Canadian Anti-Hate Network
A new report outlines the worrying connections between the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and their impact and activities in Canada.
Virulently Islamophobic, discriminatory, and connected to multiple instances of inciting hate and violence, the RSS is a non-governmental organization with deep connections to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Released by the National Canadian Council of Muslims and the World Sikh Organization of Canada, the new report “Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Network in Canada” examines the organization’s history, rhetoric and global reach.
“The RSS is one of the most powerful non-governmental groups in the world,” the report reads, “founded in 1925 with the expressed goal of reshaping India into a country run by and for its Hindu majority. This far-right ideology of ‘Hindu nationalism,’ otherwise called Hindutva, has the primary purpose of establishing a Hindu Rashtra, or a Hindu State.”
The report calls it an “intolerant ideology” that ignores and marginalizes “India’s diverse array of minorities, from Muslims to Dalits to Christians to Sikhs to Jains, into inferior status.” Other passages trace a connection between the early RSS and some of its founders’ admiration for Nazi Germany.
The authors do stress the importance of separating Hindu practice from the RSS’ fundamentalist interpretation.
“It’s vital to remember that the RSS’ modernist and ideological summation of thousands of years of Hindu practice and thought in no way represents the diversity of the hundreds of millions of Hindus who have no interest in adopting the Hindutva ideology. The RSS, which presents itself as the authentic unifying voice of the Hindus, is just one fundamentalist group that seeks to justify its exclusionary vision and communal violence against India’s minority groups.”
Steven Zhou is a spokesperson for the NCCM and says much of the work was done by other researchers and academics who wish to remain anonymous out of concern for their families in India.
Full Disclosure: Steven Zhou is a former researcher for the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
“I can say that a lot of the voices or the people that worked on [the report] have an academic background or are in Canadian academia,” Zhou told CAHN in an interview. “It seems to me like professors of that kind or Ph.D. students or that sort of thing, they're the ones who voiced the most concern in the very beginning about this problem. Particularly in relation to Canada.”
On its website, a group linked to RSS, Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, Canada (HSS Canada) posted a statement calling the report “defamatory in nature, and poorly researched,” adding it was “intended to provoke anti-Hindu sentiments and further give rise to growing Hinduphobia in Canada.”
The same statement cites recent incidents of vandalism targeting Hindu places of worship as examples of hate targeted against their community.
Critics of Hindutva often face serious and extensive backlash for speaking out. According to the CBC, in 2022 they reported speaking to 18 Canadian academics who say they received abusive emails and death and rape threats for speaking out against the movement.
This sentiment was echoed by an academic who spoke to CAHN.
“The RSS itself sits in the middle of a large network that stretches internationally, including into Canada,” Zhou said.
The report broke the influence of the network into three branches, humanitarian relief, social services, and fundraising; education, ideology, and shakhas (educational chapters); and global political influence.
Zhou acknowledges that RSS-affiliated organizations do carry out legitimate charity and outreach in India, a source of some of their legitimacy when connecting with too often underserved rural communities.
“The RSS has a relief wing. They provide education, health services and relief services to the needy,” Zhou adds. “Those things are tethered to their missionary work of pushing RSS ideologies.”
In Canada, the report notes, funds raised support ideological training, ceremony, and religious instruction – all linked to the supremacist ideas of the RSS’s founders and ideologues.
Muslims are the largest religious minority in India but the report says the RSS has victimized a host of other non-Hindu groups such as Sikhs, Christians, as well as the Hindu Dalit community.
“RSS groups have helped carry out mass violence in India, including the 2002 Gujarat massacre that killed thousands of Muslims. But its victims are not limited to India’s Muslims, or a few minority groups,” the report says. “The RSS vision for India would push all of India’s minorities into inferior status. This includes the Sikh community, hailing primarily from the state of Punjab, which formed a big part of the Farmers’ Protests we saw in recent years. The Sikh community also has well-established diasporas, the largest of which is in Canada.”
Ultimately, Zhou says the NCCM would like to see a greater awareness of RSS in Canada, and issues around the treatment of religious minorities brought to the fore in Canadian foreign policy with India.
“It doesn't seem like a Canadian problem, but it is very much a Canadian story we're trying to tell. These are Canadian residents and citizens leveraging Canadian communities – Indo-Canadian communities in this case – and lobbying Canadian institutions, including parliament and various levels of government.”
This article is part of a project which has been made possible in part thanks to the the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and Sun Life financial.