For a snapshot of how the all-male Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has kept its women’s wing relegated to a domestic role and away from all issues of gender justice, visit the three-day training camp of the Rashtra Sevika Samiti, which was inaugurated by the organisation’s chief, Mohan Bhagwat, at Chhatarpur in Delhi on Friday.

In his speech, Bhagwat made no mention of gender justice or self-choice for women, instead stressing on “matri shakti”, or woman power, and “kutumb prabodhan”, or the awakening of family values – showing that the women’s group has not been allowed to change even a bit by its male counterpart since its formation eight decades ago in 1936.

“Till India’s matri shakti turns active and comes forward, India will not be able to achieve its potential and pristine glory and act as a guiding force to the world,” Bhagwat told hundreds of sevikas, as the members are called, from across the country.

In his hour-long speech, the RSS chief made authoritative pronouncements on the woman’s central role of imparting sanskar (values) to children and, thereby, strengthening society and the nation. “Our kutumb vyavastha [family system] has caught the attention of the world,” he said.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat at the Rashtra Sevika Samiti training camp in Delhi on Friday.

This was the ideological position in 1936 too when Lakshmibai Kelkar set up the Rashtra Sevika Samiti, at the behest of RSS founder Dr KB Hedgewar. The group was, in fact, the first branch of the RSS, which now heads a parivar of members operating in different civil and political spheres.

Initially, Kelkar was not in favour of forming a separate front for women. She approached Hedgewar with a request to open the all-male RSS shakhas (branches) to women members. The RSS chief, however, was against this idea of joint shakhas, and as a compromise helped Kelkar set up the Rashtra Sevika Samiti.

But since the RSS has always focused on the mobilisation of chauvinistic Hindu men and hardly ever attached any importance to formal organisational work by women, the group led a low-priority existence and worked on the basis of its male counterpart’s ideology.

Patriarchal belief

This conformist character that the group has sought to deepen all these decades becomes obvious the moment one talks to its office-bearers.

On November 9, at a press conference called to announce the training camp, Rashtra Sevika Samiti general secretary Seetha Annadanam vociferously defended the exclusion of women from RSS shakhas. “Our culture does not permit joint shakhas for men and women,” she said. “That is why we have separate shakhas for them.”

Annadanam, in fact, appeared so tied to patriarchal family interests that, while replying to another question, she stood against allowing Hindu women a share in the ancestral property of their parents. “There should be a balance between women’s rights and our traditions, and this should be done on the basis of shastras,” she said. “Otherwise, it would split our families and pit brothers against sisters.”

She made an equally controversial statement in an interview to the Indian Express, published earlier in the day. “There is nothing called marital rape,” the newspaper quoted her as saying. “Marriage is a sacred bond. Coexistence should lead to bliss. If we are able to understand the concept of this bliss, then everything runs smooth.”

It is, therefore, no surprise that the Rashtra Sevika Samiti within the RSS framework of sanskar, is largely restricted to the Sangh’s traditional base of Maharashtra and nearby areas. Eight decades after it was founded, it continues to hold to the formulations of former RSS leader MS Golwalkar, as mentioned in his book Bunch of Thoughts, that women are predominantly mothers who should rear their children.