What Is Rashtra Sevika Samiti, The Female RSS Organisation?
Rahul Gandhi’s recent jibe at RSS, calling it a “chauvinist” organisation, has given rise to a conversation about the Rashtra Sevika Samiti. So who are the members of Rashtra Sevika Samiti? Not much is known about RSS’ sister organisation, which has been in existence for some 82 years. Is their ideology similar to that of the RSS? Do they hold shakha meetings? If so, when? What attire these women don for their meetings?
The RSS has always faced the music for barring women, but not many know that there is a parallel organisation for interested women. Rashtra Sevika Samiti was founded by Late Laxmibai Kelkar in 1936 at Wardha, Maharashtra. While the organisation is said to be entirely independent and autonomous, it functions on the similar ideologies as the RSS. Yes, the swayam or “self” in RSS is missing in its women’s organisation’s name.
We tried to find out why is it that we haven’t heard much about Rashtra Sevika Samiti.
As per an excerpt from Paola Bacchetta’s Gender in the Hindu Nation: RSS Women as Ideologues published in The Indian Express, “While a man’s self is individual, the identity of a woman concerns not only the individual self, but also family, society, nation, religion and culture.”
- Rashtra Sevika Samiti is the sister organisation of RSS founded 82 years ago by Late Laxmibai Kelkar.
- The independent women’s organisation runs on similar ideologies to RSS and teaches the members three ideals – Matrutva, Kartrutva and Netrutva.
- Shakha meetings are conducted around noon, so that women can attend them after completing their household chores.
- Samiti members wear white sarees or salwar kameez, with pink border.
According to an article in The Economic Times, the Samiti holds its shakhas around noon every day and in some places thrice a week. As per a senior member, RSS holds its shakha meetings at six in the morning but most women have family duties chalked out for them during those hours.
“We work with women in middle-class and lower middle-class families who have to do several household chores during morning hours,” she says. Hence the Samiti holds its shakha meetings at a time it thinks is suitable for most women.
The focus of Samiti shakhas is to inculcate a sense of patriotism and social awareness among women via various socio-cultural activities.
It teaches its members three ideals-Matrutva (Motherhood), Kartrutva (Efficiency and Social Activism), Netrutva (Leadership). It also aims to uphold Indian culture and traditions.
Women in white
While khaki is the colour of choice in RSS, for Rashtra Sevika Samiti it is white. Women dress in white sarees with pink borders, while girls dress in white salwar kurta and dupattas with pink borders. The Samiti also teaches self-defense techniques in shakha meetings to young girls. Acknowledging the power of Nari Shakti also seems to be a common theme.
Who are the women who join the Samiti and what do they seek?
The Indian Express also published a passage from Swati Dyahadroy’s paper Exploring Gender, Hindutva and Seva (published in Economic and Political Weekly, 2009). According to Dyahadroy there are “three kinds of representations of women” who join right-wing organisations such as the RSS. “One form of representation is of women who are simply alienated from their own interests and whose actions are seen as coherent with the interests of their male counterparts. Another represents them as joining right-wing groups primarily out of a desire for community with other women and not because of any ideological or principled commitment to the organisation. Yet another represents them as motivated by choice, conviction and opportunism.”
On the organisation’s website it is also listed that Samiti runs 440 self-help centres and 12 family advice centres and numerous sewing and weaving centres for women. Yet, Rashtra Sevika Samiti has maintained a very low public profile since its foundation, unlike RSS. Which is why we don’t know much about the workings of the organisation, despite it having more than 5000 branches in ten countries.
Picture Credit: Aaj Tak