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This interview is in continuation of the “Conversation with Mr. Shridhar Damle on Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) (Part-I)” which was published on NewsGram on 22 August 2020.
Kashish: Many people view RSS as a Brahmin-Male dominated organization where women and other caste groups have no place. How will you oppose this view?
Shridhar Damle: I had already told you that RSS was established to gain freedom. The RSS “pratigya” or oath was taken to free India, and, to free India with a mass All-India and military revolt, RSS at that time was bound to remain a male-dominated organization. Secondly, one of the greatest contributions of Mahatma Gandhi was that he encouraged and ensured large scale participation in the freedom struggle movement. Before Mahatma Gandhi Ji, Congress was dominated by the male. Regarding the Brahmin aspect, all the All-India organizations or political parties at that time- be it Congress, Socialist, Communist, or the Hindu Mahasabha- were dominated by male and most of the leadership and responsibilities were in the hands of the Brahmin people because the Brahmins were advanced and took advantage of the British education system. So, this was the general scenario.
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When I interviewed Balasaheb Deoras (The third Sanghchalak of the RSS), I asked the same question. Because he allowed us to interview him, it was easy for me to interview all the RSS office-bearers. Another accusation on RSS was that RSS was not only a Brahmin but ‘Mahashtrian-Brahmin’ dominated organization. So regarding this, Balasaheb Deoras informed me, that Dr. Hedgewar started RSS at Nagpur. So, it was natural for him to contact people he knew, and most of the people he knew were Brahmins from the Mahaal area of Nagpur. Dr. Hedgewar encouraged many Under-graduate students to go to different states and establish RSS branches. When they joined the University or College in the different states, naturally they needed the support of other students also, and most of the students were from the upper caste.
But, if you look at RSS membership in the Punjab and Sindh, you will find that most of the members are Non-Brahmins or Other Backward Classes (OBCs). You’ll only find the opposition to RSS from Tami Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Bengal, Kerala, and Karnataka as the Brahmins from these states oppose RSS because the RSS encourage and welcome people from all caste at the “Shakha” and the camps to work together.
I and my co-author Dr. Anderson have ourselves attended the RSS Camp, and we noticed that the Non-Brahmin groups have been attending the RSS camps in large numbers than the Brahmins. When We did the analysis that why did this thing happen, we realized that most of the Brahmins before the freedom, joined the RSS to support the freedom struggle! but now after that, they wanted to have a career. For the OBCs and Non-Buddhist Dalits and the Tribal people, RSS has served as an opportunity for their “Upward Social Mobility”. When a person does training to become a “Mukhya Shikshak” (Chief Instructor) and order all other people to follow him, everyone would be obliged to follow the commands irrespective of whether they are upper caste or whether they are rich, political leader, businessmen or any other high profile. Now, so far, we can see that the majority number of people are from the upper caste but at the same RSS office-bearers don’t believe in the caste or linguistic differences.
Kashish: So, what about women?
Shridhar Damle: Regarding the Women, I want to say, that till today in Rural India there is a lack of social interaction between the male and the female. Their interaction is only allowed between the family friends. Now, I would like to mention that, here the credit goes to the Gandhian or the socialist movement who encouraged the women’s participation and their activity. But RSS believed in one step ahead of society. They believed that society should change. So, this thing happened and one of the ladies from the Wardha area named Lakshmibai Kelkar (Moushiji), took the lead, who was a widow. She had 4 sons and all of them joined the RSS. When she saw the demonstration of the laathis and daggers by her children, she expressed her urge to meet the RSS incharge at Wardha who was the Congress general secretary, and through him, she met Dr. Hedgewar. She requested Dr. Hedgewar to train the women in the martial arts for self-defense.
Dr. Hedgewar informed moushiji that RSS is a male organization. Hedgewar then said, that there’s a need for women to come together, establish an independent organization that will work with the RSS together as “Two Parallel Lines of the Railway Track”. Then Mousiji started Rashtra Sevika Samiti in 1936. The Rashtra Sevika Samiti is still active in India.
I have interviewed people of the Sevika Samiti. I was told that when a young girl joins the Samiti and finish the education or get married, she has to follow the rules, regulations, and tradition and after that, she becomes busy with the motherhood. So, there’s a lack of activity after the married life and at the same time, there’s a shortage of the “Pracharika”. RSS got Pracharak after the College Degree but Samiti did not have this.
You must have also heard of the ABVP (Akhil Bhartiya Vidhyarthi Parishad), so many young women have graduated from the Vidyarthi Parishad and got a job and started their career. Many women have realized the other problems in their lives like dowry death, sexual harassment, discrimination in job promotion, and so, they always wanted to take a stand for themselves regarding these issues. The Sevika Samiti has empowered such women. In 1987 these valiant women formed an organization called “Stree Shakti”.
So, there are women in the Parivar organizations. When I asked questions related to women participation to Bhaiya Ji Joshi (General Secretary of RSS) and Mohan Bhagavat (Sanghachalak of RSS), I get an answer that “because of our activities in the Shakha are mostly the physical contacts and rough activities we don’t appoint women there, but we do have women in the Sangha.” It means that in the Parivar organization it is a rule that 33% reservation should be given to the women and they should have an equal part to play in the decision-making process.
Kashish: Now, how far RSS has been working for the betterment of other down-trodden communities?
Shridhar Damle: For the downtrodden communities I will say that the goal of the RSS has been to organize the diversified Hindu society- the Hindu society divided into the sectarian ground, Linguistic ground, Caste/Sub-Caste ground, urban/rural/slum area, tribal area, and at many places on the grounds of class also. So, when they wanted to organize the way, they wanted to organize the downtrodden people. There are some downtrodden people in RSS since, what I know, 1936. One of the examples I can give you is the person who was sent to the Pracharak from Ahmednagar to Maharashtra. He belonged to the OBC.
After the independence, RSS started working for the downtrodden people and formed “Vanvasik Kalyan Ashram” for the tribals, “Samajik Samrasata Manch” for the Dalits, and “Seva Bharati” to work among the slum area.
The RSS has 24,000 schools under the banner of “Vidya Bharati”. And I got the news that all those schools got a great result in Matriculation and Intermediate High School Examinations. These schools are open to the people of all religions and communities and not just only for Hindus. 3 Years ago, a Muslim student from Vidya Bharati School in Assam topped among other students in Assam for the High school examinations.
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In Delhi and in many urban areas, The RSS operates the training classes for students who wish to pursue Civil Services. Again, 5 years ago a Muslim passed the IAS examination from the RSS Training class. So, downtrodden communities are equally being given space by the RSS.
(The final part of this interview will be published on 10th September 2020)
-By Kashish Rai (Twitter: @KaafyyFilmyy)
Everyone loves firecrackers, even the most environment-friendly advocates cannot hide their joy when they see these delightful lights colour the skies. India celebrates Diwali in the true spirit of her culture and heritage by spraying the navy-blue skies with sparkling hues of gold, silver, red, and green. Firecrackers are not just a tradition in this country, they are a legacy.
The original connotation one makes with fireworks in China. The elaborate Chinese celebrations with dragons and zapping firecrackers have left their mark in human memory, but the use of fireworks is not limited to heralding the Chinese New Year. All over the world, fireworks have come to symbolise the ultimate celebration. During Diwali in India, this spirit is re-ignited every year.
Indians have known the use of gunpowder for many centuries now. Sanskrit texts name a substance called 'agnichura' which is described as a 'powder that creates fire'. This is believed to be saltpetre.
A single firecracker ablaze Photo by Unsplash
Sometime during the rule of the Vijayanagar Empire, and the Adil Shah Dynasty in South India, the use of the Chinese pyrotechnic formulae became extensively common in entertaining the royals. Weddings, Festivals, and other special celebrations in the palace were marked with a spectacular display of fireworks.
Between the 1920s and 1940s, the dynamics of fireworks changed in India. Ayya Nadar and Shanmuga Nadar, from Tamil Nadu's Sivakasi who migrated to Kolkata, set up a fireworks factory there. It began as a match factory, but after receiving the required permission, it was converted into a fireworks unit. Within a few years, another factory was set up in Sivakasi. Before long, multiple units were set up there, and today, it is India's fireworks hub. Most of the crackers that are used during Diwali come from Sivakasi.
Recently, environmental concerns have caused the ban of fireworks as it causes air pollution. The sale of crackers has reduced drastically after this new law. During the lockdown, the factory labourers underwent great losses, especially in Sivakasi. But keeping the spirit of Diwali in mind. crackers cannot be entirely done away with, and continue to light up the skies at least for a few hours every year.
Keywords: Diwali festival, Fireworks, Sivakasi, the Vijayanagar Empire, culture and heritage in India.
PARIS — In a decision with potential ramifications across European museums, France is displaying 26 looted colonial-era artifacts for one last time before returning them home to Benin.
The wooden anthropomorphic statues, royal thrones and sacred altars were pilfered by the French army in the 19th century from Western Africa.
President Emmanuel Macron suggested that France now needed to right the wrongs of the past, making a landmark speech in 2017 in which he said he can no longer accept "that a large part of many African countries' cultural heritage lies in France." It laid down a roadmap for the controversial return of the royal treasures taken during the era of empire and colony. The French will have a final glimpse of the objects in the Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac from 26-31 October.
French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot tried to assuage jitters among European museums, emphasizing that this initiative "will not create a legal precedent."
A royal seat of the 'Royal treasures of Abomey kingdom' (Œuvres des tresors royaux d'Abomey) on display at the Musee du quai Branly in Paris, Sept. 10, 2021. Photo Credit: VOA
A French law was passed last year to allow the restitution of the statues to the Republic of Benin, as well as a storied sword to the Army Museum in Senegal.
But she said that the French government's law was intentionally specific in applying solely to the 27 artifacts. "[It] does not establish any general right to restitution" and "in no way calls into question" the right of French museums to hold on to their heritage.
Yet critics of such moves — including London's British Museum that is in a decades-long tug-of-war with the Greek government over a restitution of the Elgin Marbles — argue that it will open the floodgates to emptying Western museums of their collections. Many are made up of objects acquired, or stolen, during colonial times. French museums alone hold at least 90,000 artifacts from sub-Saharan Africa.
A woman looks at the Parthenon Marbles, a collection of stone objects, inscriptions and sculptures. Photo Credit: VOA
The story of the "Abomey Treasures" is as dramatic as their sculpted forms. In November 1892, Colonel Alfred Dodds led a pilfering French expeditionary force into the Kingdom of Danhomè located in the south of present-day Benin. The colonizing troops broke into the Abomey Palace, home of King Behanzin, seizing as they did many royal objects including the 26 artifacts that Dodds donated to the Musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadéro in Paris in the 1890s. Since 2003, the objects have been housed at the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac.
One hundred and twenty-nine years later, their far-flung journey abroad will finally end.
Benin's Culture Minister Jean-Michel Abimbola called the return of the works, a "historic milestone," and the beginning of further cooperation between the two countries, during a news conference last week. The country is founding a museum in Abomey to house the treasures that will be partly funded by the French government. The French Development Agency will give some 35 million euros toward the "Museum of the Saga of the Amazonians and the Dan home Kings" under a pledge signed this year.
The official transfer of the 26 pieces is expected to be signed in Paris on Nov. 9 in the presence of Macron and the art is expected to be in Benin a few days later, Abimbola said.
While locals say the decision is overdue, what's important is that the art will be returned.
"It was a vacuum created among Benin's historical treasures, which is gradually being reconstituted," said Fortune Sossa, President of the African Cultural Journalists Network. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Benin art, Emmanuel Macron, European museums, Abomey Treasures, anthropomorphic statues
GENEVA — The battle to stem climate change may be lost as new information indicates the Amazon rain forest is turning from a carbon sink – or area that absorbs CO2 – into a source of carbon dioxide, the World Meteorological Organization warns.
The latest edition of the WMO's Greenhouse Gas Bulletin reports emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide once again broke all records last year.
The U.N. agency's report warns the concentrations of these greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere are driving climate change. It says carbon dioxide, the single most important greenhouse gas, accounts for approximately 66 percent of the warming effect on the climate.
The secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, Petteri Taalas, says about half of CO2 emissions remain in the atmosphere for centuries. He says the other half is taken up by oceans and land ecosystems.
He says it is not clear for how much longer forested areas, often referred to as the lungs of the Earth, will continue to act as effective carbon sinks.
"We have already seen some alarming indications that, for example, Amazonian rain forest ecosystem, which used to be a major sink of carbon, has become now a source of carbon, which is alarming," Taalas said. "And this is related to deforestation in the area and also changes in local climate because of this deforestation."
Oksana Tarasova, who heads the WMO's Atmospheric and Environment Research Division, says the WMO only now is revealing this new finding because it has taken nine years of observation to gather the measurement data set needed to understand the changes taking place. She says not all of the Amazon forests are turning from a carbon sink to a net producer of carbon.
"So, the Western part of the Amazonia still continues to work as a carbon sink at this point. But we do not know for how long that will continue this way," Tarasova said. "We are making the measurements there and keeping our track of what is happening there. … I would take the whole Amazonia as a whole that is seen that it is a sink, but its capacity is substantially reduced."
Meteorologists say climate change negotiators at an upcoming conference in Scotland must take concrete action and make concrete pledges to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
They say setting carbon-neutral targets will not work in stemming climate change. They also warn the world is heading toward a temperature rise of 2.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. This, they say, is far more than the Paris Agreement target of 1.5 to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Climate change, amazon rain forest, UN Agency Warns, World Meteorological Organization, greenhouse gas emissions.
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