The success of the Samiti’s work is not confined to numerical growth alone but depends on how much deep affection can we create in the minds of our Sevikas. The yardstick of success is not in numbers but the faith, sense of belonging and affection which the people have got towards the Samiti
My first contact with the Samiti was in 1939. My father, Bhasakar Rao Medhe, was a strict swadeshi lover, so I inherited that instinct. When we shifted to Nagpur, I came in contact with all such persons and I was inspired to join the Samiti.
The first Shakha I attended was at Hindu Mulunchi Shala in Mahal area of Nagpur and that was the centre of activities of the Samiti. During that time the Samiti’s work was entrusted and guided by stalwarts like Pramilatai Paranjape, Kusumtai Paranjape and her mother Laxmibai Paranjape popularly known as Kaku; and they nurtured our minds through their formal and informal discussions.
I had the chance to see and listen to senior RSS functionaries like Dr LV Paranjape, whom Dr Hedgewar entrusted the responsibility of Sarsanghachalak of RSS when he joined the ‘Jungle Satyagraha’, with Babasaheb Apte and others. There was no Sangh Karyalaya then, so Babasaheb Apte used to live upstairs in our house and Pujaniya Doctorji and other senior ‘adhikaris’ used to visit him often to discuss many issues.
I was barely 10-11 year old then and could not follow what they said and it was also beyond my capacity to understand the depth and intensity of their discussions, but I thought that these people were doing something good for the nation.
I got practical knowledge of the Samiti from my ‘Mausi’ Smt Laxmibai alias Akka Mahashabde, Pramilatai Paranjape's mother, father and brother. Balshastri Hardas used to come there. He was very learned and knowledgeable and a prolific orator. So, lot of discussions used to take place though I could not follow the essence of it but I was impressed. I met Mousiji Kelkar at a Samiti Utsav and had a deep impact of her simple, impressive, pleasing personality and that was a turning point in my life to be attached and getting deeply involved in the Samiti’s work.
May be, during 1943-44 Swantantrya Veer Savarkar visited our shakha at Hindu Mulinchi Shala. We the sevikas offered him a ‘Guard of Honour’. He said the Samiti’s work is like a gentle shower that goes deep into the soil and remain helpful for it, novel evaluation of Samiti’s work. So that was the original thing. One day Shri Guruji took Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee to our Shakha casually and I had a chance to meet such great people.
There was no concept of 'Pracharika' in those days. It was through some discussions with my cousin brother Bapu Mahashbade, an ardent swayamsevak and a short time Pracharak in Tamil Nadu that we proposed to start an educational institution and that meant not to marry but to dedicate our life to some purpose. After coming in contact with the Samiti, and I don’t know how, but I got involved with it and decided to devote my life for it.
In those days there was no Karyalaya and no arrangement either to accommodate such ‘unmarried’, ‘single’, ‘bachelorette’ and concept of women social activists was also not acceptable then. So, living in my home and completing my education I used to travel with Vandaniya Mausiji all over Bharat. I minutely observed her ways of dealing with karyakartas and common people and how she adjusted to the circumstances and the way she became one with the homes she stayed in.
During the 1960s, we were travelling to Karnataka to attend a Samiti’s camp. Those days the atmosphere was surcharged with Karnataka–Maharashtra boundary
dispute. Mausiji told the visiting journalists that Samiti is not affected by such disputed issues and we are running our camp peacefully. She further narrated that despite her inability to interact in Kannada with the participating Sevikas, they were bound to each other by deep love, appreciation and devotion to the cause and mission. The acute faith, affection and attachment of minds helped them understand each other better. That is the criteria of
fruitfulness of the Samiti’s work. Then she said Gurudakshina was the source of Samiti’s finances, and when a journalist sought to equate the Samiti with the RSS that is the Sangh, she immediately responded that Gurudakshina has been an ancient tradition of Bharat and Samiti is simply following it.
After 1938, Samiti’s work started spreading to other parts of Bharat—Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat being the first in this expansion followed by Sindh, which was then part of the Bombay Presidency. Incidentally, the first Akhil Bharatiya Sharirik Shikshan Pramukh of Samiti, Jethi Devani, was from Sindh province. Mousiji's bold and assuring visit to Karachi Shakha on August 14, 1947, is to rush for help to our people wherever and whenever in distress, due to natural or man-made calamities. The days ahead, the nation witnessed the turmoil in Jammu & Kashmir and Assam. We, the Sevikas stayed with the distressed people in the relief camps and often met the Commissioner and Governor of J&K. We had hot discussions requesting them to cut supply line of the Kashmir Valley at least for one day that time.
Samiti believes in empowerment of women for empowerment of the nation. To empower womenfolk the Samiti launched ‘Udyog Mandir’ and ‘Balak Mandir’. Post-Independence, Samiti decided to project the role models for ‘Bharatiya Women’ in Ahilyabai Holkar as symbol of good governance, Rani Jhansi Laxmibai as symbol of leadership with motherly touch and Jijabai as symbol of enlightened motherhood. Later on, in the 50s, the Samiti decided to place Goddess Ashtbhuja as symbol of women empowerment. In 1953, we launched ‘Sevika Prakashan’ and ‘Gruhini Vidyalaya’ (summer classes) and ‘Yoga Shikshan’. In ‘Stree Jivan Vikas Parishad’ at Mumbai we invited stalwarts including Dhondo Keshav Karve, Dr Purandare, Dr Deshpande et al. Vandaniya Mausiji discussed with those stalwarts the nature of physical training to women lest their married life is not disturbed, and the ways and means to impart such a training to them to instil fearlessness and courage and dedication to Bharat Mata and Hindu Sanskriti i.e. Sawdesh Bhakti in them. It was here that the Samiti advocated the idea of women undertaking the role of the driver of the life chariot. The efficient driver only can lead the vehicle safely to the destination within shortest time. This was far ahead from the feminist concept of women’s liberation and gender equality of the present day.
1958 was again an important year for the Samiti. The year marked centenary of 1857 War of Independence. We prepared an exhibition depicting history of the war. The first public charitable trust Rani Laxmibai Jhansi Trust was formed at Nasik, followed by 38 other trusts throughout the country to reach larger section of the society by running various sewa projects like girls hostel, free medical camps etc. Devi Ahalyabai Samarak Samiti formed in 1965 at Nagpur is one of them, where Samiti Kendriya Karayalaya is functioning and I am staying there since then.
The criteria of success of the Samiti’s work is not confined to numerical growth alone but depends on how much deep affection can we create in the minds of our Sevikas. The yardstick of success is not numbers but the faith, sense of belonging and affection.
Like Vandaniya Mausiji I had been fortunate to come in contact with her successor Tai Apte, having a personified affection, simplicity, dedication and mutuality, etc. Lokmanya Tilak was her father’s maternal uncle and as such she had very close contact with him. She was an icon of Hindu motherhood. An editorial headline after her demise was “We have lost motherheart of Hindutva”.
Our third Pramukh Sanchalika Ushatai Chati, firmly believed that Samiti's progress did not depend only on number of Pracharikas, but also all other Sevikas working with the mindset of a Pracharika. A woman is life-giver. She has the capacity and capability to shape the character of her children, and even her life partner. Therefore, it is most pertinent that she should be made aware of the destination and purpose of life, so that she can inculcate moral values that help her build an unshakable character devoted to family, society, and the nation.
Changes have taken place in the Samiti, and that is quite natural. These changes occur as per the changing times. The uniform has undergone changes from a 9-yard saree to salwar-kurta. But the basics have remained unchanged. There are a variety of challenges before the society and nation today. We need to prepare the young generation to face them. With this view this year, the Samiti has organised ‘Taruni Sammelans’ on the theme of ‘Tejasvi Bharat’ which are a great success. The participants are impressed by telling about Bharat’s contribution in various fields about of which they were not aware of. The second point in this Sammelan was “Hum Hain Bharat Bhagya Vidhata” i.e. we only are the makers and shapers of glorious Bharat .This idea got deep in the hearts of the Youths.
I personally consider myself fortunate and satisfied with my over seven decade association with the Samiti. I think it is because of my some 'punya' that I was born in Bharat and came in contact with Rashtra Sevika Samiti, the women's organisation which aims at empowerment of women for the empowerment of nation. I also feel that the apparatus used up till now is getting old and weak, so better to have a new apparatus enabling to dedicate with more zeal and enthusiasm. Vande Mataram!
(The writer is former Pramukh Sanchalika of Rashtra Sevika Samiti. As told to Virag Pachpore in Nagpur)