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How RSS inspired a young widow to build an all-women’s organisation across India

In 1936, RSS founder KB Hedgewar inspired educationist Lakshmi Bai Kelkar, with the Sangh’s ideology, resulting in the Rashtra Sevika Samiti. Today it runs parallel to the RSS.

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New Delhi: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), arguably the largest voluntary organisation in the world, has often been targeted by its detractors on the issue of its worldview about women.

But contrary to the stereotypes nurtured by its critics since its inception, the RSS is not a patriarchal organisation.

In 1936, RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar inspired educationist Lakshmi Bai Kelkar, who was a young widow, with its ideology, leading to the formation of an all-women organisation called the Rashtra Sevika Samiti.

In The RSS Roadmaps for 21st Century (Rupa Publications, 2019), senior RSS pracharak Sunil Ambekar wrote, “The fact that during an age of rampant social conservatism riddled with normative assumptions, Doctorji (Hedgewar) was a firm believer in the intellectual capabilities of women, shows his open-mindedness.”

He added, “At that time, to hold several rounds of conversations with a widowed woman about starting a parallel women-only organisation was out of the ordinary. Doctor ji explained the Sangh’s beliefs, methods, objectives and other technical details to Mausi Kelkar (Lakshmi Bai Kelkar). As a result Sevika Samiti was formed after adopting the form and content of the Sangh for women.”

Today, the Samiti has its own full-time workers, daily shakhas and holds various activities across two dozen countries around the world.

While the Samiti’s structure is fairly similar to the RSS, its activities are different. Since its formation, it has developed its own methodology to engage with women.

Just as the RSS has full-time workers known as pracharaks, the Samiti also has ‘pracharikas’. There are short-time workers too, who work for the Samiti for a period of two years.

The Samiti also has a uniform and holds training camps for its cadres — first-year, second-year and third-year. The duration of each camp is around 15 days, which are held annually in May-June.

According to the Samiti’s records, over 10,000 women attend these camps across the country annually. The first such camp was held in 1939. During the Samiti’s 80th year celebrations in 2016, its training camp was attended by 3,000 sevikas (volunteers).

The work of the Nagpur-headquartered organisation has reached every sub-division in the country, with around 5,000 shakhas and 900 welfare projects.

According to its documents, the samiti focuses on Hindu women’s role in the society as leaders and agents of positive social reform, and teaches them three ideals: matrutva (universal motherhood), kartrutva (efficiency and social activism) and netrutva (leadership).

Also read: India has one DNA and it is Hindu, says RSS

Samiti’s journey

The growth of Rashtra Sevika Samiti is synonymous with the journey of its founder Lakshmi Bai Kelkar, who was born on 6 July 1905, and is known by her followers as ‘Mausi ji’.

Widowed at the age of 27, when she was the mother of a young girl, Kelkar often worried about where to educate her daughter. She was so committed to this cause that she decided to set up a school for educating girls. Named Kesarimal Kanya Vidyalaya, the school is still functional.

She then met RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar, who had founded the Sangh in 1925, and held several rounds of discussions with him. Following this, she started the organisation and dedicated herself to build a nationwide organisational network.

As the first head of the organisation, she was called Pramukh Sanchalika. She retained the title until her death in 1978.

Currently, Shanta Kumari — a postgraduate in mathematics with an M.Ed degree — holds the title. She worked as a teacher in Bharateeya Vidya Bhawan in Bengaluru before taking voluntary retirement in 1995 to devote full time for the organisational work.

According to a senior functionary of the Samiti who didn’t wish to be named, the organisation is now focusing on expanding its base in adolescents, especially college students.

A separate wing, ‘Taruni Vibhag’, has been set up to engage with the younger girls and women. The results have been quite encouraging, said the Samiti functionary. “We foresee a rapid expansion in our activities amongst adolescents and the youth in days to come,” she added.

The writer is research director with a Delhi-based think-tank Vichar Vinimay Kendra. He has authored two books on RSS. Views expressed are personal.

Also read: ‘Akhand Bharat’ possible through ‘Hindu Dharma’ but not through force, says RSS chief


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  1. Without RSS these congress and Leftists must have converted India in to another Islamic country.

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