Twitter’s $15m India Covid donation sparks controversy over grant for Hindu group

India’s tally of about 23 million total cases is next only to US, which has more than 32 million cases

Mayank Aggarwal@journomayank
Tuesday 11 May 2021 13:14
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WHO assessment of virus strain in India

Twitter’s co-founder Jack Dorsey has announced a donation of $15m (£10.6m) for Covid-19 relief work in India, which is witnessing a severe second wave of the pandemic.

In April 2020, when the pandemic had started wreaking havoc across the world, he had announced moving $1bn (£706m) (about 28 per cent of his wealth) to fund Covid-19 relief projects across the globe.

“After we disarm this pandemic, the focus will shift to girl’s health and education, and UBI. It will operate transparently,” he had tweeted while sharing a public link to track all donations made.

On Monday, he announced the $15m donation had been split among the three non-governmental organisations with CARE getting $10m, and $2.5m each for Association for India’s Development and Sewa International “to help address the Covid-19 crisis in India”.

The public link that provides details of the money donated so far explains that CARE is a humanitarian organisation fighting global poverty and will use the funds to provide relief from the pandemic by setting up temporary Covid-19 care centres providing oxygen, personal protection kits, helping in emergency supplies for frontline workers and addressing vaccine hesitancy, particularly in remote and marginalised communities.

While for the Association for India’s Development, it said that this grant will help under-resourced communities in accessing treatment, oxygen, oximeters, thermometers, protective gear, vaccination and regain livelihoods.

However, what has stirred up controversy is the grant to Sewa International. Replying to Jack Dorsey’s post, many Twitter users suggested that the organisation was an affiliate of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of India’s ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Although there is no established link between Sewa International and the RSS, local Indian news reports, old and new, identify Sewa International as an affiliate of the RSS. Some even point out that once upon a time Sewa International shared its office address in Delhi with that of the headquarters of the RSS.

The link describing the detail of the grant to Sewa International said that organisation was a “Hindu faith-based, humanitarian, non-profit service organisation” and that the money will support the procurement of lifesaving equipment such as oxygen concentrators, ventilators, BiPAP (Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure) and CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machines.

"Equipment will be distributed to government hospitals and Covid-19 care centers and hospitals," it said.

Sewa International’s Vice President for Marketing and Fund Development Sandeep Khadkekar thanked Mr Dorsey saying Sewa’s work had been recognised.

He told Press Trust of India: “We are a volunteer-driven non-profit organisation, and we believe in serving all, following the sacred Hindu benediction. Our administrative costs are about five per cent, meaning that every dollar a donor offers, we spend 95 cents of it on the work that it is earmarked for.”

During India’s second Covid wave, the country has been severely impacted with record cases and deaths. Since the start of the pandemic last year, India has recorded close to 23 million cases, second only to the US, and has witnessed about 250,000 deaths.

Due to high number of cases, the health infrastructure across the country has been facing a shortage of oxygen, critical medicines and hospital beds impacting the relief work.

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