Organizations with ties to Hindu supremacists and religious groups, including one designated as a religious militant group by the CIA for years, have received $833,000 in coronavirus relief, the U.S. federal agency said.
According to data published by the United States’ Small Business Administration (SBA) that helps small business owners and entrepreneurs, the funds have been given as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance (EIDLA), Disaster Assistance Loan (DAL) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). These programs focused on providing economic assistance to troubled businesses and keeping their workforce alive during the COVID-19 crisis in the world's hardest-hit country.
The data showed that Massachusetts-based Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) received more than $150,000 under PPP and $21,430 under EIDLA and DAL programs. The organization is an affiliate of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is a far-right Hindu nationalist organization. Its goal consists of creating a state with an ethnic Hindu majority in India.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is one of the millions of members of the RSS across India and the organization is the ideological mentor of the country's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
With 23 branches in U.S. VHPA denies any legal links with RSS. However, on its website, VHPA claims that the group shares "the same values and ideals."
For decades, VHP has campaigned to turn India into a Hindu nation. It also took part in numerous attacks against Muslims and Christians in various parts of the country.
Another organization received $51,872 in U.S. federal funds, while a Washington-based advocacy group co-founded by former VHPA activist Mihir Meghani, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), received large federal funds with $378,064 in PPP loans and another $10,000 in EIDLA.
Brian Levin, professor of criminal justice and director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, has expressed concerns about providing COVID-19 relief funds and loans to organizations with ties to violent groups.
“Americans should be highly concerned that taxpayer-funded stimulus relief is being used by organizations and affiliates that have disturbing ties to those allegedly engaging in religious violence and bigotry overseas,” Levin told Qatar-based media outlet Al-Jazeera. “Even more disturbing is that these funds could be replacing decking donation revenues caused by the pandemic.”
Shannon Giles, public affairs officer at SBA provided Al-Jazeera with comments, arguing that the "SBA does not have detail on PPP loan disbursements. That is a third-party transaction between lender and borrower.”
Christian Picciolini, a former white supremacist and founder of the Free Radicals Project, called the pandemic relief funding to right-wing Hindu groups a “troubling example” of how extremists are finding ways to use the crisis.
"America certainly should not be funding, inadvertently or not, extremist groups or any groups or individuals tied to extremism or polarisation,” he told Al-Jazeera.
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