The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is a truly remarkable organisation. For the past nine decades, driven by its ideology of Hindutva, it has spread slowly and surely, encompassing politics (the Bharatiya Janata Party), tribal education, (the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram), student life (the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad), labour movements (the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh), religious organisations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and many more. In spite of this wide spread, its latest project might still be the most ambitious: creating custom-made babies as per the needs of their parents.
According to a report in the Indian Express, the Garbh Vigyan Sanskar (literally, pregnancy science culture) project of the RSS’s health wing Arogya Bharati will deliver customised babies for parents. The project claims to have produced results with 450 bespoke babies already out in the world. Customisation include making these über-babies smarter, taller and fairer.
How is this accomplished? The genes of the babies are tweaked, said the people behind the project. If the German gutturals, goose-steps and toothbrush moustaches are already coalescing in your brain, the RSS is already one step ahead. With an endearing lack of self-awareness, an RSS official was quite ready to claim that the project was birthed in Germany. Although – as one might expect – the organisation claims that the ultimate origin of this science lay in the Mahabharata, which is where the Germans had learnt of this form of baby customisation (Abhimanyu was the first bespoke baby, according to this theory).
This, of course, is all rather hilarious till one is reminded of the fact that the RSS is now the power that rules India. A large part of the Union Cabinet, including the prime minister himself, are former swayamsevaks. The RSS, in fact, addresses the country on the festival of Vijaya Dashami or Dusshera – a speech relayed to the country via India’s public service broadcaster, Doordarshan. What does it mean for India then, that the RSS believes in a form of Nazi eugenics?
The influence of race theory
First, it means little in terms of actual babies. Unlike Nazi Germany, which really was at the cutting edge of many fields of science, the RSS is – not to put too fine a point on it – not. However, what this fiasco does shine a light on is the role of 20th century ideas of race in shaping the concept of Hindutva.
Race in 20th century Europe had an intensity that will be difficult to reproduce today (thankfully). While Nazism was the most egregious expression of race theory, it had wide currency as a scientific theory across much of the Western world. The British Empire itself was based on theories of race, where the White man conquered India and Africa as a birthright. Phrenology, the study of the measurements of the human skull, was instituted as a field of scientific enquiry in order to explain the difference between races – a practice so widespread that it gave rise to its own phrase: having your head examined.
As could be expected, these ideas filtered down to Indian society too. The biggest recipient of these ideas was the budding Hindutva movement in colonial India.
Creating a Hindu race
Now race theory was a rather new and alien import to India. Unlike the division between White and Black in the West, there was no such visual distinction between Indians. Indeed a dark-skinned Brahmin was still infinitely superior to a Dalit, even if the Dalit’s skin was a lighter shade of brown.
Hindutva, therefore, got around it by proposing the theory that the faiths indigenous to this land were the chosen Indian race. Thus Savarkar’s definition of who is a Hindu was contingent on whoever treated the Indian subcontinent as a holy land. Thus, Muslims and Christians, whose holy places lay in Arabia, Palestine and Europe, did not qualify for the chosen race.
Madhav Golwalkar, the second chief of the RSS, and a highly influential figure in the Hindutva pantheon argued in his 1939 book, We, Or Our Nationhood Defined, that: “Hindus came into this land from nowhere but are indigenous children of this land from time immemorial”. To remove any doubts as to the source of his ideas, Golwalkar then jumps directly to Nazi Germany:
To keep up the purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of Semitic races – the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.
To understand the effect that Golwalkar and his ideas of racial purity have had on the RSS, it is instructive to recall that Prime Minister Modi has written a biography of him titled Pujniya Shri Guruji (Guru Worthy of Worship).
Given the rapid rise of the RSS and its transformation from a small band of ideologues to India’s ruling elite, its philosophical core often tends to get overlooked in the mass media. It is therefore events like the plan to create babies via eugenics, or RSS-BJP leader Tarun Vijay’s comments in April calling Dravidian language-speaking Indians “black people”, which remind us that race as a concept might be dead in science but it still lives on in Hindutva.