Sangh values travel abroad
Inspired by RSS and the values the organisation espouses and instills in its swayamsevaks there are similar organisations established in many countries which are incorporated under each country’s laws and function in compliance with those laws and regulations
To understand Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh it is essential to appreciate the political situation of India at the time of the organisation’s birth. It is equally import to refresh our memory about the organisation’s founder. The story is well known but it needs to be reiterated to provide the context for exploring RSS’ impact and accomplishments.
The year was 1925. Under the leadership of Gandhi Ji and the Congress Party the country had been resisting the British rule. Keshav Rao Bali Rao Hedgewar, a native of Nagpur, was disillusioned with the policies and leadership of the Congress Party and initiated an innovative, unconventional experiment under the name of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. After studying medicine at Calcutta, he actively plunged headlong into the political arena with the country’s independence from the British yoke as his cherished goal.
As a brilliant doctor, he had felt the nation’s pulse and, based upon his keen analysis, steeped in history, his diagnosis was simple and direct: awaken the dormant Hindu society so that it realises its full potential and acts accordingly. The means he used were initially to gather youths and even children in ‘Shakha’, a gathering place where they would play games, engage in discussion and dialogue and discourses. The process was aimed at inculcating in individuals self-esteem, high moral character, integrity, pride in India’s cultural heritage, and an innate sense of ‘service above self’.
Dr Hedgewar’s experiment has been a grand success. Shakhas spread from Nagpur initially to contiguous geographical areas and eventually to every nook and corner of the country. Many of the children and youngsters coming to Shakha became ‘pracharaks’, full-time volunteers for Sangh, sacrificing their careers and forsaking family life and the life of leisure for service to society, the country, and humanity.
The tradition has continued unabated. The pracharaks’ sacrifice has paid huge dividends to society: the resurgence in Hindu culture is evident; study of Sanskrit is on the rise; and there is enhanced interest in indigenous Indian traditions – yoga, Ayurveda, and meditation have assumed an important influence in millions of people’s lives. These developments are occurring all around the world. To highlight the impact, a few years back the cover of a prominent weekly in the United States boldly asserted, “We are all Hindus,” because of the role that these traditions have in the American lifestyle.
Before discussing the impact of the organisation, it seems appropriate to touch upon a longstanding and continuing misperception of the organisation. As critics call it a nationalist movement, they usually equate it with the extremist, militant nationalist movements currently on the rise in Europe. These are often anti-immigrant, racist, xenophobic, and intolerant of multiculturalism and pluralism. This is far from the truth about RSS. Imbued with the spirit of “Vasudhaiv Kutumbhakam”, the RSS cannot be, and hence is not, against those who belong to other faiths.
What I learned from my childhood in Sangh is that the Hindu culture and heritage believes in going way beyond tolerance of, for example, Muslims, Christians, and others of different faiths, thus prizing and nourishing diversity. The spirit is not simply that of acceptance but respect. My career as an international lawyer and a law teacher is a living illustration of these tenets.
Let me briefly mention what I consider to be RSS’s impact on society. I obviously keenly follow the events and developments in India. However, I have lived abroad, primarily in the US, but also lecturing in other western countries for shorter durations. Hence it is through that prism that I speak.
Inspired by RSS and the values the organisation espouses and instills in its swayamsevaks and sevikas (volunteers), there are similar organisations established in many countries which are incorporated under each country’s laws and function in compliance with those laws and regulations. In the US, such volunteers work in the name of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS). Those who belong to such organisations undertake Seva (service) activities for the disadvantaged and the poor sectors of society. They are active in promoting and protecting civil and political rights and also economic, social, and cultural rights. Inspired by the RSS workers in India, many of these organisations abroad have engaged alone or often in partnership with likeminded people and organisations in similar work. They have taken the initiative to provide leadership in almost every sphere of society’s life – culture, education, business, professional, religious, and spiritual organisations, for example.
Fortunately, the Indian diaspora in the United States, and I think all over the world, is keenly interested in India’s progress and wishes to make its contribution toward that goal. I don’t need to name names, but it is widely known that IIT graduates in the US have been creating innumerable startups and have made an indelible imprint in the high tech industry. Graduates from other Indian universities have made similar major contributions in medicine, law, and business. They have now flexed their muscles in the political arena, as well. In the just-held national elections, the country elected several Indian-American – a US Senator and four members in the House of Representatives – thus enhancing their visibility. Indian Americans are appropriately considered an ideal minority. What is most significant, however, is that on issues of importance to India, Indian Americans – both Democrats and Republicans – are all one. The civilian nuclear issue is a case in point. Indian Americans made sure that the US Congress accepted the deal, and all of them with one voice worked to make it happen. It is equally important that HSS workers have often been in the vanguard, cooperating and even leading and directing these activities.
To select a few special activities in the US, the HSS annually celebrates Rakshabandhan, bringing high officials, neighbors, and friends to tie rakhis on that special day; and students observe Guru Vandana in their classrooms. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad brings together the country’s Hindu priests and temple presidents in two conferences each year. Kutumh Prabhodhan is a new initiative undertaken by HSS. Finally, thousands of signatures were gathered by HSS among friends and family to inaugurate a new Diwali postage stamp this year.
This brief review does not do justice to the impact of the myriad activities that HSS workers undertake in the US Similar activities are undertaken in many countries, as well. In Kenya and in Britain, where the work has been in progress much longer than in the US, the impact on society is much deeper and broader. The inspiration all comes from the RSS. The hope is that in this modern tumultuous world Dr Hedgewar’s message of harmony and peace, transmitted by RSS and the organisations it has inspired around the world, will grow and flourish, and eventually help create a peaceful and prosperous humanity.
The writer is Professor of International Law at the University of Denver and Maananeeya Sanghachalak of HSS, USA