By Devesh Samaiya:
I am 27 years old, well into my prime. Some say age is just a number but fortunately for me, with this number comes numerous life experiences and among them comes the Sangh.
I was introduced to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) when I was a paltry boy of 11, looking for means to pass my evenings. From the age of 11 to 21, I was a member of the Sangh, and I am still in touch with many of my fellow Swayamsevak friends of that time.
I have observed that a majority in India don’t have a clear picture of what actually RSS is and what they do. For them, the Sangh is an organization they have heard about from TV news, newspapers and heated discussions. Most of us, who are not directly involved with RSS, think of it as a Hindu organization, just like the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP).
As an insider for 10 years and a spectator closely following its activities, I assume that I can give an unbiased insider’s perspective of what RSS actually is, and what the advantages and disadvantages of being an RSS member are.
The Sangh is the single largest volunteer organization in the world with over 50 lakh volunteers (called ‘swayamsevaks’). Attending the Sangh’s ‘Shakha’ is joyful in many ways, they teach you some very useful life skills. It ensures physical fitness, teaches niyudh (a form of martial arts), musical instruments and even helps you with your school studies. The Shakha disciplines you, teaches leadership skills from an early age, and makes you confident by improving your inter-personal skills. Overall it’s a free personality training jackpot.
When I was an active member of RSS, I learnt that it is easy to make new friends. The Shakha converted a shy boy into a confident and motivated man. I used to enjoy it a lot as it was helping me in my physical fitness, teaching me new skills, and helping me improve in my studies.
But at the same time, after spending some time off RSS, I observed the dark threads woven into the fabric of RSS. They make you very rigid in your thinking. I also observed those who were actively involved with the RSS were comparatively less tolerant. Sadly, I remember how we used to celebrate 6th of December (Babri Masjid demolition) as a festival; it was called Shaurya Diwas (a day of pride). We used to hear a lot of stories about how some brave swayamsevaks demolished Babri Mashjid in Ayodhya, and we were even shown a video.
We used to hear stories of how Christian missionaries were converting ‘our’ people to Christianity and I used to take part in public meetings where we used to work against it. They use the passion of a child to convince him into doing something he may not do otherwise. I was convinced during those days that if I do 10-20 japas (chants) of Ram naam daily, it would help create a positive environment for building a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. There was a time in my life when I used to write ‘Jai Shree Ram (Hail Lord Rama)’ in every book of mine.
I was also convinced that celebrating 15th August as Independence Day was not a good idea because India was partitioned that day, as a child I was very influenced by these Ideas. There was also a constant pressure to attend the training programs of the Sangh.
The RSS makes you a hard core deshbhakt for sure and it is good for the country, but at the same time it reduces your tolerance for other religions and ideologies. I am thankful to RSS for giving me life skills that helped me throughout my life, but after leaving my hometown, I saw that India is very different from what the RSS’s idea of India is.
I saw India as a melting pot, a pot of an interesting mix of people which make the country what it is. There is no harm in following your religion with all the faith you can muster, there is no harm in doing Ram naam japa, but in a country like India, it is unwarranted to make people less tolerant towards other religion.
The RSS has given many great leaders to India like Atal Bihari Bajpai and Narendra Modi. I have tried to communicate both good and bad aspect of the Sangh as an insider, pitting the positive against the negative. I leave it to the wisdom of the readers to arrive at their own conclusion of what the Sangh is and is not.