The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh

.. yond the city. Eighty-nine RSS members were organized into sixteen squads to protect various Hindu neighbourhoods. This generated widespread publicity and captured the attention of Hindus everywhere. The paramilitary nature of the RSS soon convinced the Central Provincial government that the RSS could develop into a dangerous revolutionary group.

It soon became the most successful of a class of associations, which specialized in recruiting young men and adolescents into uniformed militia bands called Shakhas. The Shakha was the first stage of involvement, where boys would work and train together and develop a camaraderie. Those that excelled were moved up into the full-time rank of the organizationan organization that was extremely effective in managing and mobilizing many people. These Swayamsevaks belonging to the Sangh Brotherhood were dedicated to the improvement of Hindu society, culture, religion, and to the eventual creation of a Hindu Rashtra or Hindu nation. Shakha technique was evolved by Dr. Hedgewar to achieve these aims. It offered a unifying experience, stressing commitment and loyalty to the ideologies of the RSS.

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The uniqueness of the technique lay in the active participation on national affairs by each and every member. The physical, intellectual and mental training was designed to prepare all sections of society for effectively involving themselves in nation building (i.e. a grass roots philosophy). The membership was free to all castes of Hindus as equal participants, without prejudice. The RSS believed in the equality of all castes.

They did not accept the practice of untouchability. All members must participate in common meals, a controversial practice at the time, but one that was used by many reformers such as the Arya Samaj, Swami Vivekananda, and Gandhi. All followers had to conform to the behavioural standards of the RSS, which appeared to be a mix of Brahmin and Kshatriya standards. Prior to his death on June 21, 1940, Dr. Hedgewar chose the RSS general secretary at the time, Golwalker, to succeed him as leader. Under the new leadership, the RSS continued to expand rapidly during World War II.

With the pressing for an independent Muslim state by the Muslim League, the period between 1945 to 1948 saw sharp increases in membership within the RSS, including lower caste Hindus in areas that are now Pakistan, Punjab and Delhi. RSS membership had previously been largely, upper caste Hindus in Maharastra. The RSS was beginning to attract, and continues to attract, low income Hindus and small shopkeepers, who were concerned with their opportunities in a government that favoured the high class or minorities. The RSS always kept a certain mystery and secrecy of their membership and their future plans. It was always under some form of scrutiny or ban from the political authorities.

Under the leadership of Hedgewar, the RSS remained a cultural and social organization committed to the advancement of the Hindu people. Although, the RSS trained its disciples to be aggressive and protective of their culture, Hedgewar insisted that they not get confrontational or purposely attack other communities. Hedgewar also insisted that the RSS remain out of politics totally. Members were allowed to join politics on their own, but the organization was to remain completely apolitical. Hedgewar felt that politics was a dirty business and he was more concerned with training the youth, which would have a domino effect on later politics in India. His successor, Golwalker, respected his wishes and kept the RSS out of politics.

However, with Golwalker the RSS began to receive an anti-Muslim sentiment directly from the leader. The RSS membership always seemed to have contempt for the Muslims as well as the British, but it was now more evident in the writings of their leader. In his book, We or Our Nationhood Defined, Golwalker made claims of a Hindustan that was to be the land of the Hindus where they could practice their all-prevailing religious traditions without contamination from European or Muslim culture. Any non-Hindus in India must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of glorificationof the Hindu race and culture, and could only stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment. (Brown 347) With the insurgence of new blood into the RSS from its many student affiliate groups, the RSS began to grow and expand. The RSS membership began to divide on its future objectives and goals. The traditionalist of the Sangh wanted to concentrate on character building within the Shakha and keep out of the country’s politics.

The new members of the Sangh, saw the RSS as a growing force on the subcontinent and wanted to use the influence in a more aggressive and political way. In the end, the traditionalist of the RSS won and the RSS stayed out of the pre-independence politics of India. The RSS came under harsh criticism for this move, as many supporters felt that the RSS was the only organized and influential group that could have prevented partition. Lord Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy, announced the partition of the Indian subcontinent on a communal basis on June 3, 1947, and termination of colonial rule on August 15, 1947. The British created a boundary force to keep law and order during partition but dissolved it in September 1947.

Millions of Hindus and Sikhs were left unprotected in West Punjab, and the same for Muslims in East Punjab. Violence was everywhere as early as June 1947 and reached its peak in September 1947. It only subsided when the minority communities of West Pakistan (formerly West Punjab) fled to India. Golwalker had set an example of fearlessness by moving through riot torn areas consoling refugees in their flight to India. The East Punjab government provided assistance, including the issuance of weapons to the RSS, while they were organizing rescue squads to bring refugees to India.

Armed Swayamsevaks were assigned to guard Hindu and Sikh homes. They even retaliated against Muslims in Pakistan when danger was imminent. Their rescue efforts helped bolster confidence and pride among the demoralized Hindus and Sikhs of the Punjab area. The growing popularity and activism of the RSS proved it an influential force to be reckoned with. (Andersen and Damle 52) The RSS s humanitarian efforts during the partition had won it respect from the people of the newly established India.

However, the government was wary that the RSS posed a political threat to the stability of the country. Many Muslim leaders in India were growing fearful of the anti-Muslim sentiment that the RSS members characterized. The RSS did realize that it had to take a more active role in the political activities of India. During the Kashmir war, when Pakistan sent in armed raiders, the Indian Armed forces supplied arms to the RSS volunteers. These Swayamsevaks fought the enemy on the side of the Indian soldiers. The RSS kept the supply lines moving and carried arms and ammunition for the soldiers through hazardous areas.

(Andersen and Damle 53) In the closing months of 1947, senior political figures became increasingly outspoken about the danger of the RSS becoming an independent political force. The national Herald of Lucknow expressed this fear in editorials published. It compared the RSS with the paramilitary form of the German Nazi party. The RSS had been accused of being a secret society in that what they said or showed was mostly meant to hide the reality. The daily activities of the RSS were said to be a means of organizing Hindu society and promoting Hindu culture.

To be political is no crime, and in a democracy every individual and association has the right to act politically. However, the RSS has been accused of being an organization that tries to camouflage its characters and objectives, thus giving many, every reason to be suspicious of its on goings. Many felt that the RSS had all the characteristics of a fascist organization. (Goyal 14) Many senior RSS figures maintained a hesitant attitude regarding party politics in Independent India. Many felt that this was a corrupt system and the RSS should have no involvement.

Nevertheless, the more activist youths were demanding some RSS involvement in politics. The main objective was to gain political protection as the RSS was banned after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi; an event many people held the RSS responsible for. The RSS was reinstated only after presenting a new constitution to the government which stated that it was a non-political, cultural organization and would preach religious tolerance. (Brown 348) But by this time contempt for the RSS had risen to the most top level of governmentPrime Minister Jawarhalal Nehru. Nehru and his successors would all keep a watchful eye on the RSS with continuous scrutinizing and banning of many of its activities. The RSS maintained a strong relation and presence with student groups.

These groups were a pool for new membership for the Sangh. The RSS wanted to expand its base and get involved with the masses of India. It was very successful in aligning itself with several labour unions and agricultural unions. The RSS kept away from the large capitalistic businesses. Even though the RSS won the support of these unions, the ideology of the organization never appealed to the common peasant in India.

The Hindu Mahasabha, the Arya Samaj and the RSS were the most prominent organizations dedicated to Hindu revivalism. There was a lot of cross membership between these groups. However, the RSS steered away from the political Hindu Mahasabha, as much of the public also considered this group responsible for Gandhis death. The Mahasabha became insignificant in Indian politics. The RSS gave its support to the new Jana Sangh, the predecessor of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

It was time that the RSS expand its affiliation with other groups; it was now a reality if the organization was to improve the country it had to be involved somewhat in politics. Of the religious organizations, the Arya Samaj in Northern India was a close ally of the RSS. The Arya Samaj predates the RSS in its Hindu revivalism movement. They often supported the RSS or its affiliates, but also kept themselves separate. Other religious organizations came directly from the RSS family tree, the most prominent of these is the Vishwal Hindu Parishad (VHP).

The VHP was seen as the more extreme religious arm of the RSS, just as the Jana Sangh (later the BJP) had been seen as the political arm of the RSS. Many criticize the VHP as an organization that takes on more extreme projects on behalf of the RSS, such as the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, December 6, 1992, allowing the RSS to maintain its claim to being purely a cultural organization. The VHP has also grown to become a large organization and is at present comparable to the RSS in strength, numbers and ideals of higher morals. There was lots of cross membership within the different organizations. The RSS lent its prominent members to these groups to help serve or organize projects and campaigns.

The RSSs support of the VHP allowed its members to participate in more activist projects concerning Hindu revivalism. Its support of the Jana Sangh and the BJP also allowed its members to get involved on the Indian political scene in a very large way. Although these organizationsthe RSS, VHP, BJP, Arya Samaj, Hindu Mahasabha and othersdiffer in their ideologies or methods, they all seem to be connected by a strong network and a commitment to Hindu revivalism. In recent years, these groups have received a strong nod of popular support and political importance. Indias current government will most likely be a coalition formed around the BJP. The new millenium will be an interesting and trying time for the 1 billion plus of India.

Being the major exponent in spreading Hindu nationalism, the RSS had come under much attack for their actions, policies and supposed hidden agendas. They have always maintained themselves as a cultural organization, despite other allegations. One cannot help but sympathize with them for the concept they uphold based on valid fears when one takes a look at Indian history and politics. The RSS have been credited for much humanitarian efforts during partition and after, but they have also been a factor in the rising communal feelings in India. Albeit the RSS is considered by many as a secret organization, its claims of rather being a silent organization still remains with its ultimate goal of seeing India realizing Hind Swaraj. The only thing the RSS must remember is that they are not the only nationals of India.

In a democratic state such as India all voices must be heard. Mother India has many other children, whether they are Hindu, Sikh, Christian or Muslim. Bibliography Andersen, Walter K., Damle, Shridhar D. The Brotherhood in Saffron: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Revivalism. Colorado: Westview Press, 1987.

Brass, Paul R. The Politics of India Since Independence. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Brown, Judith M. Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy.

New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Goyal, D. R. Seminar: Secret SocietiesRSS. New Delhi: Romesh Thapur, 1972.

Jayaprasad, K. RSS and Hindu Nationalism. New Delhi: Deep and Deep Publications, 1991. Malkani, K. R. The RSS Story. New Delhi: Impex India, 1980.

South Asia: After Ayodhya: BJP and the Indian Political System. Nedlands: University of Western Australia Press for the South Asian Studies Association, 1994. Spitz, Douglas. The RSS and Hindu Militancy in the 1980’s. Internet Article: Festschrift/spitz.htm.