Join The Fun At Stake: India’s Best Site For Big Rewards – India’s RSS has a powerful role in the rise of Hindu nationalism The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, is close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and has a large influence on national politics. His goal: the interpretation of India according to the Hindu faith.
Members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, stand at attention and salute a saffron orange flag one morning
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Before dawn, men gather in a suburban Bombay park to play team-building games, meditate, chant Sanskrit mantras from Hindu scriptures and salute a saffron-orange flag, the color, sacred to Hindus, of the robes worn by Hindu monks .
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There were paunchy, middle-aged, retired parents and a young man in a soccer jersey and no shoes, all members of a local cell of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. He is part of a large all-male network that organizes Hindu catechism classes, yoga sessions and these morning training sessions, called
“We recite the names of great people – sons and daughters of India – from ancient times to modern India,” explained Ratan Sharda, 64, who has been a member of the RSS since childhood. “Look, we have forgotten our history. We have forgotten the great deeds done by our people.”
Sharda believes that centuries of non-Hindu rule – British colonialism and the Mughal Empire before that – have left Indians without a strong sense of their culture and heritage. RSS, he said, would help raise their awareness.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers an Independence Day speech in New Delhi on August 15, 2017. Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images hide caption
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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers an Independence Day speech in New Delhi on August 15, 2017.
But this is not just a celebration of Hindu culture. The RSS also runs summer camps, where volunteers train with rifles, and a political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party, whose candidates now hold the country’s highest offices. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a long-time member of the RSS, and the group’s influence is reflected in his Hindu nationalist policies.
The RSS, founded nearly 100 years ago, has greatly shaped Indian society and politics, and Modi himself. As he runs for a second term, the influence of the RSS is more evident than ever, something that has alarmed members of India’s religious minorities and those who believe in the country’s secular foundations, who have accused the RSS of chauvinism and promoting intolerance and hatred. .
When Indians achieved their independence from British rule in 1947, they established a pluralistic democracy based on secular principles, which embraced their diversity. But the purpose of RSS is to transform India according to Hindu majority belief.
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Led since 2009 by longtime stalwart Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS is the most prominent proponent of Hindutva, the idea that India should be a “Hindu nation.” About 80 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people are Hindus, but there are also millions of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains. The constitution defines India as a secular country. (The word “secular” was actually a late addition to the document’s introduction, in 1976, although many of the original articles of the constitution contained secular values.)
RSS members sit in formation as they listen to instructions at a rally in Pune in 2016. Hidden caption Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images
The RSS and many of its members want to change that. The group’s mission statement is described as “firmly rooted in true nationalism” and rejects the “destruction of the country’s integrity in the name of secularism” and the “perpetual appeasement of the Muslim population”.
“Hindus have been treated as second-class citizens by successive governments,” he said. “Stated in the simplest terms, the ideal [of the RSS] is to bring the country to the pinnacle of glory, organizing the entire society and ensuring the protection of Hindu Dharma.” (Dharma is a Sanskrit word used to describe the Hindu religion, its culture, and its worldview and way of life.)
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Today, many members interpret that as a mission to incorporate Hindu scriptures into Indian law and strip Indian Muslims of equal rights, or even expel them.
In 1925, when the RSS was founded, India was under British rule. The group was started by a doctor named Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, a contemporary of Mohandas Gandhi, who was agitating for freedom. Where Gandhi preached non-violence, the RSS emphasized military discipline and Hindu scriptures. Hedgewar criticized the diversity and political hierarchy of India’s main independence movement, the Indian National Congress or Congress party, and wanted RSS members to be equal and equal volunteers.
RSS member Nathuram Godse (seated in white upper right) at his trial in 1948 for the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi. He was found guilty and executed, and the RSS was briefly banned afterwards. Fox Photos/Getty Images hide caption
RSS member Nathuram Godse (seated in white upper right) at his trial in 1948 for the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi. He was found guilty and executed, and the RSS was briefly banned afterwards.
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The RSS began with 17 members in the living room of Hedgewar’s family home in the central Indian city of Nagpur. Today it claims to be the largest volunteer group in the world, with an India-wide membership of at least 5 million. That’s a tiny fraction of India’s 1.4 billion people. The group does not disclose its annual budget but says all funding comes from private donations. Membership is free and people can join by filling out an online form.
Hedgewar’s house is now a museum with exhibits on his life and the history of the RSS. But it leaves out some important details, such as how the group opposed the idea of a secular state and how an early leader, M.S. Golwalkar, referred to Christians and Muslims as “threats from within” and hailed Nazi Germany as an example of “racial pride” that India could learn from. In 2006, the RSS tried to distance itself from Golwalkar’s writings, saying it no longer agreed with some of them.
Nathuram Godse was a Hindu extremist who disagreed with Gandhi’s efforts to reconcile Hindus and Muslims. The RSS recognized him as a member, but considered him an extremist scoundrel who distanced himself from the group at the time of Gandhi’s assassination. Others, including some of Godse’s relatives, say he never left.
On January 30, 1948, just months after India gained independence from British rule, Godse shot the 78-year-old freedom leader three times at point-blank range while Gandhi was on his way to pray in New Delhi.
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Godse was arrested and the Indian government quickly banned the RSS. Members were imprisoned and their homes were raided by angry mobs.
Hindus shout and wave flags atop a stone wall as they commemorate the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in the 16th century in December 1992. AFP/AFP/Getty Images hide caption
Hindus shout and wave flags atop a stone wall as they commemorate the destruction of the 16th-century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in December 1992.
“My grandfather’s house burned down,” said Sameer Gautam, 44, an RSS member in Nagpur who comes from a long line of RSS men. “My grandmother is alone, because my grandfather is in prison… and maybe he didn’t even meet Godse! Maybe he didn’t see Godse!”
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Godse was convicted of killing Gandhi and hanged. But in July 1949, the government lifted the ban on the RSS. An official inquiry later absolved the RSS of any involvement in Gandhi’s death.
In the following decades, the RSS came back and became more assertive. It has many affiliates representing women, youth and students, all unaffiliated under an RSS umbrella of Hindu nationalist organizations. It also manages thousands of schools across India. Its partners hold
The RSS rose to prominence in the 1980s by calling for a Hindu temple to be built in Ayodhya in northern India. A 16th-century mosque stands on the same spot where devout Hindus believe the Hindu god Ram was born. In 1992, Hindu activists destroyed the Babri Mosque. Thousands of people, mostly Muslims, died in the riots that followed. It came as a shock to many Indians who did not realize the reach of the RSS.
“We know the RSS vaguely. We know that they are anti-Muslim and anti-Christian, and that they were banned after Gandhi’s assassination,” said Tanika Sarkar, a retired Jawaharlal Nehru professor of history at New Delhi University. “We know it all. But we don’t put it all together.”
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Sarkar says he and many other scholars underestimate the RSS and its ability to mobilize members around sectarian issues.
Indian students participate in morning prayers at an RSS school in Assam in 2016. Biju Boro/AFP/Getty Images hide caption
“We really had no idea of the scope of it, the organization at the local level,” Sarkar said. “They are also doing well! They are providing schools in remote areas.
For about half a century, Indian politics was dominated by the Congress party, which helped win independence from Britain and write the Indian Constitution. University campuses were filled with left-wing, Marxist and secular groups until the late 1990s, when Hindu nationalist groups, some of which joined
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