The seed which was planted in 1936 has now grown into a big banyan tree. Over 55,000 workers of the Rashtra Sevika Samiti from 2,700 shakhas across Bharat are making a difference in the society by their very demeanour. They also run over 475 sewa projects of health, education and self-reliance in remote areas of the country
Swami Vivekananda said: “There is no chance of the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on one wing.” Keeping this fundamental principle in mind the late Laxmibai Kelkar, popularly known as Mausiji Kelkar, founded the Rashtra Sevika Samiti on Vijayadashami Day in 1936 at Wardha, Maharashtra. Today, it is the world’s largest Hindu women organisation. For a socio-cultural organisation like the Rashtra Sevika Samiti that influences different aspects of national life through its activities, celebration of its 80th foundation year, is a very important milestone. It provides an opportunity to review the past, assess the present and unfold the roadmap for the future.
The goal of the Rashtra Sevika Samiti is rebuilding a glorious Hindu Nation. Our matrabhoomi should excel in the fields of science, technology and spirituality and at the same time she should be prosperous and economically self-reliant. Bharat has never waged a war against anyone, but if war is forced upon her, she would emerge unconquerable and victorious. Furthermore, Bharat is not just a piece of land or a geographic area on planet earth, but is a live ancient tradition with holistic and integral view of life, which is her soul. Samiti wants to nurture and empower this very soul of Bharat Mata.
Mausiji Kelkar strongly believed that the progress and prosperity of a nation cannot be achieved unless the women of the land, comprising half the population, are capable of shouldering their responsibility. Hence, the prerequisite to accomplish this goal is womanhood with unshakable morale, profound patience, unmatched competence and infinite cohesiveness. And the instrument to achieve this goal is Shakha. Shakha means regular gathering of girls and women for an hour where they partake in different physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual activities for all-round development. It culminates with a pledge to offer this comprehensive individual growth for the betterment of society and nation.
Actually, there is nothing novel about it. This is a duty that Indian women have been discharging since time immemorial. Our history is replete with stories of bold and courageous women leaders, who laid down their lives to protect this nation. There are numerous examples of enlightened mothers, with iron will, who inspired their progeny to dedicate their all for the betterment of Bharat Mata. There are umpteen references of efficient women administrators, who effectively led the society towards welfare and prosperity. It seems that Indian women relegated this responsibility during the transitional period of constant foreign invasions and subsequent external rule. But even in those testing times, there were some torch-bearers like Sushila Didi, Durga Bhabhi, Anasuya Bai, etc. But majority of women were still in deep slumber, confining themselves to the closed walls of their homes. It was in this background that Laxmibai Kelkar undertook the task of making Bharatiya women aware of their inner strength by establishing Rashtra Sevika Samiti, just like Jambavanta made Hanuman conscious of his forgotten potential.
Why Women’s Organisation?
As per Bharatiya way of life, the smallest unit of society is not an individual but the family. Society is a reflection of family and the woman of the house is the focal point of the family. Just as the nucleus is the control centre and powerhouse for a cell, woman is the pivot around which the progress and prosperity of a family depends. The fulcrum of a glorious nation is competent society, the basis of an efficient society is capable family and the strength of the family depends upon physically, mentally, intellectually and spiritually strong woman. Glorifying the dignity of women, it is said in Durgasaptashati that Vidyasamasta stava devi bhedah, Striyah samasta sakala jagatsu, which means all lore are your aspect oh Devi and so are all women in the world endowed with various attributes. Woman is shakti personified, she is the originator and creator of mankind. The society and nation at large should benefit from the refined potential of woman, who is an element of eternal consciousness, while the society in return should bestow a place of pride to her. With this perspective in mind, Rashtra Sevika Samiti started functioning.
Vandaniya Mausiji noticed one more thing. At that time we were under colonial rule. As a community we were invaded, stricken and oppressed for a long time. Neither the lack of dynamism nor the supremacy of our enemies was the reason for centuries old slavery. The biggest cause of our humiliation was lack of unity. Tatter has no value even if it is of silk or muslin but an entire bolt of fabric is precious. Similarly, cohesive society alone can achieve prominence and maintain the same.
Samiti and Other Women Organisations
Like any other women organisation, the Rashtra Sevika Samiti was also founded and is managed by women. Generally, all women organisations work around protection of women rights only, whereas Samiti expands its ‘I’ and takes the entire society into its embrace. This is the major difference between the Samiti and other women organisations. In other words, ‘by the women, of the women, for the nation’ is the modus operandi of Rashtra Sevika Samiti. In most cases, feminist organisations indulge in male malice. Ideology of Samiti is not against anyone. Conflicting or complaining is not womanhood rather love and affection, trust and affinity, is real femininity. It doesn’t mean that injustice and persecutions should be endured without retaliating. But unnecessary conflicts should be avoided. As per Bharatiya view of life, man and woman are not competitors but complimentary to each other. Both can support each other for individual growth and together they can evolve as society, nation and mankind. At the beginning of the famous epic Raghuvansham, Kalidas prayed to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati and described them as Vagarthaviva sampriktau’which means inseparable like speech and its meaning. Meaning without word is meaningless and word without meaning is just babble. Such mutual adherence is advocated in Hindu culture. Rashtra Sevika Samiti takes balanced and holistic approach on different subjects/issues in accordance with this philosophy of interdependence.
1938: Saraswatitai Apte started working on the similar lines of Rashtra Sevika Samiti in Pune. In 1938 when she met Mausiji she merged her organisation in the Samiti ‘Bhagirathi’. Eventually, Taiji succeeded Mausiji.
1942: Quit India Movement was at its peak. Young Sevikas were eager to participate in satyagrah. Samiti, as an organisation, was too young and not as powerful at that time. Mausiji after consulting and discussing with fellow Sevikas declared that, “Samiti would not participate in this movement as an organisation but Sevikas can participate at individual level. Mrunalini Desai, a Sevika from Pune Shakha and many others actively participated in the movement and even went to jail. Mausiji was very proud of them. Hundreds of Sevikas including Mausiji herself participated in this jan andolan in personal capacity.
1947: Mausiji got a letter from Jethi Devani, a Sevika from Karachi in the last week of July. Sevikas from Sindh (now in Pakistan) wanted to see Mausiji before leaving their beloved matrabhoomi. It was extremely risky to go there during those rough times of Partition. Despite being well aware of all atrocities Hindu women were experiencing in Pakistan, Mausiji decided to go to Karachi with Venu Tai as she considered it her moral responsibility. When they reached Karachi on August 13, 1947, there were no female travelers in the airplane other than them and there were only two Hindu men Shri Jay Prakash Narayan and Shri Dev from Pune. They both got down at Ahmedabad. All fellow Muslim travelers were shouting slogans, Hans ke liya hai Pakistan, Lad ke lenge Hindustan. Mausiji didn’t lose her courage in such adverse circumstances. Next day she addressed a huge gathering of Hindu women and consoled them that all kinds of support would be provided to them if they decide to come to Bharat.
1956-1961: Sevikas participated whole heartedly in Goa Mukti Andolan. Taiji and other Sevikas used to look after the food arrangements for satyagrahis of Pune. Sevikas used to take care of cremation of martyrs without getting affected or caring for cadaverous odour.
1975: During Emergency, Samiti got actively involved in Satyagraha organised by Samanvay Samiti. Sevikas kept regular contact with the families of satyagrahis jailed under MISA and helped them in all possible ways. They distributed pamphlets; provided shelter to underground satyagrahis and even carried secrete messages.
1990: Save Jammu-Kashmir Campaign by Rashtra Sevika Samiti. As part of the campaign, protest marches were organised at various places all over India. People were made aware of the situation in J&K.
The Samiti also participated in Gauvadhbandhi Movement in 1952-53 and Swadeshi Campaign in 1995. During natural calamities like 1993 in Latur and 2001 in Kutch earthquake, 1998 cyclone, 2004 tsunami and resent 2013 Uttarakhand floods, Rashtra Sevika Samiti helped affected fellow countrymen by providing relief supplies and taking care of
rehabilitation programmes. Samiti adopted a completely devasted village knows as Mayapur in Gujarat, reconstructed and rehabilitated it.
The march continues
The seed planted in 1936 has now grown into a big banyan tree. More than 55,000 karyakartis, from over 2,784 shakhas across Bharat, are making a difference in society by their very demeanour. The Sevikas also run more than 475 sewa projects in the field of health, education and self-reliance. Every year during Deepavali and summer vacations, special training camps are organised for 5-15 days duration in each Prant. This year 9,000 young women and 3,000 working women participated in such camps. The Samiti also works on different initiatives from time to time. This year on the occasion of its 80th anniversary, more than 88,000 young women between the age group 16-45, participated in the Taruni Samelans organised countrywide at more than 290 centres.
Innumerable Sevikas have made commendable achievements individually as well as collectively and have received national and international recognition and accolades. They acknowledged that the samskaras imbibed by the Samiti played a key role in their success. Sevikas of a Shakha from Mahakoshal Prant carried out a successful campaign for alcohol prohibition. Sevikas from Paschim Kshetra took Rashtra Sevika Samiti to Limca Book of World Records for performing Surya Namaskars continuously for 100 hours. Pushpa, a Sevika from Mizoram started one of its kind women’s hostel in her village after completing education from Nagpur. She says, she got continuous motivation, all kind of support and samskars of selfless service from Samiti during her stay in the hostel managed by Samiti.
Ideals of Rashtra Sevika Samiti and the divine goal of national reconstruction is always in the mind of Sevikas whether they work at an individual level or as a part of the organisation. There are many components of the society like educator, student, business person, industrialist, worker, villager, doctor, lawyer and so on. In all these fields the Sevikas are active with their distinct characteristics and fervour and humming: Sevikao badhe chalo lakshy tak chadhe chalo, Vijay mashal hath le tamas ko mita chalo.
(The writer is Konkan Prant Prachar Pramukh of Rashtra Sevika Samiti)