On March 24, the Prime Minister announced the lockdown. There was no other option for a pandemic-stricken country. On March 25, giving a message to swayamsevaks, RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat adjourned all Sangh shakhas and sent out a call for each swayamsewak to engage in public service. The night before that, the mukhya shikshak (head of the local shakha) called to say that we must all think about what we could do in this difficult situation. The Sangh chief’s message the next morning convinced all of us, local volunteers, that we had been on the right track. We held a discussion among ourselves and decided to set up a system to fulfil the needs of the local community, especially the disadvantaged and the working class. Our settlement (an area consisting of 10,000 population is termed a settlement within the Sangh) is a prosperous one where our services would not be required much, but we decided to ensure there is no starvation in the neighbourhood around us. We initiated a small effort in this direction, which is going on till date.
What caused this sentiment to come to the mind of all Sangh operatives — from the mukhya shikshak of a shakha to the Sarsanghchalak — that society, the nation should be served as required in this critical hour? Why is it that in the event of a disaster, natural and otherwise, the Sangh and its volunteers make an all-out effort for the wider community without worrying about themselves and their families? How do these seemingly ordinary volunteers do extraordinary things? How are they trained? Many such questions crowd the mind of the average citizen.
If you too have been seeking answers to some of these questions, then let us cursorily glance at the history of the Sangh. The Sangh was founded in 1925 in Nagpur. The name Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh came afterwards.
Before he instituted the Sangh, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar had worked with various social, political and revolutionary organisations of the day. From Maharishi Arvind or Trailokyanath Chatterjee of the Anushilan Samiti of Calcutta to the Indian National Congress’s Motilal Nehru or Haqeem Ajmal Khan — all of them had been Hedgewar’s comrades-in-arms at one time or another. Long before the establishment of the Sangh, in 1916, along with his comrades, Hedgewar had been engaged in social work during the outbreak of the plague in Nagpur. This streak of “service of the wider community to the fore” was to become an overarching principle of the Sangh. The second Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, M S “Guruji” Golwalkar held that office for nearly 33 years. During his tenure, a number of new organisations, including Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, started work in many different social fields within the country. The swayamsevaks today are continuing that tradition of service today. Be it the 1,57,000 service operations running across the country or the floods of Morvi, the earthquake of Gujarat or the tsunami or the recent disaster in Kedarnath, the swayamsevaks are at the frontline before anyone else.
With unwavering faith in the motto “unprecedented undertaking in an unprecedented event”, the swayamsevaks stepped in to fulfil the need of the hour even during the current epidemic. A hallmark of their work is a well-planned blueprint of action. The lockdown was so sudden that most people were caught unawares and they had to stay wherever they were. A sizeable chunk of the urban population was facing worries about their next meal, contacting their families and friends, even finding a safe location to stay.
RSS activists have addressed not only human problems they have also made arrangements for feeding animals. They manned and issued dedicated helplines aimed at the different needs and requirements of different sections of society, made arrangements for doctors and food for the needy, ensured compliance of the lockdown protocol. When a large number of labourers anxious to go to their hometowns gathered at Delhi’s interstate bus terminal, local swayamsevaks arrived to assist the police and administration in feeding and fulfilling their other needs. Not only that, when the sex workers of Delhi called the helpline and asked for help, swayamsevaks reached out immediately to help 925 such families. In Delhi alone, 126 kitchens are being run to supply ready meals for the needy. Care is also being taken of the section of society which might not wish to take prepared food. Dry ration kits consisting of 10 kg to 20 kg foodstuff have been delivered to 50,000 families.
Today, due to the fast-changing mores and lifestyle, the number of single-member families is growing at an alarming rate. In your very own neighbourhoods, you might have noticed many elderly people who need but cannot access medicines due to the lockdown. Swayamsevaks have organised 167 points for the care of such people.
The world cannot survive without trees and the multitude of animals. Be it the 28,000 kg of fodder for the 28 gaushalas in Delhi or providing for birds at various places, all needs are being taken care of by swayamsevaks.
Sangh activists have done all this solely relying on their own money and sweat. Sangh activists, within the country and abroad, are extending their support. On the basis of my own experience, I can say that the sections of society that used to maintain ideological social distancing with the Sangh are now beginning to inch closer to it after witnessing all this.
Despite all this, the Sangh is not out to claim that its swayamsevaks achieved all this. The core idea of the Sangh is that the swayamsevaks are part of society, so it is the society which has done what it did. And creating an empowered and committed society that is capable of facing all challenges on its own is also the basic objective of the Sangh. If India is able to deal with the Chinese-origin virus, it is because the irrepressible will of the society is entwined with political will. This feeling had always been present in Indian society but has been lying dormant due to 1,000 years of slavery and the tyranny of invaders. The Sangh has tirelessly worked to awaken it and the results are for all to see.
The work is by no means over yet. It must, and shall, continue. And so it is that the swayamsevaks continue to follow the mantra given by Hedgewar, “sewa hai yagyakund, samidha ban ham jalen (sewa is the sacred sacrificial fire, may we be the tinder for it)”.
The writer is a member of the RSS executive in the Delhi Prant