‘Demolish Illegal Churches’: Hindutva fundraiser in US kicks up a storm
December 9, 2022 01:22 PM
A Hindutva group’s fundraiser in Frisco town in US state of Texas to raise money for, among other things, the “demolition of illegal churches” in Andhra Pradesh’s Tirupati has kicked off a storm in the United States, with 14 civil rights and faith-based organisations demanding a probe into the organiser’s activities.
The Global Hindu Heritage Foundation (GHHF)’s fundraiser, held at an educational facility run by an Indian American in Frisco, also listed ghar wapsi – reconversion of Muslims and Christians 'back' to Hinduism – as another part of their agenda.
A flyer for the event – GHHF: Gala Dinner, Annual Fundraiser & Volunteer Appreciation Day – was posted on the American event management and ticketing website Eventbrite. The event page listed the GHHF agenda as follows: Ghar Wapasi, Bala Samskar Kendras – Sunday Schools, Renovation of Grama Devatas, Annadanam in India, Karthika Masa Puja kit Distribution, Demolition of Illegal Churches in Tirupati, Gaushalas, Oxygen Concentrators & Ventilators, Free Meals served to First Responders in Dallas Metropolitan cities (sic).
The two things that perturbed many in the local Indian American community, especially Christians and Muslims, were the mention of ghar wapsi and the “demolition of illegal churches in Tirupati.”
The Quint website highlighted Ghar Wapasi" and "Demolition of Illegal Churches in Tirupati" for clarity in the image below, taken from the flyer.
GHHF confirmed to The Quint that the event did take place as scheduled on 27 November. Prakasarao Velagapudi, the GHHF president who chaired the event, however, added that no money was raised during the event and the topic was only discussed.
He sidestepped the question on details about their guest list and who attended the fundraiser.
Raqib Hameed Naik, a Boston-based journalist who regularly reports on the South Asian diaspora in the US and first tweeted about the event on 28 November, said "GHHF collects money in the US to fund various anti-minority activities in India."
In its event page on Eventbrite, GHHF said it was founded in 2006 with a mission to “protect Hindu temples, preserve and safeguard Hindu Dharma.”
The Eventbrite website link with the flyer was first posted on the group’s Facebook page on 9 November.
The venue of the fundraiser, mentioned in the flyer, was Frisco’s Richwoods Academy, which describes itself as a “multi-sports and academics after-school facility.”
The facility is run by Revathi Naidu, who is listed as the centre director in its brochure.
The Quint sent an email to the school for their response but we have received no answer so far.
Brazen display of anti-Christian hate
Following the event, 14 civil rights and faith-based organisations in the United States have written to the members of US Congress, the two US Senators from Texas, Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney, and Texas Governor Gregg Abbott, demanding a probe into the Hindutva outfit.
The organisations, which included the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations in North America (FIACONA), the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), and Genocide Watch, among others, expressed deep concerns about the fundraiser in a letter to Texas’ elected representatives.
“We find it extremely disturbing and dangerous that GHHF would so openly advertise their goal to cause such great harm to Indian Christians, who already face enormous persecution daily. We urge you to use your platform as elected officials to condemn this blatant and brazen display of anti-Christian hate and bigotry.” (Civil rights organisations' Letter to Texas elected officials.)
The organisations also demanded that the representatives write to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the US Department of Justice (DoJ), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), seeking immediate investigative and legal action against the Global Hindu Heritage Foundation “for violating its 501c3 status by funding hate and enabling violence against religious minorities in India.”
Naik said the group runs ghar wapsi projects to convert Muslims and Christians to Hinduism and "they want to make Tirupati a church-free city."
“But this is not surprising to me... but what is new is their audacity to publicise it."
Reacting to the letter by rights and faith bodies, GHHF President Prakasarao Velagapudi said, "We addressed seven different topics during the event. Demolition of churches was only one of the topics we discussed."
“We want to educate the public about the illegal construction of churches,” Velagapudi added.
Velagapudi said that they would not demolish the churches themselves but would only write to the local authorities regarding it. The group only targets "churches built illegally," he emphasised.
The Frisco Police Department said it was “aware of a flyer circulating, regarding a reported fundraiser involving the Global Hindu Heritage Foundation.”
However, the department said, their “review does not show any illegal activity occurring within the City of Frisco.”
“We appreciate the concerns brought to our attention and encourage anyone with additional information pertaining to illegal activity occurring within Frisco to contact us,” the Frisco Police said in response to The Quint’s query.
Global Hindu Heritage Foundation (GHHF)
The Global Hindu Heritage Foundation (GHHF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organisation in Frisco and raises money for its operations in India, including for ghar wapsi and campaign against “illegal” churches and abolition of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Acts across India to "save temples."
The 501(c)(3) designation gives the organisation a tax-exempt status, provided to some not-for-profit religious and charitable outfits.
According to investigative journalism platform ProPublica, which also maintains a database for tax-exempt organisations, GHHF’s total revenue in the year 2020 was $236,959, with total functional expenses of $152,714 and a net income of $84,245. The GHHF has total assets of $204,332, according to the ProPublica database.
'Protect, Preserve Hindu Culture'
On its website, the GHHF describes its objectives as to “protect, preserve, promote, and maintain Hindu culture, Hindu temples, mutts, peethams, endowments, trusts and other institutions globally.”
The website is regularly updated with posts on ghar wapsi, and is flooded with photos and news of such events.
“Earlier this year, the group claimed to convert another 57 Christians in Tamil Nadu. Last week, the group claimed the reconversion of five Christians and Muslims in India's northeastern state of Assam,” Naik said.
Last week's ghar wapsi that Naik referred to is mentioned in one of the articles on its website – savetemples.org. The post on 24 November 2022 claimed that “four Christians and one Muslim returned to Hindu Dharma, and signed an affidavit declaring their return with free will.”
In February this year, the GHHF claimed that it organised 'Sanatana Hindu Dharma Sabha' in Assam with about 2000 people and "passed a resolution not to sell properties to non-Hindus."
The article posted on 17 February 2022 said that the GHHF is also working on door-to-door distribution of a booklet on "love jihad" to all the families, asking them "to be aware of the potential danger of their daughters being targeted." The booklet reportedly contained five points, including "how the Quran teaches to fight against non-Muslims."
In another article in February this year, the GHHF claimed that 57 Christians belonging to the fisherman community in the Chengalpet district of Tamil Nadu "came back to their ancestral religion Hinduism."
"These people came from nine families. They were previously converted to Christianity on false pretexts and had been practising Christianity for close to a year," the GHHF said.
Every article ends with an appeal for donation, including an option to send cheques to GHHF's office at Harmony Lane, Frisco.