How Four Hindu Nationalist Websites Make Their Money

With millions of people voting in India’s General Election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are seeking a third term in office, and are widely tipped to get it. The Hindu nationalist movement in India predates Modi and the BJP but their decade in power has catapulted Hindu nationalism into the mainstream

Modi’s rise to power has reshaped India including the landscape for foreign funded organisations and media. Many human rights groups, journalists and activists critical of the government have come under intense scrutiny. A direct outcome has been the suspension or cancellation of their licences under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) which permits non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to receive funds from abroad. 

In the past nine years more than 16,000 NGOs have had their FCRA registration cancelled due to “violations” according to, national daily The Hindu, including those working on rights of India’s most vulnerable minority groups. 

Aakar Patel the former head of Amnesty International India – which was forced to halt operations in 2020 due to allegations of FCRA violations- told Bellingcat, “I think India should do away with a law that is used maliciously in a targeted fashion. There is no reason for one part of the private sector to be governed by a special law that the rest of the private sector is not subject to. And it is the government that decides, arbitrarily, what activity and which entity should submit itself to FCRA.” 

However, some media outlets that have thrived in the Modi-era, with content promoting Hindu nationalism and vilifying minority groups, are in fact receiving foreign donations or operating in ways that may be inconsistent with Indian laws. Bellingcat identified two such far-right outlets–OpIndia and Hindu Existence. We also found two other outlets receiving donations in ways that lack transparency–and both of these sites have links to a RSS-affiliated organisation in the US. The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) was founded in 1925 and is often described as a volunteer, “paramilitary” organisation accused of stoking riots against minority groups and carrying out assassinations plots.

Source: Reuters.

OpIndia: A BJP Cheerleader

One of the most prominent players in the far-right ecosystem in India is OpIndia–a website with undeniable proximity to the government. In 2015, OpIndia’s editor-in-chief, Nupur Sharma, proclaimed herself to be a “staunch BJP supporter and member” though more recently she stated that she was not  a member of the party.

OpIndia is owned by Aadhyaasi Media And Content Services. In 2020, digital media outlet Newslaundry reported that one of its directors, who has since died, posted pictures of himself on his Facebook profile campaigning with the BJP. Leaders and members of the party have also contributed articles to OpIndia. 

An example of the homepage of OpIndia in English from May 17, 2024. Source: OpIndia.

In 2019, OpIndia applied for accreditation with the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) “to check if the institution itself was biased” and was rejected due to its failure to meet non-partisanship standards. Several outlets have written about the tone and content of OpIndia, including this recent piece by Wired. Opinion pieces on OpIndia often target Muslims. One piece titled “The Psychology of Indian Muslims” published last year terms Indian Muslims as “ignorant”, “indoctrinated” and “deceitful”. Another opinion article from 2022 claims that the Islamic community in India has for decades used “unrestrained force and wanton violence” on the streets. It is noteworthy that violence against Muslims in the country is well documented.

OpIndia’s bias extends beyond the borders of India. A recent piece on the ongoing violence in Myanmar claims “persecution of Hindus and Buddhists” at the hands of Rohingya Muslims–one of the world’s most persecuted minorities and denied citizenship in Myanmar. OpIndia has attributed the claim to a “source”. 

OpIndia publishes in Hindi, English and Gujarati and has a popular following among expatriate communities around the world. This is evidenced by the fact that in 2022, BBC Monitoring found that OpIndia’s articles were among the top URLs shared on Twitter after clashes between Hindu and Muslim communities reportedly took place in Leicester, UK. 

“What OpIndia does in India is not very different from what newspapers like Der Stürmer did in Nazi Germany or Kangura did in Rwanda,” Alishan Jafri, a journalist who researches politics, misinformation and the rise of extreme politics in India, told Bellingcat.

“At a time when the government is supposedly quick in taking down violent and false content, it is inconceivable for anyone with a remotely rational mind to think that a platform like OpIndia can do what it does without the state machinery turning a blind eye,” Jafri added.

How does OpIndia make money?

Last week, OpIndia announced it will be launching a subscription model. This was apparently a response to a recent Wired piece about Google ads running on OpIndia articles despite them containing disinformation and hate speech. Despite last week’s announcement, Bellingcat found that OpIndia is currently operating a “voluntary payment” model. 

In 2019, the BJP asked Facebook to allow OpIndia to monetise on the platform. In 2020, when a campaign by UK-based Stop Funding Hate resulted in several foreign companies to pull out their programmatic advertisements from appearing on OpIndia’s website, the outlet claimed, “the bulk of our revenues are in the form of voluntary payments by our readers.”

OpIndia does not regard these as donations. “We are not putting our articles behind any paywall where you are asked to pay before you read an article. We are asking you to pay after you have read the article, if you are satisfied with the quality and our efforts. However, this is not a donation. We are asking you to voluntarily pay for what you have already read or consumed. Please note that you will not be getting tax deductions as happens with donations. Additionally, we will pay taxes, as applicable, on what you contribute, because your payments are revenues for us,” the website currently states.

On Twitter, OpIndia’s supporters have shared proof of their contributions in foreign currency through PayPal.

Delhi-based lawyer Varun Mathew told Bellingcat: 

“From the description on OpIndia’s website, it appears that their foreign cash receipts are positioned as post-facto voluntary payments for the access of content on their platform. However, a voluntary payment of an unspecified amount after consumption of goods (such as content) appears to be a donation rather than a sale/service transaction. On the face of it, this is unlikely to qualify for an exemption under the FCRA, and may require compliance.”

Mathew added that India’s FCRA “provides an exemption for payments received towards the sale of goods or services in the ordinary course of business, and a content subscription granting a global limited right of access for a fee could fall under this. A basic requirement of such transactions would be that the right of access is contingent on the payment of a definitive consideration within a definitive timeline.”

In OpIndia’s own words, the website’s content is currently not behind any paywall and the payments are not definitive but pay-what-you-want “voluntary” contributions. 

Through the years, OpIndia has insisted it does not seek donations. “We pay 18% GST. We don’t ask for donations,” Sharma tweeted in 2020. GST stands for Goods and Services Tax.

Prasanna S, a Delhi-based law practitioner familiar with FCRA, said in an email response to Bellingcat, “The payment of GST alone neither makes a voluntary contribution a fee in lieu of services (to bring it within the exception from the definition of the expression ‘foreign contribution’), nor is it of any relevance in assessing what is the nature of activity of a portal and whether it violates Section 3 of FCRA.”

Section 3 bars acceptance of foreign funds by journalists, and the publisher of a registered newspaper or a company engaged in the production or broadcast of audio news or audio visual news or current affairs programmes through any electronic mode.

Bellingcat contacted OpIndia to share our findings. We asked OpIndia if it meets the legal requirements to accept foreign payments which require an FCRA but they had not responded at time of publication. 

OpIndia currently relies on PayPal for foreign contributions. In the past, PayPal has defunded hateful platforms if they are found to be incompatible with its terms and services. 

“We believe that hatred and discrimination have no place in our democratic society, and we do not support this conduct,” PayPal said of American far-right website Infowars in 2018. 

The company’s Acceptable Use Policy states that PayPal may not be used for “the promotion of hate, violence, racial or other forms of intolerance that is discriminatory.”

When contacted PayPal told us they couldn’t comment on specific accounts, for privacy reasons.

Hindu Existence: Spreading Hindu Nationalism

A weblog named Hindu Existence–much less prominent than OpIndia–shares similar content. It is run by Upendra Brahmachari who in the past has been known to be affiliated with the RSS. Brahmachari was also the vice president of Hindu Samhati, an organisation founded by a former RSS member. His recent association with both outfits could not be traced.

Brahmachari routinely calls for India to be established as a Hindu nation and the RSS idea of “undivided India” or “Akhand Bharat” encompassing Afghanistan in the west to Indonesia in the east. In June 2023, a mural displayed in India’s new controversial Parliament building by the BJP government riled neighbouring countries for depicting a map of “undivided India” that includes parts of modern day Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. 

Upendera Brahmachari’s Facebook post from 2020 appealing that India and neighbouring countries should be transformed into a Hindu state by 2025. The map in the post shows an “undivided India” in saffron, a colour appropriated by Hindutva proponents.

How Hindu Existence Receives Payment

Hindu Existence solicits for donations through PayPal. Once you click on the link,  the name “Ram Roy” pops up with the statement “Please give your little donation to the cause of Hindu Existence.”

PayPal landing page of Hindu Existence; Source: PayPal

The blog gives a list of donors through the years and several of them seem to have made donations in foreign currency into Roy’s PayPal. It asks people who want to donate from within India to contact them directly.

Records from WhoisXML API, a platform that can retrieve information about website ownership, show that Hindu Existence was registered in 2012 by Brahmachari who stated his address as Haridwar, Uttarakhand, India. Bellingcat was unable to find any evidence that suggests Hindu Existence is a registered entity in India or that it has an FCRA certificate from the government. 

A screenshot from WhoIsXML shows Upendra Brahmachari as the registrant of Hindu Existence.

Pooja Madhan, a Delhi-based chartered accountant told Bellingcat, “No one can take foreign donations without an FCRA certificate including a website, a blog or an individual.”

According to Section 2(1)(m) of the Act, an individual is included in the definition of “person”. Furthermore, an explanation of Section 11(1) of FCRA on the website of the Ministry of Home Affairs of India, prescribes that “no person, save as otherwise provided in the Act, shall accept foreign contribution unless such person obtains a certificate of registration or prior permission of the Central Government. Therefore, acceptance of foreign contribution without obtaining registration or prior permission from the Central Government constitutes an offence under the Act and is punishable.”

Hindu Post: From Delhi to Virginia

“Hindu Post is the voice of Hindus. Support us. Protect Dharma [religion],” reads the donation appeal on Hindu Post, a Delhi-based website that claims to provide “the correct perspective on issues concerning Hindu society.”

In a recent article, Hindu Post promoted a conspiracy theory known as  “love jihad” which claims Muslim men entrap Hindu women in marriage to convert them to Islam. Hindu Post (not to be confused with The Hindu – a mainstream daily newspaper) alleged, “Persecution and targeted crimes against Hindu communities persist as jihadists continue to propagate their agenda, posing a threat to the safety and well-being of Hindu individuals across various regions of Bharat [India].”

“Recent incidents underscore the sinister intentions of Islamist jihadists, who targeted Hindu girls for their nefarious deeds,” it added. 

The myth of ‘love jihad’ is not backed by evidence but Hindu Post has written more than 1300 articles about it. 

Some of the other pieces appearing on Hindu Post include branding Islamic educational institutions, or madrasas, as breeding ground for “jihad”, expressing anti-Christian sentiments, laying claim to a “Hindu India”, and criticising political parties in opposition to the BJP. 

Fact-checking outlets in India have reported how Hindu Post distorts incidents of crime, falsely adding religious connotations. For instance in February, Hindu Post promoted a land dispute case in a village as a case of “religious conversion” and falsely accused a Rohingya Muslim of the rape and murder of a girl in another village, exacerbating existing discrimination and hatred against Rohingya refugees in India from neighbouring Myanmar. 

How Does Hindu Post Make Its Money? 

Hindu Post accepts donations in both Indian Rupees and foreign currencies–and the latter appears to be going to a different entity in the US.

Bellingcat noticed that the top-left corner of Hindu Post’s donation page on Donorbox–a technology company in California–says “Hindu Media Foundation”.

Hindu Post’s donation page on Donorbox mentions “Hindu Media Foundation” on the top-left corner. Source: Donorbox

Hindu Media Foundation is a non-profit organisation registered in Virginia, US and tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This detail is absent from the donation page on Hindu Post’s website. 

The Hindu Post and links to the RSS

In the course of researching how Hindu Post receives foreign currency payment, we identified a network of links between the website and individuals associated with promoting Hindu nationalism primarily to expatriates and people outside India.

Hindu Post was founded by Delhi-based non-profit trust Hindu Media Forum. According to NGO data maintained by the Indian government, one of the trustees of Hindu Media Forum is Swami Vigyananand. He is also the general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) which is affiliated with the RSS. 

The VHP was founded in 1964 by senior RSS leaders. It also has overseas wings including VHP America, which claims to run independently. “The VHP organises and communicates the RSS message to Hindus living outside India and holds conferences for Hindu religious leaders from all over the country,” says a report in the Human Rights Watch

Hindu Media Foundation:

While domestic donations to Hindu Post are directed to Hindu Media Forum, international donations seem to be routed to Hindu Media Foundation.

The website of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) identifies Ajay Sharma as Hindu Media Foundation’s principal officer. We found him on Facebook where his posts include pictures of him campaigning with VHP America and posts about minority groups in India. Bellingcat was unable to find other details about Hindu Media Foundation such as a website or an email address. 

Anti-Christian post on Ajay Sharma’s Facebook profile. Source: Ajay Sharma/Facebook

Among the other contacts for Hindu Media Foundation listed on Bizapedia, a US business registry website, is Brahm Om Sharma who is the president of the New Jersey Chapter of VHP America.

Bizapedia further indicates that Ajay Sharma is a treasurer in another 501(c)(3) in Virginia called Hindu Economic Forum (HEF) USA. HEF USA is a national chapter of the World Hindu Economic Forum (WHEF) which was founded by Swami Vigyananand (who is also the general secretary of VHP India and one of the trustees of Hindu Post’s parent organisation Hindu Media Forum). WHEF describes itself as a platform that “brings together financially successful elements within Hindu society.”

Bellingcat contacted the Hindu Post to share our findings and inquire about the website’s association with Hindu Media Foundation. We also asked if the funds received by Hindu Media Foundation are utilised for operating Hindu Post, which may amount to an FCRA violation, but had not received a response at time of publication.

We also contacted Donorbox, which is used by the Hindu Post to take foreign currency payment, and asked whether the website’s content vilifying minority groups in India violates Donorbox’s standards of acceptable content. They had not responded to our request at time of publication.

Jaipur Dialogues: A Veiled Connection to VHP America

Another website with veiled links to VHP America is Jaipur Dialogues Forum registered in Rajasthan, India. 

The conspiracy theory of “love jihad” is also promoted by this platform. In a recent article, it further introduced its readers to “Christian love jihad”, a term that, analogous to its counterpart, implies a comparable concept within the Christian context. According to the 2011 census, the most recent year for which the figure is available, Christians constitute around two percent of India’s population while Muslims account for 14.2 percent. 

Jaipur Dialogues publishes articles promoting the superiority of Hinduism while painting Christianity and Islam as violent. It also publishes offensive and hateful graphics and memes.

Jaipur Dialogues was founded by retired civil servant Sanjay Dixit. He is a staunch Hindutva supporter and, at times, has even voiced criticism towards the BJP for not addressing Hindu interests sufficiently.

According to a September 2023 company report, that we found on the Indian Ministry of Corporate Affairs website, Dixit is also a director of the Jaipur Dialogues along with Sunil Sharma, a politician surprisingly from the BJP’s main opposition party Congress. After a recent controversy over Sunil Sharma’s association with Jaipur Dialogues, which he claims to have severed last year, he was dropped as a Congress candidate. 

Jaipur Dialogue’s Foreign Revenue

Jaipur Dialogues has a “Support Us” page that redirects donors to a different website called JD Digital, a private limited company. Both were founded by Dixit. 

“This arrangement per se does not violate the provisions of FCRA,” said Prasanna.

Jaipur Dialogues is a non-profit organisation registered under Section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013 in India. Section 8 companies can only receive foreign contributions if they obtain a certificate of registration under FCRA. The NGO database maintained by the government does not reflect an FCRA number for Jaipur Dialogues and its financial statements also do not show any foreign income.

However, financial statements of JD Digital reflect foreign earnings. Out of the total revenue of INR 3,760,5651 (USD$ 453,617.64) from operations in 2023, 61 percent was earned in foreign currency, per the company’s financial statements.

We do not know what portion of this, if at all, is redirected from Jaipur Dialogues which appears as a related party in the financial statements of JD Digital.

Bellingcat reached out to JD Digital to inquire if funds received by the company are utilised by Jaipur Dialogues since, as explained by Prasanna, “an organisation cannot circumvent the prohibition under Section 3 of FCRA by channelling the foreign contribution through a for-profit entity”. We had not received a response from Jaipur Dialogues at the time of publication. 

Foreign contributions to Jaipur Dialogues are supported by PayPal.

Jaipur Dialogues USA

Jaipur Dialogues has an American counterpart called “Jaipur Dialogues USA” on YouTube. A recurring host on the channel is Vibhuti Jha, a businessman who unsuccessfully ran as the Republican candidate in New York State elections in 2022. 

Jha appears to have a close relationship with VHP America. He has tweeted about attending events organised by VHP America and appeared at galas hosted by its lobbying group HinduACTion, as previously reported by advocacy group Savera. In a recent webinar by HinduACTion, Jha was introduced as the founder of Jaipur Dialogues in the US. 

A Double Standard and a Looming Election

We contacted PayPal which is used by three of the four websites: OpIndia, Hindu Existence and Jaipur Dialogues, to take foreign currency payment. We provided PayPal examples of content from all three sites that appears to violate PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy. Their policy outlines that PayPal service may not be used for “the promotion of hate, violence, racial or other forms of intolerance that is discriminatory.” 

We also asked about the fact that the websites were able to receive foreign currency donations thanks to PayPal. 

They did not answer our specific question and told us that for privacy reasons they could not comment on specific accounts. 

We also contacted Donorbox, which is used by the Hindu Post to take foreign currency payment, and asked whether the website’s content vilifying minority groups in India violates Donorbox’s standards of acceptable content. They had not responded to our request at time of publication.

As the Indian election enters its final days, the presence of polarising media seems set to continue. And while thousands of non-profit organisations in the country have lost access to foreign donors, forcing many to shut down, some websites inhabiting the identity of news outlets and sharing hateful content appear to have been treated differently, allowing them to thrive.

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