Over the years I’ve noticed an increasing tendency among intellectuals in India to gloss over the great many problems with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS), the successor of the Hindu Mahasabha [Addendum 8 June 2009 - this last bit is incorrect - see here]. I’ve therefore compiled a number of academic critiques (and some newspaper reports) that highlight the dangers that RSS poses to India as a modern, prosperous, and non-violent nation. This blog post will be edited over time as I compile more material. If you have more material to add, please send in through comments.
At this stage (21 February) this is very tentative, but a very substantial start to the project of contesting RSS and its narrow view of India.
A question can well be asked why I am not writing against Islam extremists or Christian fanatics. The answer is that enough has already been written about them, and in particular, I have covered examples of these (other) problematic religious fanaticisms in my draft manuscript, The Discovery of Freedom.
General discussion 1a, Hate as a history lesson.
2. “The utopian future of militant Hindu ideology is more a revival of Hindu glory than a reformation, and character in this utopia is not molded to accommodate cultural diversity. In a manner as inherently ambiguous, inconsistent and tautological as Calvinist predestination, the RSS philosophy advoc- ates action without transformation.”[Joseph S. Alter, ‘Somatic Nationalism: Indian Wrestling and Militant Hinduism, Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Jul., 1994), pp. 557-588]
3. “groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Servants’ Society, RSS) and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, VHP)- … that have targeted India’s Muslim minority as a dangerous internal enemy threatening the unity of the nation.” [Norbert Peabody,’Inchoate in Kota? Contesting Authority Through a North Indian Pageant-Play, American Ethnologist, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Aug., 1997), pp. 559-584]
6. “The main mechanism for political mobilization of the RSS-VHP- BJP in the 1980s has been marches from one end of India to another. With Toyota vans camouflaged as ‘chariots of the gods’ to evoke Hindu religious sentiment, massive parades with hundreds of thousands in tow have crisscrossed the country with their message of ‘Hindutva’. As many as 1,200,000 volunteers have been mobilized for these events (Ghimire, 1992:31). There is a glorification of blood and violence throughout the parades; young men offer up bowls of their blood to the leadership as proof of their commitment to the cause; volunteers at Ayodhya have ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Victory to Rama) written on their skins with their own blood (Basu, 1994: 33). Each segment of the march concludes with Hindu sacrificial rituals honouring Mother India (Bharat-mata) deified as a modest sari-clad goddess seated on a lion holding a saffron flag (see Figure 2). The RSS-VHP-BJP organizations have also developed sophisticated use of audio-visual media, much of it targeted towards youth. A vast array of popular magazines, books, music cassettes with catchy tunes, and video films on religious themes and ‘Hindu history’ have been produced to attract new recruits. These songs, along with the speeches of the leadership and exhortations to rise up and experience ‘Hindu pride’, are widely circulated on tapes sold at nominal prices throughout India.
“The BJP-VHP-RSS version of history is propagated through the use of popular comic and cartoon magazines as well as collections of essays, stories and poetry (see Figure 3). Combining the call for a modern vision with a cry for the preservation of ‘traditional values’, the message is always the same: India is in crisis, sons of the soil are being short-changed, Muslims are treacherous imperialists and are multiplying, Hindus need to organize and come to the defence of Hindu religion and the Motherland. Saturating the media with their message is an important strategy; in one state recently after the BJP came to power, ten new RSS-BJP publications have been started up with state government largess (India Today, 1992b: 34).13 In all the states in which the BJP has come to power in the legislative assemblies, one of the priority projects has been the rewriting of Indian history textbooks. The narratives focus on violent antagonism between Hindus and Muslims; RSS historians equate Islam with destruction and vandalism (e.g., Goel, 1989).” [Sucheta Mazumdar, Women on the March: Right-Wing Mobilization in Contemporary India,Feminist Review, No. 49, Feminist Politics: Colonial/Postcolonial Worlds (Spring, 1995), pp. 1-28]
7. ‘Renascent Hindu communalism has taken its most extreme form in the development of a paramilitary organization called the Rashtriya Svayam- sevek Sangh (RSS), complete with cadres of highly trained troops and an ideology of the Hindu state involving the complete elimination of all non- Hindu minorities. During World War II, two RSS leaders held talks with Hitler with the aim of establishing an Aryan alliance that would enable Hindu Aryans to overthrow the British, and prompted Nehru to call the RSS “the Indian version of fascism.”‘ [Cynthia Keppley Mahmood, ‘Sikh Rebellion and the Hindu Concept of Order’,Asian Survey, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Mar., 1989), pp. 326-340]
8. “The RSS as a cultural organization is exclusionary in its membership and approach, intent on advancing the interests of the Hindus as a nation.” [Baldev Raj Nayar. ‘The Limits of Economic Nationalism in India: Economic Reforms under the BJP-Led Government, 1998-1999’, Asian Survey, Vol. 40, No. 5, Modernizing Tradition in India (Sep. - Oct., 2000), pp. 792]
9. “attempts on the part of fundamentalist Hindu groups, such as the Rastriya Svayamsevak Sangh (RSS), to make India a national Hindu state (Hindu Rdstra), just as Pakistan is an Islamic state and Khalistan a wished-for Sikh state [Hans Bakker, ‘Ayodhy?: A Hindu Jerusalem: An Investigation of ‘Holy War’ as a Religious Idea in the Light of Communal Unrest in India, Numen, Vol. 38, Fasc. 1 (Jun., 1991), pp. 80-109]
10. “In their restorationist vision, communalist forces seek to control history. Addressing the situation particular to India, in his keynote address K.N. Panikkar, professor of history at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, described the tactics used by Hindutva forces, most notably the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its support organizations the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and the Bajrang Dal, to recapture the imagined past. The past that they postulate is indisputably an invented history designed to disseminate the ideology of Hindutva and further its political influence. Yet the power of this invented history comes about in large part because the Parivar has an institutional network with which to disseminate their version of history. Professor Panikkar explained that while the marginalization and oppression of Hindus by alien rulers, both Muslim and Christian, has been to an extent internalized, “particularly by the middle class whose role in the making of public opinion is quite decisive,” still the “dissemination of these ideas to a large section of the Hindu population is ensured by the Sangh Parivar through the network of institutions and channels of communication painstakingly set up during
the last many years.” The hand of these institutions extends into education, history, archeology, music, and the media. It follows that secular forces need to not only mobilize to posit a different view of history from the selective inaccurate view of the past told by communalists, but secular groups must also participate in determining the practices of the institutions that disseminate such knowledge.” [Mira Rosenthal, ‘DASTAK: Starting Point for Further Action, Social Scientist, Vol. 26, No. 9/10 (Sep. - Oct., 1998), pp. 63-73]
11. “Committed to the cause of building a resurgent Hindu nation and a revived Hindi-Hindu culture, the ideology of the RSS and the Jana Sangh was fuelled by the stereotype of an aggressive Islam on the rampage. They repudiated secularism, denounced the Congress for its policy of appeasement under the ‘camouflage of secularism’,28 and proposed the ‘Indianisation’ of Muslims to purge them of disloyal tendencies. ‘Indianisation of the Muslim outlook is the only solution of the socio-religious as well as the political aspect of the communal problem’, declared a foremost RSS and Jana Sangh activist.” [Mushirul Hasan, ‘Indian Muslims since Independence: In Search of Integration and Identity,’ Third World Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 2, Islam & Politics (Apr., 1988), pp. 818-842]
12. “Hindutva, or what the BJP has called ‘cultural nationalism’, and what the anti- communalists see as a clarion call for establishing a Hindu India, rose to prominence in the writings of Veer Savarkar. Identified as one of the architects of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS), Savarkar defined the boundaries of Hindutva in a communal manner and further circumscribed its usage in defining the parameters of a modern India. Pitrabhoomi (Fatherland), jati (bloodline) and sanskriti (culture) were identified as the three principles of Hindutva, of which jati became the most critical in establishing the basis of communalism in modern India. This is because the concept implied that only those whose sacred land, sacred to their religion, lay within their pitrabhoomi (India) had the moral basis for claiming citizenship of India. The concept of jati, therefore, privileged a cultural/religious rather than a territorial concept of Indian citizenship-thereby implicating a basis of ‘cultural’ nationalism in India. Under it, ‘Muslims, Christians, Jews, and others whose holy lands lay outside the territorial boundaries of punyabhoomi (India), were by implication excluded from both Hindutva and from their rightful claims to the citizenship of India’.” The ‘insiders’ or those who are able to equate their land of birth with the sacred land of their religion are ‘appropriate citizens’, whereas the ‘outsiders’ or those whose Fatherland is not the same as their sacred lands are suspect in terms of their civic status and patriotism.” [Runa Das, ‘Postcolonial (In)Securities, the BJP and the Politics of Hindutva: Broadening the Security
Paradigm between the Realist and Anti-Nuclear/Peace Groups in India,’ Third World Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Feb., 2003), pp. 77-96]
13. “An important role is played by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militant organization that emerged in the 1920s and has been continuously involved in communal violence against Muslims (Hansen 1999).” [Peter van der Veer, ‘Religion in South Asia’,Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 31 (2002), pp. 173-187]
14. “Narayan Kataria, RSS worker and senior figure in the militant Hindu Unity group (see Murphy 2001) which advertises on its website that it is “determined to get Muslims and Christians out of Bharat (India) by whatever means possible” and has a “Black List” of people critical of Hin- dutva which includes prominent figures such as the Pope…” [Prema Kurien, ‘Multiculturalism, Immigrant Religion, and Diasporic Nationalism: The Development of an
American Hinduism’, Social Problems, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Aug., 2004), pp. 362-385]
15. “Guruji Golwalkar and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) represented the extreme version of Hindu nationalism: The non-Hindu peoples in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must en- tertain no idea but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., they must not only give up their attitude of intolerance and ungratefulness towards this land and its age-old traditions but must also cultivate the positive attitude of love and devotion instead-in a word they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in this country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privilege, far less any preferential treatment-not even citizens’ rights.” [Yogendra K. Malik and Dhirendra K. Vajpeyi, ‘The Rise of Hindu Militancy: India’s Secular Democracy at Risk’, Asian Survey, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Mar., 1989), pp. 308-325]
16. “Militant communal organizations such as the Shiva Sena, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHS) have become highly popular among the Hindu masses. According to one leading Indian journal, “the Hindu militancy is menacing and growing in in- tensity. The message being hammered home is the same: for too long, the minorities have been appeased and pampered while the majority has been restrained from asserting what it holds to be the only basis for unifying the country-Hindu nationalism.”24 The intensifying conflict between Hindus and non-Hindus has grave implications for relations between Hindus and Muslims in India and for India’s relations with Pakistan.” [Maya Chadda. ‘India and the United States: Why Detente Won’t Happen’,Asian Survey, Vol. 26, No. 10 (Oct., 1986), pp. 1118-1136]
17. “The author’s critique of the RSS is built around the organisation’s core trait, which according to him, is ‘fascism’. Exclusionary nationalism based on cultural chauvinism that is intolerant towards those considered beyond the pale of the ‘Hindu’ nation is an integral part of the world-view of RSS. Moreover, propaganda built around specific myths and symbolisms, as also an overemphasis on particular notions of heroism (for instance, the myth of rashtrapurusha Rama), has a centrality in the RSS’ sensibility. Fascist politics abhors democratic politics based on individual freedoms and as such the values of pluralism, tolerance and individualism, though it can take on the pretence of a democratic player in a democracy till the time it has established firm control over state institutions. It prioritises public over private as also the collective over individual in a homogenising project where a well orchestrated community is geared to a ‘national’ cause in highly centralised-hierarchised structures where decisions are taken top-down. Propaganda and indoctrination of the majority community go along with repression and terror of the minorities. The shishu mandirs and vidya bharatis and other cultural and educational fronts help in disseminating a fascist mindset among a wider public. This mindset is then reinforced by calculated acts of violence against Muslims and Christians. Moreover, the parivar’s majoritarian politics uses the democratic state institutions as a vehicle for constituting a permanent-fixed majority, another clear indication of fascist tendencies.” [Manjari Katju, ‘Convincing Message: A review of The RSS and the BJP: A Division of Labourby A. G. Noorani’, Social Scientist, Vol. 29, No. 1/2 (Jan. - Feb., 2001), pp. 84-87]
18. “The author quotes Nehru (a statement which I repeat here for its contemporary relevance) who said, ‘When the minority communities are communal, you can see that and understand it. But the communalism of a majority community is apt to be taken for natio
nalism’. Accordingly, the RSS and the BJP, as Noorani aptly describes, are ‘innately communal’ but claim to be ‘nationalists’(p. xi). The author directly engages, in a head-on and scathing manner, with the Sangh parivar’s ideology and style of politics to which he claims ‘deceit and deception’ are integral (p. 10).” [Manjari Katju, ‘Convincing Message: A review of The RSS and the BJP: A Division of Labour by A. G. Noorani’, Social Scientist, Vol. 29, No. 1/2 (Jan. - Feb., 2001), pp. 84-87]
19. “The RSS uses popular sentiments, such as favoring the protection of cows, to create a mass politi- cal movement whose program centers on gaining acceptance for the idea that being an Indian citizen means being a Hindu. The latter, in turn, means having the blood of people originating in the land that is now called India. Hinduism is not identified with any set of religious beliefs by the group. RSS’s enemies are foreign invaders (especially Muslims), the Westernized elite, and those who resist the unification of all Hindus into a single movement. Among the numerous organizations that RSS cadre helped to organize is a woman’s group that affirms women’s traditional roles.” [Joseph B. Tamney, Review: Part IV: “Accounting for South Asian Fundamentalisms” - Accounting for Fundamentalisms: The Dynamic Character of Movements by Martin E. Marty ; R. Scott Appleby, Review of Religious Research, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Jun., 1996), pp. 368-369]
20. “Hindu fundamentalism appeals to those who fear the masses and who want to legitimize social inequality (p. 603). RSS attracts especially middle class young men who feel left out of India’s progress. Similarly Veer identifies the VHP with the middle class.” [Joseph B. Tamney, Review: Part IV: “Accounting for South Asian Fundamentalisms” -Accounting for Fundamentalisms: The Dynamic Character of Movements by Martin E. Marty ; R. Scott Appleby, Review of Religious Research, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Jun., 1996), pp. 368-369]
21. “Hansen observes that RSS and BJP leaders are eager to have their version of Hindu nationalism accepted within the world political forum and thus be recognized as “respected members” of the family of nations that persists as a “sublime object of desire among even the most parochial nationalists” (p. 234).” [Mark Juergensmeyer, ‘Review of The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India by Thomas Blom Hansen’,History of Religions, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Aug., 2001), pp. 84-86]
22. “M. S. Golwakar, one of the founding fathers of the right-wing RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), makes the case for Hindutva being cultural nationalism, which basically means that the nation-state of India is meant only for Hindus. This is at great vari- ance with the more inclusive philosophy of the Congress Party, which has ruled India for most of the period since independence. Thus the pe- culiar brand of RSS nationalism was never really anti-colonial as much as it was anti-minority (anti-Muslim, in particular). According to Aijaz Ahmed, “what Golwalkar means is that the real Indian nation is com- posed of Hindus exclusively; that Hindu cultural nationalism, which seeks to create in India not a secular polity but a Hindu Rashtra (nation), is the authentic form of Indian nationalism; that the secular, multi-de- nominational nationalism which seeks to be wider and more inclusive is in fact anti-Hindu treachery, since it denies the superiority of Hindu ex- clusivist claim to the whole of this territory, where others may live only in so far as they accept the superiority of the Hindu race.” A. Ahmed, Lineages of the Present (New Delhi: Tulika, 1996), p. 274.” [Arvind Narrain, ‘The Articulation of Rights around Sexuality and Health: Subaltern Queer Cultures in India in the Era of Hindutva’, Health and Human Rights, Vol. 7, No. 2, Sexuality, Human Rights, and Health (2004), pp. 142-164]
23. “Ahamad (1969) has recently argued that Gandhi’s identification with Hindu- ism and Hindu motifs, taken over later by many of Gandhi’s disciples and fol- lowers, was one reason why the Indian Muslims could never take Indian secular- ism too seriously. The Muslims, however, were not the only structural base that developed counter-charisma toward Gandhi. Another such base was created in the extremist and orthodox Hindu circles of northern India represented politically by the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS (the Rashtriya Sevak Sangha). Their com- plaint against Gandhi was the mirror opposite of that of the Muslims: he was considered too partial and sympathetic to Muslim sentiments and political de- mands. This organized wing of Hindu chauvinism saw in Gandhi a threat and a challenge to their political convictions and designs. In fact, one member of the RSS (an extremist Hindu paramilitary unit), Nathuram Godse, assassinated him soon after one of his fasts for Hindu-Muslim unity had ended; he, it is claimed, thought that with Gandhi eliminated, the path would be open “for the establish- ment of a secular state in the true sense of the word” (Godse, n.d.). Another of the conspirators, Naryan Apte, according to Payne, was boasting to another con- spirator on his way to the assassination “of the great changes his small organiza- tion would soon bring about” (1969:623).” [R. S. Perinbanayagam, ‘The Dialectics of Charisma’, The Sociological Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Summer, 1971), pp. 387-402]
24. “‘The RSS line is very clear. It is a supra-party, paramilitary organisation which wants take over the state and nation and establish an authoritarian regime in the manner of Nazi leaders,’ wrote the idologue and leader of the Janata Party, Madhua Limayae, in an article inSunday on 10 June 1979 – just before the Janata government in Delhi fell because it would not formally sever connections with the RSS. Limaya was only echoing something which Gandhi has said long ago. According to his secretary Pyarelal, Gandhi had described the RSS as a ‘communal body with a totalitarian outlook’ and compared them to the Nazis and Fascists.” [M.J. Akbar, India: The Seige Within, Delhi: Roli Books, 2003, p.305]