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Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh

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Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
Logo of RSS.png
Abbreviation RSS
Formation 27 September 1925 (91 years ago) (1925-09-27)
Founder Keshav Baliram Hedgewar
Type Right-wing volunteer,[1] paramilitary[2][3][4][5][6]
Legal status Active
Purpose Hindu nationalism and Hindutva[7][8]
Headquarters Nagpur, Maharashtra, India
Coordinates 21°02′N 79°10′E / 21.04°N 79.16°E / 21.04; 79.16Coordinates: 21°02′N 79°10′E / 21.04°N 79.16°E / 21.04; 79.16
Area served
5-6 million[9][10][11]
56,859 shakhas (2016)[12]
Official language
Mohan Bhagwat
Key people
Suresh 'Bhaiyaji' Joshi
(general secretary)
Affiliations Sangh Parivar
Mission "Selfless Service to Motherland"

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, abbreviated as RSS (Rāṣṭrīya Svayamsēvaka Saṅgha; IPA: [rɑːʂˈʈriːj(ə) swəjəmˈseːvək ˈsəŋɡʱ], lit. "National Volunteer Organisation"[13] or "National Patriotic Organisation"[14]), is an Indian right-wing, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organisation that is widely regarded as the parent organisation of the ruling party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party.[4][1][5][15] The RSS is one of the principal organizations of the Sangh Parivar group.

Founded on 27 September 1925, and claiming a commitment to selfless service to India.[16] The organisation is the world's largest voluntary missionary organization.[17]

The initial impetus was to provide character training through Hindu discipline and to unite the Hindu community to form a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation).[18][19] The organisation promotes the ideals of upholding Indian culture and the values of a civil society and propogates the ideology of Hindutva, to "strengthen" the majority Hindu community.[20][8] It drew initial inspiration from European right-wing groups during World War II.[19] Gradually, RSS grew into a prominent Hindu nationalist umbrella organisation, spawning several affiliated organisations that established numerous schools, charities, and clubs to spread its ideological beliefs.[19]

The RSS was banned once during British rule,[19] and then thrice by the post-independence Indian government – first in 1948 when a former RSS member[21] assassinated Mahatma Gandhi;[19][22][23] then during the emergency (1975–77); and for a third time after the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992.

Founding and origins

RSS was founded in 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, a doctor in the city of Nagpur, British India.[24]

Hedgewar was a political protege of B. S. Moonje, a Tilakite Congressman, Hindu Mahasabha politician and social activist from Nagpur. Moonje had sent Hedgewar to Calcutta to pursue his medical studies and to learn terrorist techniques from the Bengali secret societies. Hedgewar became a member of the Anushilan Samiti, an anti-British revolutionary group, getting into its inner circle. The secretive methods of these societies were eventually used by him in organising the RSS.[25][26][27]

After returning to Nagpur, Hedgewar organized anti-British activities through the Kranti Dal (Party of Revolution) and participated in Tilak's Home Rule campaign in 1918. According to the official RSS history,[28] he came to realize that revolutionary activities alone were not enough to overthrow the British. After reading V. D. Savarkar's Hindutva, published in Nagpur in 1923, and meeting Savarkar in the Ratnagiri prison, he founded the RSS with the objective of strengthening the Hindu society.[25][26][27][29]

A rare group photo of six initial swayamsevaks taken on the occasion of a RSS meeting held in 1939[30]

Hedgewar believed that a handful of British were able to rule over the vast country of India because Hindus were disunited, lacked valour (pararkram) and lacked a civic character. He recruited energetic Hindu youth with revolutionary fervour, gave them a uniform of a black forage cap, khakhi shirt (later white shirt) and khakhi shorts—emulating the British police—and taught them paramilitary techniques with lathi (bamboo staff), sword, javelin and dagger. Hindu ceremonies and rituals played a large role in the organisation, not so much for religious observance, but to provide awareness of India's glorious past and to bind the members in a religious communion. Hedgewar also held weekly sessions of what he called baudhik (idealogical education), consisting of simple questions to the novices concerning the Hindu nation and its history and heroes, especially Shivaji. The saffron flag of Shivaji, the Bhagwa Dhwaj, was used as the emblem for the new organisation. Its public tasks involved protecting Hindu pilgrims at festivals and confronting Muslim resistance against Hindu processions near mosques.[25][26][27]

Two years into the life of the organisation, in 1927, Hedgewar organised an "Officers' Training Camp" with the objectve of forming a corps of key workers, whom he called pracharaks. He asked the volunteers to become sadhus first, renouncing professional and family lives and dedicating themselves to the cause of the RSS. According to scholar Christophe Jaffrelot, Hedgewar embraced this doctrine after it had been reinterpreted by militant nationalists such as Aurobindo. The tradition of renunciation gave the RSS the character of a `Hindu sect'.[31] Development of the shakha network of the RSS was the main preoccupation for Hedgewar throughout his career as the RSS chief. The first pracharaks were responsible fo restablishing as many shakhas as possible, first in Nagpur, then across Maharashtra and eventually in the rest of India. P. B. Dani was sent to establish a shakha at the Benaras Hindu University and other Universities were similarly targeted to recruit new followers among the student population. Three pracharaks went to Punjab: Appaji Joshi to Sialkot, Moreshwar Munje to the DAV College in Rawalpindi and Raja Bhau Paturkar to the DAV College in Lahore. In 1940, Madhavrao Muley was appointed as the prant pracharak (regional missionary) in Lahore. [32]


Scholars differ on Hedgewar's motivations for forming the RSS, especially because he never involved the RSS in fighting the British rule. An alternative interpretation is that he formed it to fight the Indian Muslims.[33] Jaffrelot says that the RSS was intended to propagate the ideology of Hindutva and to provide "new physical strength" to the majority community.[8]

Hindu-Muslim relations

The decade of 1920's witnessed a significant deterioration in the relations between Hindus and Muslims. Gandhi mobilised both Hindus and Muslims to fight the British rule by appealing to their religious traditions. He made an alliance with the Khilafat movement in an effort obtain the Muslim participation in the Non-cooperation movement. When Gandhi called off the Non-cooperation movement after 2 weeks due to outbreaks of violence, Muslims disagreed with his strategy and turned their anger towards their Hindu neighbours. When the Khilafat movement finally failed, this anger was exacerbated. The first major incident of religious violence was the Moplah rebellion in August 1921, which ended in a large scale violence against Hindus and their displacement in Malabar region. A cycle of inter-communal violence throughout India followed for several years.[34] In 1923, there were riots in Nagpur, called "Muslim riots" by Hedgewar, where Hindus were felt to be "totally disorganized and panicky." These incidents made a major impresison on Hedgewar and convinced him of the need to organize the Hindu society.[29][35]

After acquiring about 100 swayamsevaks (volunteers) to the RSS in 1927, Hedgewar took the issue to the Muslim domain. He led the Hindu religious procession for Ganesha, beating the drums in defiance of the usual practice not to pass in front of a mosque with music.[36] On the day of Lakshmi Puja on 4 September, Muslims are said to have retaliated. When the Hindu procession reached a mosque in the Mahal area of Nagpur, Muslims blocked it. Later in the afternoon, they attacked the Hindu residences in the Mahal area. It is said that the RSS cadres were prepared for the attack and beat the Muslim rioters back. Riots continued for 3 days and the army had to be called in to quell the violence. RSS organized the Hindu resistance and protected the Hindu households while the Muslim households had to leave Nagpur en masse for safety.[37][38][29][39] Basu et al. note the accounts of "Muslim aggressiveness" and the "Hindu self-defence" in the RSS descriptions of the incident. The riot vastly enhanced the prestige of the RSS and enabled its subsequent expansion.[38]

Stigmatisation and emulation

Christophe Jaffrelot points out the theme of "stigmatisation and emulation" in the ideology of the RSS along with other Hindu nationalist movements such as the Arya Samaj and the Hindu Mahasabha. Muslims, Christians and the British were thought of as "foreign bodies" implanted in the Hindu nation, who were able to exploit the disunity and absence of valour among the Hindus in order to subdue them. The solution lay in emulating the characteristics of these "Threatening Others" that were perceived to give them strength, such as paramilitary organisation, emphasis on unity and nationalism. The Hindu nationalists combined these emulatory aspects with a selective borrowing of traditions from the Hindu past to achieve a synthesis that was uniquely Indian and Hindu.[40]

Hindu Mahasabha influence

The Hindu Mahasabha, which was initially a special interest group within the Indian National Congress and later an independent party, was an important influence on the RSS, even though it is rarely acknowledged. The initial meeting for the formation of the Sangh on the Vijaya Dashami day of 1925 was held between Hedgewar and four Hindu Mahasabha leaders: B. S. Moonje, Ganesh Savarkar, L. V. Paranjpe, and B. B. Tholkar. RSS took part as a volunteer force in organising the Hindu Mahasabha annual meeting in Akola in 1931. Moonje remained a patron of the RSS throughout his life. Both he and Ganesh Savarkar worked to spread the RSS shakhas in Maharashtra, Panjab, Delhi and the princely states by initiating contacts with local leaders. Savarkar merged his own youth organisation Tarun Hindu Sabha with the RSS and helped its expansion. V. D. Savarkar, after his release in 1937, joined them in spreading the RSS and giving speeches in its support. Officials in the Home Department called the RSS the "volunteer organisation of the Hindu Mahasabha."[41][42]


World War II

During World War II, RSS leaders openly admired Adolf Hitler.[19][43] M. S. Golwalkar, who became the supreme leader of the RSS after Hedgewar, drew inspiration from Adolf Hitler's ideology of racial purity.[44] RSS leaders were supportive of the Jewish State of Israel, including Savarkar himself, who supported Israel during its formation.[45] Golwalkar admired Jews for maintaining their "religion, culture and language".[46]

Indian Independence Movement

After the formation of the RSS, which potrays itself as a social movement, Hedgewar kept the organisation from having any direct affiliation with the political organisations then fighting British rule,[47] but he and his team of volunteers did take part in the Indian National Congress and lead movements against British rule. Hedgewar was arrested in the Jungle Satyagraha agitation in 1931 and served a second term in prison.[48][49][50] RSS rejected Gandhi's willingness to cooperate with the Muslims.[51][52]

In accordance with the Hedgewar's tradition of keeping the RSS away from the Indian Independence movement, any political activity that could be construed as being anti-British was carefully avoided. According to the RSS biographer C. P. Bhishikar, Hedgewar talked only about Hindu organisations avoiding any direct comment on the Government.[53] The "Independence Day" announced by the Indian National Congress for 26 January 1930 was celebrated by the RSS only that year and was subsequently avoided. The Tricolor of the Indian national movement was shunned.[54][55][56][57] Hedgewar personally participated in the 'Satyagraha' launched by Gandhi in April 1930, but he did not get the RSS involved in the movement. He sent information everywhere that the RSS would not participate in the Satyagraha. However, those wishing to participate individually were not prohibited.[58][59] In 1934 Congress passed a resolution prohibiting its members from joining RSS, Hindu Mahasabha, or the Muslim League.[54]

Golwalkar, who became the leader of the RSS in 1940, continued and further strengthened the isolation from the independence movement. In his view, the RSS had pledged to achieve freedom through "defending religion and culture" and not by fighting the British.[60][61][62] Golwalkar even lamented the anti-British nationalism, calling it a "reactionary view" that had had disastrous effects upon the entire course of the freedom struggle.[63][64] It is believed that Golwalkar did not want to give the British any excuse to ban the RSS. He complied with all the strictures imposed by the Government during the Second World War, even announcing the termination of the RSS military department.[65][66] The British Government stated that the RSS was not at all supporting any civil disobedience against them, and as such their other political activities could be overlooked. The British Home Department took note of the fact that speakers at Sangh meetings urged its members to keep aloof from the anti-British movements of the Indian National Congress, which instruction was duly followed.[67]The Home Department was thereby of the opinion that the RSS did not constitute a menace to law and order in British India.[65][66]The Bombay government, in a report, appreciated the RSS by noting that the Sangh had scrupulously kept itself within the law and refrained from taking part in the disturbances (Quit India Movement) that broke out in August 1942.[68][69][70] It also reported that the RSS had not, in any way, infringed upon government orders and had always shown a willingness to comply with the law. The same Bombay Government report further noted that in December 1940, orders had been issued to the provincial RSS leaders to desist from any activities that the British Government considered objectionable, and the RSS, in turn, had assured the British authorities that "it had no intentions of offending against the orders of the Government".[71][72]

Golwalkar later openly admitted to the fact that the RSS did not participate in the Quit India Movement. Golwalkar further stated that such a stance led to the Sangh being viewed as an inactive organization, whose statements had no substance in reality.[60][73]

The RSS neither supported nor joined in the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny against the British in 1945.[52]

Activities during partition

The Partition of India affected millions of Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims attempting to escape the violence and carnage that followed.[74] During partition, RSS helped the Hindu refugees from West Punjab; and its activists also played a very active role in the communal violence during Hindu-Muslim riots in north India, though this was officially not sanctioned by the leadership. To the RSS activists, the partition was a result of mistaken soft-line towards the Muslims, which only confirmed the natural moral weaknesses and corruptibility of the politicians. The RSS blamed Gandhi, Nehru and Patel for their 'naivety which resulted in the partition', and held them responsible for the mass killings and displacement of the millions of people.[75][76][77]

Noted Gandhian and recipient of Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in India, Bhagwan Das commended the role of the "high-spirited and self-sacrificing boys" of the RSS in protecting the newly formed Republic of India from a "planned coup" to topple the Jawaharlal Nehru Administration in Delhi.[78][79]

First ban

The first ban on the RSS was imposed in Punjab Province (British India) on 24 January 1947 by Malik Khizar Hayat Tiwana, the premier of the ruling Unionist Party, a party that represented the interests of the landed gentry and landlords of Punjab, which included Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. Along with the RSS, the Muslim National Guard was also banned.[80][81] The ban was lifted on 28 January 1947.[80]

Second ban and acquittal

Following Mahatma Gandhi's assassination in 1948 by a former member[23] of the RSS, Nathuram Godse, many prominent leaders of the RSS were arrested, and RSS as an organisation was banned on 4 February 1948. A Commission of Inquiry into Conspiracy to the murder of Gandhi was set, and its report was published by India's Ministry of Home Affairs in the year 1970. Accordingly, the Justice Kapur Commission[82] noted that the "RSS as such were not responsible for the murder of Mahatma Gandhi, meaning thereby that one could not name the organisation as such as being responsible for that most diabolical crime, the murder of the apostle of peace. It has not been proved that they (the accused) were members of the RSS."[82]:165

RSS leaders were acquitted of the conspiracy charge by the Supreme Court of India, and following an intervention by the Court the Indian Government agreed to lift the ban with the conditions that the RSS pledge its loyalty to the Constitution of India, accept the Tricolor as the National Flag of India, and adopt a formal written constitution, and make it public.[83]:42– As the second Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, Golwalkar drafted the constitution for the RSS, which he sent to the Government of India on 11 April 1949. On 11 July 1949 the Government of India lifted the ban on the RSS by issuing a communique stating that the decision to lift the ban on the RSS had been taken in view of the RSS leader Golwalkar's undertaking to make the group's loyalty towards the Constitution of India and acceptance and respect towards the National Flag of India more explicit in the Constitution of the RSS, which was to be worked out in a democratic manner.[24][83]

Opposition to the National Flag of India

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh initially did not recognize the Tricolor as the National Flag of India. The RSS mouthpiece, the Organiser, in its issue dated 17 July 1947, demanded, in an editorial titled "National Flag", that the Bhagwa Dhwaj (Saffron Flag) be adopted as the National Flag of India.[84] After the Tricolor was adopted as the National Flag of India by the Constituent Assembly of India on 22 July 1947, the Organiser viciously attacked the Tricolor and the decision to adopt it as the National Flag of India. The 14 August 1947 issue of the Organiser, in an article titled "Mystery behind the Bhagwa Dhwaj", stated

The people who have come to power by the kick of fate may give in our hands the Tricolor but it never be respected and owned by Hindus.The word three is in itself an evil, and a flag having three colours will certainly produce a very bad psychological effect and is injurious to a country.

— [85][86]

Further, Golwalkar, in an essay titled "Drifting and Drafting" published in his book Bunch of Thoughts, lamented the choice of the Tricolor as the National Flag of India, and compared it to an intellectual vacuum/void. In his words,

Our leaders have set up a new flag for the country. Why did they do so? It just is a case of drifting and imitating...Ours is an ancient and great nation with a glorious past. Then, had we no flag of our own? had we no national emblem at all these thousands of years? Undoubtedly we had. Then why this utter void, this utter vacuum in our minds.

The RSS hoisted the National Flag of India at its headquarters in Nagpur, on 14 August 1947 and on 26 January 1950, but stopped doing so after that.[91] This issue has always been a source of controversy. In 2001 three activists of Rashtrapremi Yuwa Dal – president Baba Mendhe, and members Ramesh Kalambe and Dilip Chattani, along with others – allegedly entered the RSS headquarters in Reshimbagh, Nagpur, on 26 January, Republic Day of India, and forcibly hoisted the national flag there amid patriotic slogans. They contended that the RSS had never before or after independence, ever hoisted the tri-colour in their premises, even on Independence Day and Republic Day. Offences under the relevant section of the Bombay Police Act and the IPC were registered by the police against the trio, resulting in their being jailed. They were released after eleven years in 2013.[92][93] The arrests and the flag-hoisting issue stoked a controversy, which was raised in the Parliament as well. Subsequently, in 2002 the National Flag was raised in the RSS headquarters on the occasion of Republic Day for the first time in 52 years.[91]

Opposition to the Constitution of India

The Rashtriya Swaysevak Sangh initially did not recognize the Constitution of India, strongly criticising it because the Indian Constitution made no mention of "Manu's laws" – from the controversial ancient Hindu text Manusmriti, which had been said to denigrate the lower castes and untouchables in India. When the Constituent Assembly finalized the constitution, the RSS mouthpiece, the Organiser, complained in an editorial dated 30 November 1949:

But in our constitution, there is no mention of that unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat... To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing"[56]

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh did not stop its unrelenting attacks on this issue, and criticised B. R. Ambedkar's public pronouncements that the new constitution would give equality to all castes. On 6 February 1950 the Organizer carried another article, titled "Manu Rules our Hearts", written by a retired High Court Judge named Sankar Subba Aiyar, that reaffirmed their support for the Manusmriti as the final lawgiving authority for Hindus, rather than the Constitution of India. It stated:

Even though Dr. Ambedkar is reported to have recently stated in Bombay that the days of Manu have ended it is nevertheless a fact that the daily lives of Hindus are even at present day affected by the principles and injunctions contained in the Manusmrithi and other Smrithis. Even an unorthodox Hindu feels himself bound at least in some matters by the rules contained in the Smrithis and he feels powerless to give up altogether his adherence to them.[94]

The RSS' opposition to, and vitriolic attacks against, the Constitution of India and its author Ambedkar continued post independence, even long after Ambedkar's death. Golwalkar, in his book titled Bunch of Thoughts asserted:

Our Constitution too is just a cumbersome and heterogeneous piecing together of various articles from various Constitutions of Western countries. It has absolutely nothing, which can be called our own. Is there a single word of reference in its guiding principles as to what our national mission is and what our keynote in life is? No!"[56][88]

Decolonisation of Dadra, Nagar Haveli, and Goa

After India had achieved independence, the RSS was one of the socio-political organisations that supported and participated in movements to decolonise Dadra and Nagar Haveli, which at that time was ruled by Portugal. In early 1954 volunteers Raja Wakankar and Nana Kajrekar of the RSS visited the area round about Dadra, Nagar Haveli, and Daman several times to study the topography and get acquainted with locals who wanted the area to change from being a Portuguese colony to being an Indian union territory. In April 1954 the RSS formed a coalition with the National Movement Liberation Organisation (NMLO), and the Azad Gomantak Dal (AGD) for the annexation of Dadra and Nagar Haveli into the Republic of India.[95] On the night of 21 July, United Front of Goans, a group working independently of the coalition, captured the Portuguese police station at Dadra and declared Dadra independent. Subsequently, on 28 July, volunteer teams from the RSS and AGD captured the territories of Naroli and Phiparia and ultimately the capital of Silvassa. The Portuguese forces that had escaped and moved towards Nagar Haveli, were assaulted at Khandvel and forced to retreat until they surrendered to the Indian border police at Udava on 11 August 1954. A native administration was set up with Appasaheb Karmalkar of the NMLO as the Administrator of Dadra and Nagar Haveli on 11 August 1954.[95]

The capture of Dadra and Nagar Haveli gave a boost to the movement against Portuguese colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent.[95] In 1955 RSS leaders demanded the end of Portuguese rule in Goa and its integration into India. When Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru refused to provide an armed intervention, RSS leader Jagannath Rao Joshi led the Satyagraha agitation straight into Goa. He was imprisoned with his followers by the Portuguese police. The nonviolent protests continued but met with repression. On 15 August 1955, the Portuguese police opened fire on the satyagrahis, killing thirty or so civilians.[96]

War-time activities

During the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence, RSS volunteers offered their services to maintain law and order in the country and were apparently the first to donate blood.[97]

Movement against the Emergency

In 1975 the Indira Gandhi government proclaimed emergency rule in India, thereby suspending fundamental rights and curtailing the freedom of the press.[98] This action was taken after the Supreme Court of India cancelled her election to the Indian Parliament on charges of malpractices in the election.[98] Democratic institutions were suspended and prominent opposition leaders including Gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan, were arrested whilst thousands of people were detained without any charges taken up against them.[99] RSS, which was seen as being close to opposition leaders, and with its large organisational base was seen to have the capability of organising protests against the government, was also banned.[100]

The RSS defied the ban and thousands participated in Satyagraha against the ban and against the violation of human rights regulations. Later, when there was no letup, volunteers of the RSS formed underground movements for the restoration of democracy. Literature that was censored in the media was clandestinely published and distributed on a large scale, and funds were collected for the movement. Networks were established between leaders of different political parties in the jail and outside for the coordination of the movement.[101] It said that the movement was "dominated by tens of thousands of RSS cadres, though more and more young recruits are coming". Talking about its objectives, it said, "its platform at the moment has only one plank: to bring democracy back to India".[102] The Emergency was lifted in 1977, and as a consequence the ban on the RSS was also lifted.

Participation in land reforms

It has been noted that the RSS volunteers participated in the Bhoodan movement organised by Gandhian leader Vinobha Bhave, who had met RSS leader Golwalkar in Meerut in November 1951. Golwalkar had been inspired by the movement that encouraged land reform through voluntary means. He pledged the support of the RSS for this movement.[103] Consequently, many RSS volunteers, led by Nanaji Deshmukh, participated in the movement.[1] But Golwalkar was also critical of the Bhoodan movement on other occasions for being reactionary and for working "merely with a view to counteracting Communism". He believed that the movement should inculcate a faith in the masses that would make them rise above the base appeal of Communism.[104]


An RSS volunteer taking the oath dressed in an earlier uniform

RSS does not have any formal membership. According to the official website, anyone can become a member by joining the nearest shakha, which is the basic unit.[105] Although the RSS claims not to keep membership records, it is estimated to have 2.5 to 6.0 million members.[106] The number of shakhas stood at 51,335 in August 2015.[107]


The Sarsanghchalak is the head of the RSS organisation; the position is decided through nomination by the predecessor. Until October 2015, RSS leadership was always from the upper caste, primarily Brahmin.[108][109] The individuals who have held the post of Sarsanghchalak in this organisation are:


Sangh shakha at Nagpur headquarters

The term shakha is Hindi for "branch". Most of the organisational work of the RSS is done through the coordination of the variousshakhas, or branches. These shakhas are run for one hour in public places. In 2004 more than 51,000 shakhas were run throughout India. The number of shakas had fallen by over 10,000 since the fall of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in 2004. However, by mid-2014, the number had again increased to about 40,000 after the return of BJP to power in Delhi in the same year.[110][111][112]

The shakhas conduct various activities for its volunteers such as physical fitness through yoga, exercises, and games, and activities that encourage civic awareness, social service, community living, and patriotism.[113] Volunteers are trained in first aid and in rescue and rehabilitation operations, and are encouraged to become involved in community development.[113][114]

Most of the shakhas are located in the Hindi-speaking regions. As of 2016 Delhi had 1,898 shakhas.[115] There are more than 8,000 shakhas in UP, 5,000+ in Kerala, 4,000 in Maharashtra, and around 1,000 in Gujarat.[116] In northeast India, there are more than 1,000 shakhas, including 903 in Assam, 107 in Manipur, 36 in Arunachal, and 4 in Nagaland.[117][118] In Punjab, there are more than 900 shakhas as of 2016.[119] As of late 2015 there were a total of 1,421 shakhas in Bihar,[120] 4,870 in Rajasthan,[121] 1,252 in Uttarakhand,[122] and 1,492 in West Bengal.[123] There are close to 500 shakhas in Jammu and Kashmir,[124] 130 in Tripura, and 46 in Meghalaya.[125]


Golwalkar describes the mission of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as the revitalisation of the Indian value system based on universalism and peace and prosperity to all.[104] Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the worldview that the whole world is one family, propounded by the ancient thinkers of India, is considered as one of the ideologies of the organisation.[126]

But the immediate focus, the leaders believe, is on the Hindu renaissance, which would build an egalitarian society and a strong India that could propound this philosophy. Hence, the focus is on social reform, economic upliftment of the downtrodden, and the protection of the cultural diversity of the natives in India.[126] The organisation says it aspires to unite all Hindus and build a strong India that can contribute to the welfare of the world. In the words of RSS ideologue and the second head of the RSS, Golwalkar, "in order to be able to contribute our unique knowledge to mankind, in order to be able to live and strive for the unity and welfare of the world, we stand before the world as a self-confident, resurgent and mighty nation".[104]

In Vichardhara (ideology), Golwalkar affirms the RSS mission of integration as:[104]

RSS has been making determined efforts to inculcate in our people the burning devotion for Bharat and its national ethos; kindle in them the spirit of dedication and sterling qualities and character; rouse social consciousness, mutual good-will, love and cooperation among them all; to make them realise that casts, creeds and languages are secondary and that service to the nation is the supreme end and to mold their behaviour accordingly; instill in them a sense of true humility and discipline and train their bodies to be strong and robust so as to shoulder any social responsibility; and thus to create all-round Anushasana in all walks of life and build together all our people into a unified harmonious national whole, extending from Himalayas to Kanyakumari.

Golwalkar and Balasaheb Deoras, the second and third supreme leaders of the RSS, spoke against the caste system, though they did not support its abolition.[127]

Golwalkar also explains that RSS does not intend to compete in electioneering politics or share power. The movement considers Hindus as inclusive of Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, tribals, untouchables, Veerashaivism, Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission, and other groups as a community, a view similar to the inclusive referencing of the term Hindu in the Indian Constitution Article 25 (2)(b).[128][129][130]

When it came to non-Hindu religions, the view of Golwalkar (who once supported Hitler's creation of a supreme race by suppression of minorities)[131] on minorities was that of extreme intolerance. In a 1998 magazine article, some RSS and BJP members were been said to have distanced themselves from Golwalkar's views, though not entirely.[132]

The non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and languages, must learn and respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but of those of glorification of the Hindu race and a word they must cease to be foreigners; Or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizens' rights.

Affiliated organisations

Organisations that are inspired by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's ideology refer to themselves as members of the Sangh Parivar.[106] In most cases, pracharaks (full-time volunteers of the RSS) were deputed to start up and manage these organisations in their initial years.
The affiliated organisations include:[134]

Other Hindu organisations are also inspired by RSS's philosophy.[clarification needed]

Although RSS has never directly contested elections, it supports parties that are similar ideologically. Although RSS generally endorses the BJP, it has at times refused to do so due to difference of opinion with the party.

The volunteers of the RSS have also held prominent political and administrative positions in India, including the Prime Minister of India, the Vice President of India, the Home Minister and Ministers in the Central Government, Governors and Chief Ministers of various states, and the members of elected bodies at the state and national level, and the Indian ambassador to the US.[140][141][142]

Social service and reform

The RSS has advocated the training of Dalits and other backward classes as temple high priests (a position traditionally reserved for Caste Brahmins and denied to lower castes). They argue that the social divisiveness of the caste system is responsible for the lack of adherence to Hindu values and traditions, and that reaching out to the lower castes in this manner will be a remedy to the problem.[143] The RSS has also condemned upper-caste Hindus for preventing Dalits from worshipping at temples, saying that "even God will desert the temple in which Dalits cannot enter".[144]

Jaffrelot says that "there is insufficient data available to carry out a statistical analysis of social origins of the early RSS leaders" but goes on to conclude that, based on some known profiles, most of the RSS founders and its leading organisers, with a few exceptions, were Maharashtrian Brahmins from the middle or lower class[145] and argues that the pervasiveness of the Brahminical ethic in the organisation was probably the main reason why it failed to attract support from the low castes. He argues that the "RSS resorted to instrumentalist techniques of ethno-religious mobilisation—in which its Brahminism was diluted—to overcome this handicap".[146] However, Anderson and Damle (1987) find that members of all castes have been welcomed into the organisation and are treated as equals.[1]

During a visit in 1934 to an RSS camp at Wardha accompanied by Mahadev Desai and Mirabehn, Mahatma Gandhi said, "When I visited the RSS Camp, I was very much surprised by your discipline and absence of untouchablity." He personally inquired about this to Swayamsevaks and found that volunteers were living and eating together in the camp without bothering to know each others' castes.[147]

Since 2005, the RSS’s health wing launched a programme to produce “customised” and “perfect” children.[148]

Relief and rehabilitation

The RSS was instrumental in relief efforts after the 1971 Orissa Cyclone, 1977 Andhra Pradesh Cyclone[149] and in the 1984 Bhopal disaster.[150][151] It assisted in relief efforts during the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, and helped rebuild villages.[149][152] Approximately 35,000 RSS members in uniform were engaged in the relief efforts,[153] and many of their critics acknowledged their role.[154] An RSS-affiliated NGO, Seva Bharati, conducted relief operations in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Activities included building shelters for the victims and providing food, clothes, and medical necessities.[155] The RSS assisted relief efforts during the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake and the subsequent tsunami.[156] Seva Bharati also adopted 57 children (38 Muslims and 19 Hindus) from militancy affected areas of Jammu and Kashmir to provide them education at least up to Higher Secondary level.[157][158] They also took care of victims of the Kargil War of 1999.[159]

In 2006 RSS participated in relief efforts to provide basic necessities such as food, milk, and potable water to the people of Surat, Gujarat, who were affected by floods in the region.[160][non-primary source needed] The RSS volunteers carried out relief and rehabilitation work after the floods affected North Karnataka and some districts of the state of Andhra Pradesh.[161] In 2013, following the Uttarakhand floods, RSS volunteers were involved in flood relief work through its offices set up at affected areas.[162][163]

Court rulings on RSS

'The Hindu' and others v. RSS

The case revolved around the RSS suit of defamation for the publication by The Hindu of statements made by the Indian National Congress politician Arjun Singh in a speech on 9 August 2004.[164] In his 7 May 2012 ruling at the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Justice Mehinder Singh Suller notes that the speech was published by several national newspapers and that The Hindu published it as follows:

The Human Resource Development Minister, Arjun Singh, today asked the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, to cleanse the administration of people owing allegiance to the RSS, an organization he accused of being responsible for the killing of Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi. "Our first duty is that the fascist forces of the RSS should be detected. Today, Government administration is in grip of the RSS, we have to cleanse it," he said at the National Convention on Secularism here. The veteran Congress leader, who removed academicians close to the BJP and the RSS from panels drafting textbooks for schools, said the RSS had a strong hold on administration as "men having sympathies with the Sangh Parivar" were appointed (by the previous Government) on key positions. "If an institution's biggest achievement was killing of (Mahatma) Gandhi (then) you can expect what national purpose it can serve," he said (and) called for "exposing the RSS-men" in the Government. "Not one but there are hundred different fronts of the RSS. They are getting crores of rupees from within and outside the country. The previous Government allowed foreign money to come in but now this web has to be broken. People should know for what purpose the money was used for." Mr. Singh said. The Minister hoped that "the Prime Minister will take definitive action in this regard."[165]

In its judgment the court cleared the publishers under the protections granted in Article 19(1)(a) (freedom of speech and expression) of the Constitution of India for accurately reproducing statements made at a public event. The court also noted various reasons for why it felt that the RSS had unfairly singled out only The Hindu in its complaint. The court observed that the complaint was filed with "mala fide intention, vexatiously and in order to wreak vengeance" and discharged the newspaper from the defamation complaint.[165]

The State of Madhya Pradesh v. Ramshanker Raghuvanshi

Many cases have been reported in post-independence India where RSS volunteers have been discriminated against by the government due to their allegiance to the RSS.[166] In a court case of a teacher who was dismissed from service due to his past links with the RSS, the Supreme Court of India called the government's action "McCarthyism" and a "violation of fundamental rights".[167][168][169]

A municipal school teacher, Ramshanker Raghuvanshi, was dismissed by the Congress government of Madhya Pradesh in 1974, which stated that he had taken "part in the RSS" activities and thus may have been "not a fit person to be entertained in Government service". The Supreme Court dismissed the arguments of the government and stated that the government had not adhered to the provisions of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court bench consisting of Justice Syed Murtuza Fazalali and Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy observed that "India is not a police state" and pleaded that the "promise of fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution not become a forgotten chapter of history". Delivering the judgment, the Court claimed that it believes "seeking a police report on a person's political faith", in the first place, "amounted to the violation of fundamental rights". The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the municipal teacher and ordered his reinstatement.[167][168][169]

State of Karnataka v. Ranganathacharya Agnihotri

Similar decisions have been handed down by the High courts of the various states of India in cases of political persecution of RSS volunteers.[166] One case involved Ranganathacharya Agnihotri, who was selected for the post of Munsiff but was not absorbed into service at least partially because he had been a volunteer in the RSS in the past. When Agnihotri approached the then High Court of Mysore (now Karnataka High Court), he was reinstated. The Court said:

Prima facie the RSS is a non-political cultural organisation without any hatred or ill will towards non-Hindus and that many eminent and respected persons in the country have not hesitated to preside over the functions or appreciate the work of its volunteers. In a country like ours which has accepted the democratic way of life (as ensured by the Constitution), it would not be within reason to accept the proposition that mere membership of such peaceful or non-violent association and participation in activities thereof, will render a person (in whose character and antecedents there are no other defects) unsuitable to be appointed to the post of a Munsiff.

Darshan Lal Jain v. C. R. Irani and others

On 15 January 2000 The Statesman carried a story about the RSS that depicted the RSS as the killer of Gandhi.[170] Subsequently, the Delhi unit of the RSS filed a criminal case of defamation against the author of the article, A. G. Noorani, along with the cartoonist and the managing director of the publishing house. When two of the accused did not respond to the Court summons, non-bailable warrants were issued in their name by the Court.[171] On 25 February 2002 Noorani wrote an unconditional apology to the court in which he regretted writing the defamatory article against the RSS. On 3 March 2002 The Statesman also published an apology regretting the publication of the article.[172][173]


The RSS has been banned in India thrice, during periods in which the government of the time considered them a threat to the state: in 1948 after Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, during the Emergency (1975–77), and after the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition. The bans were subsequently lifted, in 1949 after the RSS was absolved of charges in the Gandhi murder case, in 1977 as a result of the Emergency being revoked, and in 1993 when no evidence of any unlawful activity was found by the tribunal constituted under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.[174]


Field Marshal Cariappa in his speech to RSS volunteers said "RSS is my heart's work. My dear young men, don't be disturbed by uncharitable comments of interested persons. Look ahead! Go ahead! The country is standing in need of your services."[175]

Zakir Hussain, former President of India, told Milad Mehfil in Monghyar on 20 November 1949, "The allegations against RSS of violence and hatred against Muslims are wholly false. Muslims should learn the lesson of mutual love, cooperation and organisation from RSS."[176][177]

Gandhian leader and the leader of Sarvoday movement, Jayaprakash Narayan, who earlier had been a vocal opponent of RSS, had the following to say about it in 1977:

RSS is a revolutionary organisation. No other organisation in the country comes anywhere near it. It alone has the capacity to transform society, end casteism and wipe the tears from the eyes of the poor.

He further added, "I have great expectations from this revolutionary organisation which has taken up the challenge of creating a new India."[100]

Criticisms and accusations

Jaffrelot observes that although the RSS with its paramilitary style of functioning and its emphasis on discipline has sometimes been seen by some as "an Indian version of fascism",[178] he argues that "RSS's ideology treats society as an organism with a secular spirit, which is implanted not so much in the race as in a socio-cultural system and which will be regenerated over the course of time by patient work at the grassroots. He writes that ideology of the RSS did not develop a theory of the state and the race, a crucial element in European nationalisms: Nazism and Fascism"[178] and that the RSS leaders were interested in cultural as opposed to racial sameness.[179]

The likening of the Sangh Parivar to fascism by Western critics has also been countered by Jyotirmaya Sharma, who labelled it as an attempt by them to "make sense of the growth of extremist politics and intolerance within their society," and that such "simplistic transference" has done great injustice to our knowledge of Hindu nationalist politics.[180]

RSS has been criticised as an extremist organisation and as a paramilitary group.[2][3][6] It has also been criticised when its members have participated in anti-Muslim violence;[181] it has since formed[clarification needed] a militant wing called the Bajrang Dal.[19][182] Along with other extremist organisations, the RSS has been involved in riots, often inciting and organising violence against Christians[183] and Muslims.[5]

Involvement with riots

The RSS has been censured for its involvement in communal riots.

After giving careful and serious consideration to all the materials that are on record,the Commission is of the view that the RSS with its extensive organisation in jamshedpur and which had close links with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh had a positive hand in creating a climate which was most propitious for the outbreak of communal disturbances. In the first instance, the speech of Shri Deoras (delivered just five days before the Ram Navami festival) tended to encourage the Hindu extremists to be unyielding in their demands regarding Road No. 14. Secondly, his speech amounted to communal propaganda. Thirdly, the shakhas and the camps that were held during the divisional conference presented a militant atmosphere to the Hindu public. In the circumstances, the commission cannot but hold the RSS responsible for creating a climate for the disturbances that took place on the 11th of April, 1979

— Jitendra Narayan in a report on Jamshedpur riots of 1979[184][185]

Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organisation for human rights based in New York, has claimed that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, VHP), the Bajrang Dal, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and the BJP have been party to the Gujarat violence that erupted after the Godhra train burning.[186] Local VHP, BJP, and BD leaders have been named in many police reports filed by eyewitnesses.[187] RSS and VHP claimed that they made appeals to put an end to the violence and that they asked their supporters and volunteer staff to prevent any activity that might disrupt peace.[188][189]

Religious violence in Odisha

Christian groups accuse the RSS alongside its close affiliates, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal (BD), and the Hindu Jagaran Sammukhya (HJS), of participation in the 2008 religious violence in Odisha.[190]

Involvement in the Babri Masjid demolition

According to the report of the Liberhan Commission, the Sangh Parivar organised the destruction of the Babri Mosque.[181][191] The Commission said: "The blame or the credit for the entire temple construction movement at Ayodhya must necessarily be attributed to the Sangh Parivar."[clarification needed][192] It also noted that the Sangh Parivar is an "extensive and widespread organic body" that encompasses organisations that address and bring together just about every type of social, professional, and other demographic grouping of individuals.

Each time, a new demographic group has emerged, the Sangh Parivar has hived off some of its RSS inner-core leadership to harness that group and bring it within the fold, enhancing the voter base of the Parivar.[193]

The RSS has denied responsibility and questioned the objectivity of the report. Former RSS chief K. S. Sudarshan alleged that the mosque had been demolished by government men as opposed to the Karsevaks.[194] On the other hand, a government of India white paper dismissed the idea that the demolition was pre-organised.[195]



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