Britain’s regulator of charity organisations criticised the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) on Friday for not following procedures after a television sting operation revealed a speaker making anti-Islamic comments at a camp organised by the group.
The Charity Commission concluded after an investigation that there was mismanagement in HSS’ administration, with indications of a potential breach of the duty of trustees, but added there was insufficient evidence that the views expressed by the speaker were endemic or systematic in the organisation.
Ideologically inspired by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), HSS has been operating in Britain since 1966. Its structure, principles and activities are similar to those of the RSS, whose head, Mohan Bhagwat, attended its ‘mahashibir’ in Luton in early August to mark 50 years of the group’s existence in Britain.
The sting operation showed a teacher at a “Sangh Shiksha Varg” (SSV) event for children, organised by HSS in Herefordshire during July-August 2014, making strong remarks against Muslims. It was telecast on ITV in January 2015.
“By assessing the full and unaired footage, the inquiry identified that the speaker was permitted to speak at the event as a consequence and reflection of the trustees mismanagement, including the failure to appropriately screen speakers; to follow their own policies and allow the speaker to continue to speak despite his inflammatory statements,” the inquiry report said.
The report added: “The commission also identified that the most offensive and inappropriate comments recorded at the SSV event were included in the programme and the commission found some of these to be particularly objectionable and anti-Islamic.”
The inquiry also considered the relationship between the HSS and RSS.
During the SSV event, the speaker was asked by the undercover reporter if he considered himself to be part of RSS or HSS and the speaker was quoted as saying: “See they are both the same, only thing is that here (in the UK) we cannot call RSS as RSS, so we call it HSS.”
However, when asked the same question during the inquiry, the speaker said: “I acknowledge that perhaps it would have been more accurate to say (that the two organisations are) similar or founded on some common principles.”
HSS trustees told the inquiry that the group “neither funds nor is funded by RSS; none of the trustees of HSS are members of RSS and RSS has no control, influence or governance over HSS or HSS over RSS...The two entities are completely separate and independent from one another and are accordingly not inter-dependent.”
The report said: “However, the inquiry has advised the trustees that they need to take proactive steps to ensure RSS has no control or influence over the charity and its affairs and that if links arise due to any personal links individuals may have, that these are separated from the charity and do not damage it or its reputation.”
HSS trustees, the report added, cooperated with the inquiry and acted promptly to review policies and procedures and set in motion their own review of events.
Registered as a charity in 1974, HSS aims “to advance Hindu religion and to educate the public in the Hindu ideals and way of life”. During the Luton ‘mahashibir’, HSS said it had “grown into a national organisation with over 110 shakhas” across Britain.
HSS has headquarters in Birmingham and Dhiraj D Shah is its president. In the financial year that ended in March 2015, HSS’ income was £201,381 and expenditure £201,332. One of its largest expenditures mentioned was for “Shakha – hall hiring”, according to its statement to the Charity Commission.