council continue to deny its links to the Sangh Parivar?
Figure 1 - HSC Timeline
1.3. Structural Links Between the HSC and the Sangh
While the timeline gives us a quick view of the HSC’s continued links to the Sangh Parivar, Figure 2, infra, and the section following it provide a somewhat more comprehensive view of the evidence that points to deep-rooted institutional and structural links in five areas.
Figure 2 - How the HSC is part of the Global Sangh
1.3 (a) HSC’s Links With the VHP-A
The most dense set of institutional connections between the HSC and the Sangh Parivar appear through its links with the VHP of America, HSC’s parent organization.
- Beginning with its inception in 1990, and for the first three years of its existence, National HSC publicly acknowledged that it was a project of the VHP-A. In 1993, the National HSC announced its independence from the VHP-A. However:
- o Eight years after National HSC claimed independence from the VHP-A, VHP-A’s 2001 Tax Returns filed with US IRS listed the National HSC as a VHP-A project. This linkage continued until 2002, when HSC registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit
- According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a trademark application was filed in 2003 for a typed rendering of the words "Hindu Students Council", and the "HSC KNOWLEDGE UNITY PROGRESS DHARMA" logo. The applicant address listed in the trademark application matches that of then VHP-A General Secretary Gaurang Vaishnav (as listed in the VHP-A tax forms for the year 2002). The trademark applications were filed on May 16, 2003 and were abandoned on May 26, 2004.3
- Mr. Kanchan Banerjee, Governing Council member and Vice-President of Youth for VHP-A in 1999,4 was also listed as Overall Coordinator for the HSC in 2004.5
- In the 2004 Tax Returns filed by the HSC with the IRS, Mr. Vijay Pallod, member of VHP-A’s Governing Council, is listed as the Registered Agent for the HSC.6 The “registered office address” for the HSC is also the same as Pallod’s address. Further confirmation of Mr. Pallod’s role with the HSC comes via a HSC Press Release detailing its “3rd Annual Fundraising Dinner” (held on December 2, 2006), listing Mr. Vijay Pallod as the HSC Treasurer.
Together, the Tax Returns, the registering of trademarks and logos, and the shared personnel offer clear indications of the link between the HSC and the VHP-A.
1.3 (b) HSC’s Links With the Sangh in India
The Sangh Parivar in India recognizes and acknowledges the HSC as part of the Global Sangh. Numerous incidents over the last fifteen years attest to this. Not only have senior Sangh leaders located the HSC as part of the Sangh Parivar in their writings or speeches, but the HSC has been invited to Sangh-only events on numerous occasions.
- In 1993, on the eve of the so-called “independence” of the HSC from the VHP-A, then VHP General Secretary Ashok Singhal said in an interview after the World Vision 2000 conference:
“Now, the first project we have in mind is strengthening the Hindu Student Council…”8
- Between December 25 and 27, 1995 the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the organization at the core of the Sangh Parivar, invited its affiliate organizations from across the world for a training camp in Gujarat, India. The HSC was among those invited. The press release for the camp, issued by Gaurang Desai of the Hindu Swayamevak Sangh (HSS), the US arm of the RSS, stated:
“This Shibir (camp) was conducted on RSS ideology for NRI workers … Aptly titled as ‘Vishwa Sangh Shibir 95,’ all its delegates were from several affiliated organizations of RSS, which operate abroad as Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, Sewa International, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Hindu Students Council, Friends of India Society International, etc.” 9(emphasis added.)
• In 1998, the HSC was among those invited to a meeting with the then Indian Prime Minister, A. B. Vajpayee, along with New York-based Sangh Parivar affiliates. A press release from the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP) said:
“On September 26, 1998, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayeeji managed to spend a short hour, from his very busy schedule, in New York Hilton's Madison Suite, with a small number of his New York Parivar made up of karyakartas from HSS, VHP, OFBJP, IQG, HSC, Seva Samiti, and Sikh Sangat of America.” 10 (emphasis added.)
1.3 (c) GHEN/Hindunet: The HSC Creates the Sangh’s Electronic Infrastructure
On April 14, 1996, HSC announced the formation of the Global Hindu Electronic Networks (GHEN), introducing it as a comprehensive site on Hindu dharma.11 The announcement stated that GHEN was a resource center for Hindutva wherein GHEN established, for the first time, a web presence for the RSS and VHP. A wider announcement was posted on June 12, 1996, stating that GHEN was “sponsored by the Hindu Students Council and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHP-A).” 12
This early network has grown over the last ten years into the Sangh’s electronic infrastructure. The web site of every major Sangh organization runs off a cluster located in San Diego, California. The figure below graphically illustrates the information that the RSS, HSS, VHP, VHP-A, HSC, IDRF and many more Sangh Parivar organizations, all share the same common Class C IP address structure and map on to one network. The network was run and maintained by the HSC at least between 1996 and 1999. (The post-1999 relationship between HSC and Hindunet is discussed in Chapter 2.)
Figure 3 - HSC and the Global Sangh Infrastructure (please click image for full size) IP Map Key
1.4. Ideological Support: HSC and Hindutva
One of the major functions of the HSC has been to organize regional and national conferences on campuses across the US – both as outreach to Hindu youth, and as an attempt to create a broader public discourse on Hindutva. Some details to consider:
- The HSC has been directly responsible or has supported three large-scale Hindutva conferences over the last fifteen years – the 1993 World Vision 2000 conference, the Freedom Festival of 1997 and the Dharma conference of 2003.13 The latter two conferences, which were directly organized by the HSC, are discussed in greater detail in Chapter 2.
- Beyond these large conferences, the HSC has organized numerous smaller events. Available documents from 1990 to 1996 acknowledge the organizational effort behind these events as part of an HSC-VHP-A partnership.14, 15, 16, 17
- The HSC provides a platform for a range of Hindutva ideologues from India and the US to travel and speak at venues across the US. For instance, in 2004 the National HSC played host to Ram Madhav, the Chief Spokesperson for the RSS,18 and then more recently, in 2007, it co-hosted Sadhvi Rithambara, perhaps the most virulently anti-minority ideologue of the Sangh Parivar.19 Conferences and events such as those organized by the HSC are, in large part, the only public/mainstream avenues available to leaders of the Sangh Parivar from India when they tour the US, avenues from where they can command a national audience in America.
Beyond conferences and speaking engagements such as the ones mentioned above, the HSC also exhorts its members to provide SEVA20 for organizations and projects that are supported by the Sangh Parivar such as Ekal Vidyalaya in India. These so-called service projects that the Sangh supports are the mainstay of its ideological and organizational work in India.21
1.5. Personnel Links: Grooming Leadership for the Sangh?
The current roles of some of the early HSC leaders within the Sangh raise the question of whether the HSC is a grooming space for future Sangh leadership. Consider the following:
- Early HSC leaders such as Ajay Shah, Kanchan Banerjee and Mihir Meghani have all risen to leadership within the US Sangh and also helped the Sangh start new initiatives and organizations in the US.22
- Certain recent HSC leaders are connected to well established Sangh families and in some cases, the launch of a campus HSC chapter or revival of a dormant one coincided with the appearance of a Sangh family member on campus. 23
The above is not to say that HSCs are always led by Hindutva family protégés. We certainly do not make any such claim. And we also understand that when a HSC chapter does become active, it likely does so because there is more than one person who takes leadership, and because there is a significant drive within Indian-American youth to respond to questions of identity. However, to acknowledge this is not to deny the pattern that some HSCs have been led and driven forward—created or revived—by youth who have clear interpersonal connections to the Hindutva leadership in the USA.
1.6. Some conclusions about the HSC and the Sangh Parivar
The HSC is now legally independent of the Sangh Parivar in the United States. Nevertheless, it seems to us that National HSC is an equal and full member of the Sangh Parivar. Apart from the electronic infrastructure that HSC coordinates for the Sangh, there is remarkable overlap between the institutional structure of the Sangh and the HSC, particularly evident in the deep personnel connections between HSC and VHP-A. For instance, Ajay Shah, one of the founders of HSC, is now the Zonal VP for VHP-A for the West Coast and runs the HSC’s servers out of San Diego, servers which serve the Sangh. Kanchan Banerjee, another founder of HSC, became the Vice-President, Youth Affairs, for VHP-A, and still makes appearances as a spokesperson for the HSC, as he did at the Dharma conference. Vijay Pallod is the VP for Fundraising for the HSC, a member of VHP-A’s Governing Council and Texas contact for the HSS.24
The HSC’s presence on college campuses has been an important aspect of the organization of the Sangh in the US. Over the twenty years of its existence, HSC has normalized a narrow brand of upper-caste Hinduism on campuses across the US. A generation of Hindu and non-Hindu students, as well as university administrators, have come to think of the HSC as an apolitical, cultural organization that provides the space for Hindu students to connect with their roots. But it is exactly this normalization of a particular, narrow version of Hinduism that allows for multiple expressions of Hindutva. Now that it is legally independent of the Sangh Parivar, the national HSC (in as much as it is in charge of the Sangh’s electronic infrastructure), and local HSCs that are fully mature, can openly associate with the Sangh’s ideology of Hindutva. In one extreme example, the University of Washington at Seattle has student chapters of HSC, Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Yuva (a project for youth by Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh) with a significant overlap in officers.25
One issue remains unchanged in the midst of this organizational coherence where the HSC is a full component of the Sangh – most HSC members on US and Canadian campuses seem unaware of the historical and present-day connections between HSC and the Sangh, and of the ways in which HSC sustains the Sangh’s ideology on college campuses. Because of its legal independence, HSC is now able to claim that it has no connections to the Sangh Parivar. However, the question of HSC’s responsibility to its membership and local chapters remains unanswered.
2. See for instance a 2003 report from Human Rights Watch, http://hrw.org/wr2k3/asia6.html, and a 2005 report by Amnesty International, http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGASA200022005?open&of=ENG-IND).
3. For details, see http://hsctruthout.stopfundinghate.org/PRs/pr_Question8.html.
4. See VHP-A's Press Release, dated Oct. 20, 1999, available at http://www.vhp-america.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=6 (archive)
5. Utsav Chakrabarti, Hindu Students Council Annual Meet in Florida, INDO-AMERICAN NEWS (Houston), Mar. 19, 2004, at C3 (listing new executive committee of the HSC) (archive)
6. HSC Income Tax Returns 2004, available from guidestar.org (archive)
7. A HSC press release issued after the third annual fundraising dinner of the University of Texas at Austin chapter lists "Mr. Vijay Pallod, HSC National Treasurer" as one of the "special guests for the night." (web) (archive)
8. See Interview posted on soc.culture.indian by Dinesh Agrawal on September 9, 1993 (web) (archive).
9. See the RSS press release posted on soc.culture.indian.marathi by Gaurang Desai on January 17, 1996 (web) (archive)
10. See e-mail posted on soc.culture.indian by Romesh Diwan on September 28, 1998, (web) (archive)
11. See announcement dated Apr 14, 1995 on comp.infosystems.www.announce, posted by digest editor (firstname.lastname@example.org) (web) (archive)
12. See announcement dated June 12, 1996 on soc.culture.indian.gujarati, soc.culture.indian, soc.culture.bengali, soc.culture.indian.delhi, soc.culture.indian.kerala, soc.culture.indian.marathi, soc.culture.indian.telugu listserves, posted by email@example.com. (web) (archive)
13. See website for Global Dharma Conference at http://www.dharmaconference.org/cosponsors.html (archive)
14. See Bobby Parekh’s note (dated Jan 15, 1992) on soc.culture.indian, and soc.culture.india (web) (archive)
15. See HSC’s note (dated Jan 14, 1993) on alt.hindu (web) (archive)
16. See HSC’s note (dated Mar 4, 1994) on soc.religion.eastern (web) (archive)
17. See posting dated Apr 21, 1994 on alt_hindu (web) (archive)
18. See http://hsctruthout.stopfundinghate.org/PRs/pr_Question7.html
19. See http://hsctruthout.stopfundinghate.org/PRs/pr_Question6.html
20. SEVA is a Hindi word meaning “service.” Sometimes also spelled SEWA.
21. See, for instance, the SEVA page as it appeared on July 2001 on the website of the HSC chapter at George Mason University at http://web.archive.org/web/20010703025203/http://www.gmu.edu/org/hsc/hsc_seva.html (archive) (listing multiple Sangh Parivar organizations that also appear on the VHP-A’s website as seen in the archived version of January 2003 at http://web.archive.org/web/20030103153830/http://www.vhp-america.org/seva_projects/). (archive)
22. See various articles posted on the website of the VHP-A about the activities of some of these individuals, e.g. VHP-A press release dated October 20, 1999, (web) (archive); article dated April 9, 2001 (web) (archive)
23. Here are some instances
- Sonia Gandhi was active with the HSC chapter at Princeton University in the mid 1990s. Her father Girish Gandhi was Seva coordinator for the VHP-A (web) (archive), and her mother Veena Gandhi has been vice-president of the VHP-A (web) (archive)
- Ajay Belambe was active with the HSC chapter at the University of Pittsburg. His brother, Abhay Belambe was a HSS coordinator (web) (archive) and Vice-President of the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), a fundraising organization of the Sangh Parivar (web) (archive)
- Rachna Chandak was active with the HSC chapter at the University of Illinois. Her father Srinarayan Chandak, was a Vice-president of IDRF (web) (archive)
- Samir Asthana was a leader of the HSC chapter at the University of Michigan (web) (archive). His mother Jaya Asthana was Secretary of the Boston chapter of the VHP-A (web) (archive) and his father Abhay Asthana was one of the zonal coordinators for the VHP-A (web) (archive)
- Rishi Bhutada was active with the HSC chapter at the University of Pennsylvania. His uncle Vijay Pallod was a governing council member of the VHP-A (web) (archive) and connected with IDRF (web) (archive)
- Seema Shah was on the board of the HSC at Northwestern University (web) (archive). Her father Ramesh Shah, was a zonal coordinator with the VHP-A (web) (archive)
- Sumir Meghani was active with the HSC at Stanford University (web) (archive). His brother, Mihir Meghani, had started the third chapter of HSC at the University of Michigan in 1991 (web) (archive), was a coordinator with the VHP-A (web) (archive), and later founded the Hindu American Foundation (web) (archive).
24. In a Rediff article dated September 7, 1999, Vijay Pallod is referred to as a "governing council member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad" (see http://rediff.com/news/1999/sep/07us.htm). Pallod has also been "regional vice-President of IDRF" (see http://www.idrf.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Hnnews&file=article&sid=102) (archive) and is listed as a media contact for IDRF (see http://www.idrf.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Hncontent&pa=showpage&pid=80) (archive).
25. See the listing for HSC, HSS & Hindu Yuva at the website of the Student Activities Office (SAO) at University of Washington at http://depts.washington.edu/sao/rso_search_detail.php ?id=370 (archive), http://depts.washington.edu/sao/rso_search_detail.php?id=1152 (archive) and http://depts.washington.edu/sao/rso_search_detail.php?id=1296 (archive), respectively and note the overlap of officers. The only organization that is in the current RSO directory listing is Hindu Yuva (web) (archive). On Hindu Yuva’s own webpage (web) (archive), they call themselves a “a project for youth by Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), USA” (HSS is the overseas avatar of the RSS in India).