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The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ( , ), also known as the Sangh or the RSS, is a volunteer organization in Indiamarker. It was founded by Dr. K. B. Hedgewar, a doctor from Nagpurmarker, as a cultural organisation in pre-independent India, with the aim of forming an organization to provide social services for the betterment of India..

The volunteers of the RSS participated in various political and social movements including the freedom movement, the Bhoodan, the Sarvoday and the movement for the restoration of democracy in India. The RSS volunteers are also known for their role in the relief and rehabilitation work during natural calamities and for running more than one lakh service programs in education, health care, rural development, tribal emancipation, self sufficient villages and rehabilitation of lepers and special needs children etc..

Of late, 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 the national level and also the Indian ambassador to the US.

Some critics have referred to the RSS as a Hindu nationalist organisation. Many have also accused it of supporting militancy, which the RSS has vehemently denied and protested, often going to the extent of suing them in the court of law.. Accusations have led to the RSS being banned thrice by the Government of India but it has been acquitted each time due to lack of evidence.. The RSS has been censured for its involvement in communal riots in at least six reports by Judges who presided over commissions of inquiry; to wit, the .Jaganmohan Reddy report on the Ahmedabad riots 1969; the D.P. Madon report on the Bhiwandi riots in 1970; the Vithayathil report on the Tellicherry riots in 1971; the .Jitendra Narain report on the Jamshedpur riots in 1979; the P. Venugopal report on the Kanyakumari riots of 1982; and the report on the Bhagalpur riots in 1989


RSS was founded in 1925 by Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, a doctor from the central Indian city of Nagpurmarker. Hedgewar as a medical student in Kolkatamarker had been a part of the revolutionary activities of the Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar striving to free India from British rule. He had been charged with sedition in 1921 by the British Administration and was imprisoned for a year. After returning to Nagpur, he was briefly a member of Indian National Congress before he left it in 1925, to form the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. After the formation of the RSS, Hedgewar kept the organization from having any direct affiliation with any of the political organisations then fighting British rule. But Hedgewar and teams of volunteers, took part in the Indian National Congress, led movements against the British rule. Hedgewar was arrested in the Jungle Satyagraha agitation in 1931 and served a second term in prison.

The RSS was established as a educational body whose objective was to train a group of Hindus, who on the basis of their character would work to unite the Hindu community so that India could become an Independent country and a creative society.

Activities during partition

A rare photograph taken at the RSS meeting in 1939.
By that time RSS had already gained an all India presence

The Partition of India was a very traumatic event in the young nation's history with millions of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims, attempting to escape the violence and carnage that followed. Before and during partition, RSS planned and executed major attacks on minority groups in areas under its influence. These attacks and counterattacks killed thousands of people and cemented the public’s view regarding the two nation theory.

Noted Gandhian and recipient of the highest civilian award in India, Bharat Ratna, Dr. 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 Nehru Administration in Delhi

Gandhi's assassination, the ban and the acquital

Following Mahatma Gandhi's assassination in 1948 by former member of the RSS Nathuram Godse, many prominent leaders of the RSS were arrested and RSS as an organization was banned on February 4, 1948. Godse's connection with the RSS was investigated. Justice Kapur Commission setup to look into the conspiracy to murder Mahatma Gandhi noted the following

RSS Leaders were acquitted of the conspiracy charge by the Supreme Court of Indiamarker and following an intervention by the Court, the Indian Government agreed to lift the ban with condition that the RSS adopt a formal constitution. The second Sarsanghachalak, Golwalkar drafted the constitution for the RSS which he sent to the government in March 1949. In July of the same year, after many negotiations over the constitution and its acceptance, the ban on RSS was lifted.

Liberation of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Goa

After the Independence of India, many organizations including the RSS aspired to liberate Dadra and Nagar Havelimarker from Portuguese occupation. In early 1954, volunteers Raja Wakankar and Nana Kajrekar of the RSS visited the area round about Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman several times to study the topography and also to get acquainted with the local workers who were agitating for the liberation. In April 1954, the RSS formed a coalition with the National Movement Liberation Organization (NMLO), the and Azad Gomantak Dal (AGD) for the liberation of Dadra and Nagar Haveli. 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 as free. Subsequently on 28 July, volunteer teams of the RSS and AGD captured the territories of Naroli and Phiparia and ultimately the capital of Silvassa. The Portuguese forces which escaped and moved towards Nagar Haveli, were assaulted at Khandvel and were forced to retreat till they surrendered to the Indian border police at Udava on 11 August 1954. A native administration was setup with Appasaheb Karmalkar of NMLO as the Administrator of Dadra and Nagar Haveli on 11 August 1954.

The liberation of Dadra and Nagar Haveli gave a boost to the freedom movement against the Portuguese in Goa. In 1955, RSS leaders demanded the end of Portuguese rule in Goa and its integration into India. When Prime Minister of India, Jawahar Lal Nehru refused to obtain it by armed intervention, RSS leader Jagannath Rao Joshi led the satyagraha agitation straight into Goa itself. He was imprisoned with his followers by the Portuguese police. The peaceful protests continued but met with severe repressions. On the 15th August 1955, the Portuguese police opened fire on the satyagrahis, killing thirty or so people.

Role during the 1962 Sino-Indian War

The RSS which had been keeping low profile after the lifting of the ban, earned recognition based on its volunteer work during the Sino Indian war in 1962. RSS was invited by prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to take part in the Indian Republic day parade of 1963. It along with several other civilian organizations took part in the parade. This event helped the RSS increase its popularity and its patriotic image.

Later in 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars too, the RSS volunteers offered their services to maintain law and order of the country and were apparently the first to donate blood.

Movement for the restoration of democracy

In 1975, the Indian Government under the Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, proclaimed emergency rule in India, thereby suspending the fundamental rights and curtailing the rights of the press. This extreme step was taken after the Supreme Court of India, cancelled her election to the Indian Parliament on charges of malpractices in the election. The democratic institutions were kept under suspended animation and prominent opposition leaders including Gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan, were arrested and thousands of people were detained without any charges being framed against them. RSS, which was seen close to opposition leaders, and with its large organizational base was seen to have potential of organizing protests against the Government, was also banned. Police clamped down on the organization and thousands of its workers were imprisoned.

The RSS defied the ban and thousands participated in Satyagraha (peaceful protests) against the ban and against the curtailment of fundamental rights. Later, when there was no letup, the 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.'The Economist', London, described the movement as "the only non-left revolutionary force in the world". 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". The Emergency was lifted in 1977 and as a consequence the ban on the RSS too was lifted.

Participation in land reforms

It has been noted that the RSS volunteers participated in the Bhoodan movement organized by Gandhian leader Vinobha Bhave. Vinobha Bhave had met the RSS leader M. S. Golwalkar in Meerutmarker in November 1951. Golwalkar had been inspired by the movement that encouraged land reforms through voluntary means. He pledged the support of the RSS for this movement. Consequently, many RSS volunteers led by Nanaji Deshmukh participated in the movement.. But Golwalkar has also been 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 right and positive faith in the masses that can make them rise above the base appeal of Communism.


Although the RSS claims not to keep membership records, it is estimated that the organization has between 2.5–6 million members.


The Sarsanghchalak ( ) is the head of the RSS organization. The individuals who have been Sarsanghchalaks are:

The position is decided by nomination by predecessor. The current Sarsanghachalak of RSS is Dr. Mohan Madhukar Bhagwat.


"Shakha" means "branch" in English.Most of the organizational work of the RSS is done through the coordination of shakhas or branches. These shakhas are run for 1 hour in public places. In 2004, more than 60,000 shakhas were run throughout India..

The Shakhas conduct various activities for its volunteers which include physical fitness activities through yoga, exercises and games. It has other activities which emphasize on qualities like civic sense, social service, community living and patriotism. The volunteers are trained in first aid and in rescue and rehabilitation operations. The volunteers are also encouraged to get involved in the developmental activities of the village or locality.


The mission of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has been described as the revitalization of Indian value system based on universalism and peace and prosperity to all. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the worldview that the whole world is one family, propounded by the ancient thinkers of India, is considered as the ultimate mission of the organization.

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 cultural diversity of the natives in India. The organization says, it aspires to unite all Hindus and build a strong India, which could contribute to the welfare of the world. In the words of RSS ideologue and the second head of the RSS, M S 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".

In Vichardhara ( ), M S Golwalkar, affirms the RSS mission of integration as:

Golwalkar also explains that RSS does not intend to compete in electioneering politics or share power. He asserts that there is no place in RSS for any hatred or opposition towards any particular caste, creed or party.

Christopher Jaffrelot opines that RSS's objective has been the establishment of a Hindu nation in India and that its two-fold objective was to propagate the Hindutva ideology and infuse physical strength to the Hindu Community.

Sangh Parivar

Organizations which are inspired by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's ideology refer themselves as the members of the Sangh Parivar.In most of the cases, pracharaks (full-time volunteers of the RSS) were deputed to start and manage these organizations. The organizations within the Sangh include the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Vidya Bharati, Sewa Bharati and many others spread in all parts of society. Numerous other Hindutva organizations take inspiration from the RSS's philosophy.

RSS has never directly contested elections, but supports parties that are ideologically similar. RSS endorses the Bharatiya Janata Party, yet at times had refused to do so due to difference of opinion with the party..

Social reform

First aid centre by RSS volunteers, Gujarat earthquake 2001
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 reaching out to the lower castes in this manner will be a remedy to the problem. 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"

Christophe Jaffrelot finds that "there is insuficient data available to carry out a statistical analysis of social origins of the early RSS leaders" but goes on to conclude, based on some known profiles that most of the RSS founders and its leading organisers, with exceptions were Maharashtrian Brahmins from middle or lower class 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." However Anderson and Damle 1987, find that members of all castes have been welcomed into the organisation and are treated as equals.

During M.K.Gandhi's visit to RSS Camp accompanied by Mahadev Desai and Mirabehn at Wardhamarker in 1934, he was surprised by the discipline and the absence of untouchability in RSS and commented "When i visited the RSS Camp. I was very much surprised by your discipline and absence of untouchablity ". He personally inquired to Swayamsevaks and found that they were living and eating together in the camp without bothering to know their castes.

Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar while visiting the RSS camp at Pune in 1939 observed that Swayamsevaks were moving in absolute equality and brotherhood without even caring to know the cast of others. In his address to the Swayamsevaks, he said that " This is the first time that I am visiting the camp of Sangh volunters. I am happy to find absolute equality between Savarniyas (Upper cast) and Harijans (Lower cast) without any one being aware of such difference existing." When he asked Dr Hedgewar whether there were any untouchables in the camp, he replied that there are neither "touchables" nor "untouchables" but only Hindus.

Relief and rehabilitation

Natural calamities

RSS has participated in many relief activities during natural calamities. For instance, in the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, Indian newsmagazine Outlook's reporter Saba Naqvi Bhaumik reported that:

India-Today, reported in its Feb. 12, 2001 issue that

The RSS assisted in relief efforts quite extensively during the 2001 Gujarat earthquakemarker. They helped rebuild villages. They "earned kudos" from many varied agencies and sources for their actions.

This is a long and continuous tradition with the RSS. The RSS was instrumental in relief efforts after the 1971 Orissa Cyclone and the 1977 Andhra Pradesh Cyclone.
RSS volunteers helping victims of the flood in AndhraPradesh 2009

The RSS has also participated in relief efforts in the Indianmarker State of Kashmirmarker, which has been besieged by terrorism (see Terrorism in Kashmir). An RSS-affiliated NGO, Seva Bharati, has adopted 100 children, most of them Muslims, from militancy affected areas of the region to provide them education at least up to Higher Secondary level.They have also taken care of many victims of the Kargil War of 1999.

Seva Bharati conducted relief operations in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquakemarker. Activities included building shelters for the victims, providing food, clothes and medical necessities.. The RSS assisted relief efforts during the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquakemarker and the subsequent Tsunami..

In 2006, RSS participated in relief efforts to provide basic necessities such as food, milk and potable water to the people of Suratmarker, Gujaratmarker who were affected by massive floods in the region.

The RSS volunteers carried out massive relief and rehabilitation work after the floods ravaged North Karnatakamarker and some districts of the state of Andhra Pradeshmarker.

Protection of Sikhs during anti-Sikh riot 1984

Khushwant Singh, credits members of the RSS with helping and protecting Sikhs who were being targeted by members of the Congress political party during the 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots. Singh who otherwise has been critical of the RSS and believes that it is a " communal organization and dangerous to the country's secular fabric" has said:

Discrimination against RSS volunteers

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 and its ideology. In a court case of a teacher who was dismissed from service due to his past links with the RSS, the Supreme Court labeled the government's action as "McCarthyism" and a "violation of fundamental rights".

A municipal school teacher, Ramshanker Raghuvanshi, was dismissed by the Congress government of Madhya Pradeshmarker in 1974, which stated that he had taken "part in the RSS" activities and hence was "not a fit person to be entertained in Government service". The Supreme Court dismissed the arguments of the government and said 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 landmark judgment, the Court observed that "seeking a police report on 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.

Similar observations were made by the High courts of different provinces of India in different cases of political persecution of RSS volunteers. One case involved Ranganathacharya Agnihotri, who was selected for the post of Munsiff but was not absorbed into service as he had been a volunteer of the RSS in his past. When Agnihotri approached the High Court of Mysore, he was reinstated. The Court observed:

The RSS also has been banned in India thrice, during periods in which the government of the time claimed that they were a threat to the state: in 1948 after Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, during the Emergency (1975-77), and after the 1992 Babri Masjidmarker 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 activities was found against it by the tribunal constituted under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.


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"

Dr Zakir Hussain the former President of Indiamarker once told to Milad Mehfil in Monghyar on November 20, 1949 "The allegations against RSS of violence and hatred against Muslims are wholly false. Muslim should learn the lesson of mutual love, cooperation and organization from RSS.

Noted Gandhian leader and the leader of Sarvoday movement, Jayaprakash Narayan, who earlier was a vocal opponent of RSS had the following to say about it in 1977"RSS is a revolutionary organization. No other organization 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 organization which has taken up the challenge of creating a new India"

Criticisms and accusations

The RSS on one hand has been accused of being a reactionary group of "Hindu fanatics" with "fascist tendencies; on the other hand has been seen as a cultural organisation dedicated to the revitalising of the moral and spiritual traditions of India". The Britannica Online, labels it as a "militant" Hindu organization.. Other allegations have been that it is a "right-wing religious movement" and that it is the core of a family of militant Hindu nationalist organizations..

Christopher Jaffrelot, the director of the Center for Studies and Research (CERI) 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.", he believes that the characteristic of the RSS's ideology has been to down-play the role of the state and hence it cannot be classified as a fascist movement. He further 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 elements in European nationalisms; Nazism and Fascism" and that the RSS leaders were interested in cultural unity rather than racial homogeneity.

The likening of Sangh Parivar to "fascism" by Western critics has been critiqued by Jyotirmaya Sharma 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.. Belgian scholar Dr Koenraad Elst, points out that such accusations have come mainly from the Marxist academia in India and abroad and that they are less driven by facts than by their ideological zeal. He also criticises the Hindu organisations for being "piecemeal" in their replies to such "polemical" accusations.

RSS along with its offshoot organizations Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajarang Dal (BD) stand accused of orchastrating the August 2008 anti-Christian riots in Orissa.

Defamation case against journalist for false allegations

On January 15, 2000, a daily, 'The Statesman' carried a story about the RSS by A G Noorani, which depicted the RSS as the killer of Gandhi. Subsequently the Delhi unit of the RSS filed a criminal case of defamation against 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. On February 25, 2002, Noorani wrote an unconditional apology to the court in which he regretted writing the defamatory article against the RSS. On March 3, 2002, 'The Statesman' also published an apology regretting the publication of the said article.




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