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)