Join The Fun At Stake: India’s Top Site For Casino Gaming And Sports Betting – India’s RSS has played 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. Its goal: to redefine India according to the Hindu faith.
Members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, stand at attention and salute a saffron-orange flag on a morning
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Before dawn, men gather in a suburban Mumbai 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 robes worn by Hindu monks.
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There are pot-bellied middle-aged fathers, pensioners and a young boy in a football shirt and no shoes – all members of a local cell of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. It is part of a large network of men who run Hindu catechism classes, yoga sessions and these morning exercises, called
“We recite the names of great people – sons and daughters of India – right from ancient times to modern India,” explains Ratan Sharda, 64, who has been an RSS member since childhood. “See, we have forgotten our history. We have forgotten the great deeds our people have done.”
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 says, helps supplement their knowledge.
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 it 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 highest offices in the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a long-time RSS member and the group’s influence is evident in his Hindu nationalist politics.
Founded almost 100 years ago, the RSS has profoundly shaped Indian society and politics – and Modi himself. As he runs for a second term, the influence of the RSS is clearer than ever – alarming members of India’s religious minorities and those who believe in the country’s secular foundations, who accuse the RSS of chauvinism and promoting intolerance and hatred.
When Indians won their freedom from British rule in 1947, they established a pluralistic democracy based on secular principles and embraced their diversity. But the RSS’s aim is to redefine India according to their Hindu beliefs.
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Led since 2009 by long-time stalwart Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS is India’s most prominent proponent of Hindutva – Hinduism and the idea of India being 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 preamble, in 1976, although many of the constitution’s original articles embody secular values).
RSS members sit in formation while listening to instructions at a rally in Pune in 2016. Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images hide caption
The RSS and many of its members want to change that. The group’s mission statement describes it as “firmly rooted in true nationalism” and condemns an “erosion of the nation’s integrity in the name of secularism” and “endless appeasement of the Muslim population”.
“The Hindus have been treated as second-class citizens by successive governments,” it said. “Put simply, the [RSS] ideal is to bring the nation to the pinnacle of glory, by organizing the whole society and ensuring the protection of Hindu Dharma.” (Dharma is a Sanskrit word used to describe the Hindu religion, its culture, and its entire worldview and way of life.)
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Today, many members interpret it as a mission to bring Hindu scriptures into Indian law and deprive 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 independence. Where Gandhi preached nonviolence, the RSS emphasized military discipline and Hindu scriptures. Hedgewar was critical of the diversity and political hierarchy of India’s main independence movement, the Indian National Congress or Congress Party, and he wanted RSS members to be unified, equal volunteers.
RSS member Nathuram Godse (seated in white top right) during his trial in 1948 for the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi. He was found guilty and executed, and the RSS was banned soon after. Fox Photos/Getty Images hide the caption
RSS member Nathuram Godse (seated in white top right) during his trial in 1948 for the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi. He was found guilty and executed, and the RSS was banned soon after.
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The RSS started with 17 members in the living room of Hedgewar’s family home in the central Indian city of Nagpur. Now it claims to be the world’s largest voluntary group, with a membership across India of at least 5 million. That’s still a tiny fraction of India’s 1.4 billion people. The group does not publish its annual budget, but says all funds come 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 initially opposed the idea of a secular state and how an early leader, M.S. Golwalkar, referred to Christians and Muslims as “internal threats” and hailed Nazi Germany as an example of “racial pride” that India could learn from. In 2006, the RSS sought to distance itself from Golwalkar’s writings, saying it no longer agreed with any of them.
Nathuram Godse was a Hindu extremist who disagreed with Gandhi’s attempts to reconcile Hindus and Muslims. The RSS admits he was a member, but it sees him as an extremist scoundrel who had distanced himself from the group at the time of Gandhi’s murder. Others, including some of Godse’s own relatives, say he never left.
On January 30, 1948 – just months after India had won its freedom from British rule – Godse shot the 78-year-old freedom leader three times point blank as 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 jailed and angry mobs attacked their homes.
Hindus shout and wave banners atop a stone wall as they celebrate the destruction of the 16th-century Babri mosque in Ayodhya in December 1992. AFP/AFP/Getty Images hide caption
Hindus shout and wave banners atop a stone wall as they celebrate the destruction of the 16th century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in December 1992.
“My grandfather’s house was burnt,” said Sameer Gautam, 44, an RSS member in Nagpur who comes from a long line of RSS men. “My grandmother was alone, because my grandfather was in prison – and he might not even have known Godse! He might never have seen Godse!”
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Godse was convicted of the assassination of Gandhi and hanged. But in July 1949 the government lifted the RSS ban. An official inquiry later cleared the RSS of any involvement in Gandhi’s death.
In the decades since, the RSS has recovered and become more assertive. It has dozens of affiliates representing women, youth and students, all loosely linked under an RSS umbrella of Hindu nationalist organizations. It also runs thousands of schools across India. Its subsidiaries hold
The RSS rose to prominence in the 1980s by calling for the building of a Hindu temple in Ayodhya, in northern India. A 16th-century mosque sat on the same site where Hindu believers believe the Hindu god Ram was born. In 1992, Hindu activists destroyed the Babri Mosque. Thousands of people, mostly Muslims, were killed in riots afterwards. It came as a shock to many Indians who had not realized the extent of the RSS’ reach.
“We knew the RSS vaguely. We knew they were very anti-Muslim and anti-Christian – and that they were banned after the assassination of Gandhi,” said Tanika Sarkar, a retired professor of history at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. “We knew all that. But we didn’t put it all together.”
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Sarkar says she and many other scholars underestimated the RSS and its ability to mobilize members around sectarian issues.
Indian school children attend morning prayers at an RSS-run school in Assam in 2016. Biju Boro/AFP/Getty Images hide caption
“We had absolutely no idea of their reach, of the ground-level organization,” says Sarkar. “They do something good too! They provide schools in remote areas. But along with literacy they also teach this kind of vicious ethnic hatred.”
For about half a century, Indian politics was dominated by the Congress Party, which helped win independence from the British 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 them affiliated
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