RSS’s international wing Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh challenged throughout US

RSS cadres. | Picture: Quartz India

Speakers make 3-city tour to question platforming of HSS by local governments.

Pieter Friedrich |

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“I don’t think Mr Friedrich’s here anymore — he was very vocal on Twitter,” said Troy City Mayor Ethan Baker in response to my outraged 11 October 2021 remarks about his city’s recent platforming of the Hindu Swayamesevak Sangh (HSS) — the international wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) paramilitary. “I certainly am amazed at the lack of information and knowledge I have about the issues going on in India as it relates to RSS; how that plays out with HSS here in Michigan, in the City of Troy especially…. I will be more careful in the future.” 

Mayor Baker was responding to a coordinated effort by myself and residents of the region to draw attention to the City of Troy’s recent platforming and praising of the HSS. As I questioned in public comments at the Troy City Council: “How could you have known that the HSS — aside from its commendable nonprofit charitable work — serves as an international propaganda mouthpiece for the RSS and its genocidal Hindu nationalist agenda?”

“India is in deep trouble,” added Vijayalakshmi Nadar, Bureau Chief of The India Observer, at Troy City Council. “If ignored, it can have deadly repercussions not just for India, Asia, Europe, but the USA as well…. Attempts are on to cover up the extreme degradation of the country, and its democratic institutions under Modi, to ensure that the international community as well as the Indian diaspora in the US, keep the focus away from all that is wrong in the country…. As a born Hindu myself, living in the US, I feel compelled to reveal the larger gameplan of not just the Indian government under Modi but also its supporters here in the US. Prime Minister Modi is the product of the RSS, a right-wing paramilitary group inspired by the Nazis.”

“What I’m about to say affects this great city of Troy, Michigan and the multitude of residents, in this city, that have close family and relatives back in India,” said local area-member Shujat Khan of the Coalition of Americans for Pluralism in India (CAPI). “If you have read history, an assassin from the organization that was highlighted by the speaker before me — the RSS — killed Gandhi, the father of the nation of India. HSS happens to be the international wing of RSS.”

It was the first of three city council speeches in two states to warn locals about the HSS-RSS link.  

From Troy, we went to the neighbouring Canton Township. Troy Mayor Baker had recently met with the local HSS chapter to celebrate a traditional Hindu festival with them, subsequently promoting the meet on his social media. Canton, however, despite serving as home to a local HSS chapter, had not yet platformed them and we hoped to preempt it by offering educational presentations at their Board of Trustees meeting. 

“The HSS, with nearly 250 branches around America, habitually seeks to get its foot in the doors of city councils and many other governmental bodies in order to normalize itself as a legitimate religious or cultural organization — which it is not,” I explained at the 12 October Canton Township Board of Trustees meeting. “The HSS is the international wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (or RSS), a quite literally Nazi-inspired paramilitary in India…. The RSS and the HSS do not represent all Hindus, but rather a small but extremely organized and vocal minority of Hindus who belong to a specific family of organizations that promotes a vicious, xenophobic ideology for which the fascist RSS paramilitary in India serves as the fountainhead.”

Speaking as a Canton resident and local Ambedkarite, Vivek warned, “Organization[s] like HSS in America dwells on the ideology of RSS. RSS is the fundamentalist Hindu organization, just like Nazis in Germany [or] KKK in America. Current Hindu [Bharatiya Janata Party] government takes the direction from RSS to run the country, and the outcome is nothing but unrest in the society.” Nadar additionally explained, “The international wing of the RSS, the HSS, and its allies, including the World Hindu Council of America, Hindu American Foundation, Hindu Students Council operating in several US universities — supposedly to celebrate Hindu culture — are doing exactly the opposite. Modi and his ministers are using Hinduism to spread extreme hate against the minorities, whether it’s the Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, or Dalits.” Speaking about what compelled him to present at Canton, Khan added, “Only about 20 per cent of the Hindu population of India subscribes to this ideology of racial and religious supremacy. The vast majority of Hindus that I’ve grown up with within India were very tolerant, and inclusive, hard-working, smart, honest, and humble people — I can say the same for my many friends here from the Hindu community. But there is an issue, and that is, for now, they remain silent observers, and that is what pains our hearts. That they’re mute to this injustice that is going on in India against religious minorities.” 

From Michigan, I travelled to the City of Irving in Texas to speak against the Irving Police Department’s recent embrace of the local HSS branch. While I was there, Canton Board of Trustees Clerk Michael Siegrist called me, asking: “Did we do something wrong?” I assured him that no, Canton had done nothing wrong — yet — but we wanted to preemptively visit the town to inform them about the possibility that they might be approached by HSS. Apparently relieved, Siegrist promised me that he would connect with the local community to discuss the issue in greater depth.

“The police are with us,” I declared at the Irving City Council on 14 October. “That was the bone-chilling chant raised by the stormtroopers of the RSS as they streamed out into the streets of Gujarat, India in 2002 to systematically slaughter thousands of Indian Muslims — raping, dismembering, and burning them alive while police either stood by passively watching or else actively joined in the carnage…. The RSS, however, is not confined to the boundaries of India. It has an international wing called the HSS. Three weeks ago, the HSS was here, in the City of Irving, where the local police department welcomed and honoured them.”

Speaking after me, Nadar warned that “many rightwing Hindu groups in the US, supporting Modi, are… infiltrating US politics at every level.” Calling out Irving PD’s platforming of HSS, I asked, “When Irving police officers allowed the HSS to tie Rakhi bracelets on their wrists in a sincere effort at multicultural outreach, how could they have known that this celebration of the traditional Hindu ritual called Raksha Bandhan symbolized the acceptance of a ‘bond of protection’ — or that the bond they were making was with the international wing of a fascist paramilitary which seeks to eradicate diversity in India by, ultimately, exterminating all non-Hindus?” Nadar added, “HSS and its allies need to be investigated, not legitimized by falling prey to their seemingly innocent ploys to celebrate Hindu festivals with them. India is fast transforming into a deep police state under Modi, using brutal tactics to suppress all criticism against his policies, which is pushing India into a deep crisis. Tying the sacred thread to police officers in Irving and other parts of the US, ostensibly to celebrate Raksha Bandhan by members of the HSS, is a cover-up for all this and more.”

Despite the positive feedback from the City of Troy and Canton Township, there was no response from the City of Irving.

“This HSS, here in the United States, is the subsidiary of RSS in India,” Masood Raab of CAPI said at Troy City Council. “The RSS onslaught against the minorities in India — including Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and Dalits — is very, very, I would say, alarming. And I’m saddened by learning that this respected organization has platformed and praised HSS in Troy City Council.” 

Over ten local community members joined each of the meetings in support of speeches against HSS in Troy, Canton, and also Irving.


Pieter Friedrich is a freelance journalist specializing in analysis of South Asian affairs. He is author of “Saffron Fascists: India’s Hindu Nationalist Rulers” and co-author of “Captivating the Simple-Hearted: A Struggle for Human Dignity in the Indian Subcontinent.”