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Published in the 1-15 May 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

RSS and the gender question

By Ram Puniyani

The Milli Gazette Online

One always wondered as to why the patriarch of Sangh combines, the plethora of organizations pursuing the goal of Hindu Nation, RSS, is an exclusively male organization. While one hears quite a bit about Uma Bharati's, Sushma Swaraj's currently and one heard about Vijaya Raje Scindia and Sadhvi Ritambhara in the recent past, one knew that even they could not enter the hallowed precincts of the controller of Hidnutva politics, the RSS itself. We were enlightened about this recently by none other than the RSS Supreme dictator (Sar sanghchalak), Mr. K. Sudarshan himself.

While talking at a function (March 21, 2005) meant to release the Video CD on, Rashtra Sevika Samiti's founder, Laxmibai Kelkar, he pointed out that women are barred from RSS as Indian society did not accept, and does not accept even now, young boys and girls working together because it could have consequences (!) on the society. One does not know which Indian society Mr. Sudarshan is talking about with all the co-ed schools and women and men working together in most of the spheres of society, but it is not difficult to guess these consequences, which he is talking about! Keeping women out of RSS is not a minor matter for RSS, as it reflects its own ideological understanding at deeper level. That Indian society does not accept men and women, working together is a make believe mirage meant to hide RSS ideology, its foundation in patriarchal value system.

The first RSS supremo, Dr. K. B Hedgewar, was approached by Laxmibai Kelkar in 1936 with a request to be permitted to join the organization as she wished to get the lathi (baton) training for women's self protection. RSS is specialist in imparting this training to its volunteers. Faced with the dilemma of giving permission to a woman in the exclusively male outfit, keeping in mind the ideology and functioning necessities of RSS, he prompted her to form Rashtra Sevika Samiti, rather than permitting her to join RSS. The functional reason for this is that the highest rung in RSS ladder, the Pracharaks have to take a vow of celibacy (Brahmacharya) and with women also becoming part of the same organizations the consequences may not be to the liking of RSS founders. And this is what Dr. Hedgewar was afraid of and this is what Mr. Sudarshan is also scared of.

The other and deeper reason had to do with the ideology of RSS, which is rooted in male domination, the commitment to the hierarchy of gender. On one hand RSS was planned as the controller of the Hindutva movement, so this has to be naturally by the males. This also gets reflected in the names for this organization, Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (sangh) and Rashtra Sevika Samiti (samiti). The latter is a body subordinate to RSS, and in its name the word swayam, 'self', 'being' is missing. This is not an accidental omission. It reflects that men control the 'being' of woman.

This was the time when parallel to the ideas of National movement and other progressive movements, women had started their forays into national and social life on equal footing. While one presumes there was a good presence of women in national movement, they were conspicuous by their absence in organizations like Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha. This was also a time when Ambedkar was burning Manu Smiriti on the ground that it laid the provisions for slavery of Shudras and women. It is no accident that Manusmsiti and laws of Manu were eulogized by the Hidnutva ideologues. Rashtra Sevika Samiti was instructed to be on the subordinate ground. As ideologically RSS was/is rooted in the feudal hierarchies of caste and gender, the tasks of samiti were outlined, as presented in one of the pamphlets of the samiti, "due to western impact, women were struggling for equal rights and economic freedom…There was every risk of women becoming non committed to love, sacrifice, service…This unnatural change in women might have led to disintegration of family the primary and most important unit for imparting good samskars ('Gender in Hindu nation', Paula Bachetta, p. 8).

This was reflective enough of the agenda of the samiti. All the Sangh ideologues have stuck to this in different languages. This ideology in due course affirmed that primary role of women is that of mother, and in raising the children, giving them good smaskars (another name for indoctrinating the children with Brahminical values). Later there were other organizations where women got associated with sangh, BJP Mahila Morcha and Durga Vahini are the two other major one's amongst these. The sample of this ideology comes to fore times and over again. In the wake of Roop Kanwar sati (burning of women on the funeral pyre of their husbands) incident, when Parliament was debating a new legislation to ban Sati, Vijayaraje Scindia, BJP vice president, took out a procession to parliament with the slogan that committing sati is not only the glorious tradition of Hindu women but it is also their right. One wonders why the leader of this procession herself did not exercise her right after the death of her husband!

Another of their outpourings, which is most representative of this ideology, was the interview given by Mridula Sinha, the then chief of BJP Mahila Morcha. (Savvy April 1994) In this interview she defended the dowry system, went on to uphold the wife beating, opposed women's equality apart from advising the women that they should not go out to work unless it is a dire economic necessity. Her thrust in the interview was to equate the women's struggle for equality as being equivalent to opting for a life of 'loose morals'!

The similarity of RSS attitude to women and that of Taliban or other Islamic fundamentalist streams on one hand and Hitler's advice to women on the other is so starkly similar. Islamic fundamentalists prohibit the women from going outside for work and also hide behind sharia to curtail women's rights. Hitler articulated this most blatantly when he said that German women's greatest glory is in motherhood and that women's world should revolve around Kitchen, Church and Children.

While RSS and its celibate pracharaks may come with a more sophisticated language of respect for women, place of women in Indian tradition to selectively highlight some exceptions to the oppression of women, their present agenda is to dish out the patriarchal impositions in more subtle and clever language, but surely women's movement for equality has definitely made good strides to see the real goals of Hindutva ideology and to reject it through and through. (Issues in Secular politics)
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