Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh

(est. 1925)
   The Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps) was for decades the most impor-tant organization advocating cultural and political HINDU NATIONALISM. It still wields influence and has been involved in a number of violent disputes with ethnic or religious minorities.
   The RSS was first formed in 1925, but the movement has its origins in the ideology of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who was convicted of murder-ing several British officials at the turn of the 20th century. Tilak had been influenced by the reform-ist goals of the reformer Rammohun ROY, but not by the liberal means that Roy championed.
   The RSS was formed as a cultural and social organization, whose goal was to transform India from a secular state into a Hindu nation. Some call it “Hindu fundamentalist,” but in actuality the ideology of Hindutva, or Hinduness, only relates to certain aspects of Hinduism. For example, while the RSS extols many of the achievements of the Indian past, its doctrines are not based on the four VEDAS, the most ancient Hindu sacred texts.
   The RSS has argued that India fell under British rule because it lacked discipline and aggressive-ness. It promotes a hypernationalistic, militaristic agenda seeking the expulsion of Muslims and the establishment of Hindu supremacy in India.
   RSS rejects the pluralism found in traditional Hinduism. Instead, it has a goal of creating a sin-gle Hindu doctrine for India. It also wants to elim-inate Islam and opposes Buddhism and JAINISM. It opposes preferences that the Indian government has extended to the lower CASTES; some of its sup-port can be attributed to a reaction by higher-caste Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh 361 J
   Hindus to the government’s equalization policy. In fact, its supporters generally are from the upper castes. While they criticize the distortions of the caste system (which they blame on Muslim influ-ence), critics believe they really want to return to a time when caste was rigidly enforced.
   RSS members conduct daily drills of martial arts wearing khaki uniforms, mimicking the Ital-ian and German fascists they have long admired. Their disciplined members are often the first to arrive at the site of natural disasters, a practice that earns them support. The women’s wing of the RSS is the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti; its structure is not unlike the male sections.
   The political wing of the RSS is the BHARATIYA JANATA PARTY. It was founded in 1951 on a plat-form of an undivided India and aimed to unify all Hindus under a single doctrine, whereas in the past Hindus have tolerated a wide diversity of thought, and has rejected what it sees as European influences on modern Hindu thought and prac-tice. At first it also rejected industrialization, but that orientation was eventually discarded.
   During the 1940s M. S. Golwalker transformed the RSS into the most powerful of all the national-ist movements in India. Their influence expanded over time through missionary work. In February 1983 the RSS was implicated with nationalists and local police in Assam in a massacre of Muslim immigrants. The rioters also killed local Hindus who coexisted with the Moslems.
   The RSS was also involved, along with the SHIV SENA movement and Bharatiya Janata Party, in the controversy that arose around the Babri Masjid Mosque in the Uttar Pradesh city of AYODHYA. This mosque was built in 1528 on a site that is believed to be the birthplace of RAMA, the AVATA R of VISHNU.
   As early as the 1940s RSS members managed to erect an image of Rama in the mosque. Later the government sealed off the mosque to try to dampen the dispute. In the 1980s, the RSS started to protest the very existence of the Babri Mosque. Lal Krishnan Advani, a leader of the VISHVA HINDU PARISHAD (another nationalist group) led the pro-tests; he was recently indicted for his role in the affair. The RSS protesters eventually attacked and destroyed the mosque in 1992. Nationwide com-munal riots resulted, in which 3,000 people were killed.
   Further reading: Gwilym Beckerlegge and Anthony Copley, eds., Saffron and Seva (Hinduism in Public and Private) (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); Chetan Bhatt, Hindu Nationalism: Origins, Ideologies, and Modern Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); Gerrie ter Haar and James J. Busuttil, eds., The Freedom to Do God’s Will: Religious Fundamentalism and Social Change (London: Routledge, 2003); Blom Thomas Hanson, The Saffron Way: Democracy and Nationalism in Modern India (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999); Santosh C. Saha, ed., Religious Fundamentalism in the Contemporary World: Critical Social and Political Issues (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2004); Santosh C. Saha and Thomas K. Carr, eds., Religious Fundamentalism in Developing Countries (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001); Peter van der Veer, Religious Nationalism, Hindus and Muslims in India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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