Ayan Banerjee & Smaranika Banerjee
The term ‘Sewa’ is something, which is essentially spiritual. The term is not possible to be limited to its English translative meaning i.e, ‘service’, especially when it comes to the Indian Culture. The Sewa is selfless devotional duty to the Motherland, the real religion, which is very much inherent in the Indianness. Malini Bhattacharjee showed in her “Disaster Relief and The RSS: Resurrecting ‘Religion’ Through Humanitarianism” that this Sewa is the foundational institution of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangha. ‘The Brotherhood In Saffron: The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh And Hindu Revivalism’ by Walter K. Andersen and Shridhar D. Damle highlights the sense of ‘community’ and ‘commitment’ as the two main pillars on which the Sangh has erected the edifice of its gradual development successfully.
The Sangh has always arrived at the fore front, be it the setting up of ‘Shivirs’ at the juncture of the partition of India (1947) or reaching up to the border to help the soldiers during the Chinese aggression (1962) or assisting the mass in areas devastated by the Cyclone in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh (1971) or providing relief to the people hit by the terrific Bhopal Gas Tragedy (1984) or Orissa Super Cyclone (1999) or in the earthquake in Gujarat (2001) or the wrath of the Tsunami (2004) or the baleful flood in Uttrakahand (2013) or the Corona Pandemic (2020), reached the grass-root level with its non-sectarian character. The mobilizing network of the benevolent activities of the Sangh has always been of an all-encompassing nature with attention on the marginalized communities such as the tribals, Dalits, women, slum-residents.
The affiliates of the Sangh Parivar, which are- Sewa Bharti, Vishva Hindu Parsihad, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Aroygya Bharti, Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, Hindu Swayamsewak Sangh-the overseas wing, Hindu Jagaran Manch etc are working day and night to provide relief to the people across the country. The Sangh has come a long, and definitely ticklish way, initiated with only 5 Swayamsewaks to the present status possessing 90 lakhs of families at 3710 places with 58,970 shakhas making it the largest volunteer organization of the world.
The Sangh has started an initiative for care and protection of senior citizens under the present circumstances. The initiative is called “Each One, Adopt One”. The Sangh has issued helpline numbers to public for food and other essential commodities like soap, sanitizers and running Sewa Bharti Helpline, Student Helpline, Divyang Helpline, Digital Helpline, North East People Helpline and Blood Donation Helpline services. It has also launched a Whatsapp Group “Utkarsh” to provide service on demand.
Bhaiyya ji Joshi, Sarkaryavah of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh informed on the occasion of Ramnavmi on the 2nd of April, 2020, “At present, more than one lakh Swayamsewaks are involved in different service activities at around 10,000 places. The RSS’ Swayamsewaks have reached around 10 lakh families through these initiatives that include providing food, sanitizers and other necessary commodities and helping in hospitals.” He added, “More than 1000 Swayamsewaks donated blood for a particular hospital in Maharashtra.” He highlighted the relevance of initiatives like ‘Parivar Prabodhan’ through ‘Prarthana’ to impart ‘Sanskar’ keeping the moral up of the families at this crisis. The Business Standard.com reported on April 2, 2020, More than one lakh RSS volunteers are working at over ten thousand places in the country, supplying essential food items, helping at hospitals,” said Joshi Ji from Nagpur. He urged the people to meet this challenge by working hard in a thoughtful manner and with fortitude.
The ideology of the Sangh was reflected, when Dr. Mohan Bhagwat Ji, the Sarsanghchalak of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh emphasized on ‘Atmapratibandh’ (self-restraint), ‘Atmiyavritti (kindred instinct) and use of ‘Swadeshi’ (indigenous) goods as far as possible considering the Covid-19 through his address on the 26th of April, 2020 and stated that we should bear this in mind that 130 crore people are our brothers and sons of Mother India and we should help all those who have been affected due to the Covid-19 crisis. (Indian Express, 26th of April, 2020).
The Outlook India reported the same day that according to the RSS Awadh Prant Sah-Karyawah Prashant Bhatia, “RSS has asked all the in-charges of various states to work in co-ordination with district authorities.” It also reported that Yatindra Sharma, National joint general secretary of Vidya Bharti, informed, that “a 10-bed isolation camp has been set up in Madhav auditorium in Nirala Nagar in Lucknow.” Alok Kumar, the national working president of VHP said, that ” ‘Matrishakti’ and ‘Durga Vahini’, the two women wings of VHP, will provide masks to people.” According to the Organiser, 3rd May Issue, “On April 6, 17,534 face masks made by RSS inspired Ekal Bharat’s 24 skill centres were distributed by volunteers in various areas of Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. Total 74,913 masks have been made till date.” The Sangh has enabled the donors so that they can donate to the Sewa Bharati initiative through their project page on Milaap.
According to the RSS website, rss.org, 18.50 million food packets, 2.90 million grocery kit containing 10 kg wheat, 5 kg rice, 1 kg toor dal, half a litre of cooking mustard oil, 500 grams of salt, 1 kg each of onions and potatoes, tea leaves, packets of Maggi, sugar and spices for 1 week for a 6-member family, 11,000 Rashtrothana Blood Banks, tons of fodders for stray animals have already been distributed to meet the challenge of survival for the vulnerable classes irrespective of any discrimination. It also informs that around 250 thousand Swayamsewakas at 45 places are feeding the migrant daily wage workers. [These were the reflected figures at the time of writing the piece]
The India TV reported on the 28th of April, 2020 that over 3 lakhs karyakartas in around 55000 places have been running 34000 community kitchens to cook food and 207 temples of Delhi have been transformed into community kitchens. It further said that the Jhandewalan temple of Delhi has been preparing, packaging and distributing cooked lunch and dinner packets for around 30,000 to 35,000 people per day, including dish on demand so that no food is being wasted.” The Sangh has direct reach in Delhi to around 50 lakhs persons. The Swayamsewaks are also making e-Ration Cards so that the ration provided by the Government reach out to the common people”, said Arun Kumar, Prachar Pramukh. Another functionary said, “Good food, fruits, vegetables, dry milk and even some cash are also being sent to pregnant ladies. 90 tons of fodder have been sent by the Delhi Gau Shala. Besides, volunteers are also providing ration kits to the sex workers and spreading awareness curbing any misinformation through miking, postering and distance marking.” Large number of students and trainees from other states, who got stuck in the lock-down, have been helped by the ABVP by providing with kits of basic requirements.
“The Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, the women wing of the Sangh, is providing with the clothes and bed-sheets for new-borns”, said Poonam Gupta, the Karnataka Kendra Pramukh. Another functionary informed, “Initially, the ladies groups surveyed, collected data, mapping the areas according to the assessment of the necessities, the criteria being the elders, pregnant ladies, mothers of the new-borns, then prepared and distributed around 1 lakh kits containing churi, sindur, kumkum, sanitary napkins, soaps, Nirma detergent powder, shampoos, amla candy, protein powders to ensure the consumption of protein by the babies and even toys for kids.” She added, “Over 3 lakhs masks have been made and distributed by the volunteers.”
The Print, on Thursday 30 Apr, 2020 reported that according to senior RSS functionaries, “Around 70,000 daily shakhas (basic unit) of the organisation and over three dozen of its affiliates have been asked to prioritise the fight against the virus and meanwhile, representatives of at least three RSS-backed organisations, Rashtriya Sewa Bharati, Arogya Bharati and National Medicos Organisation— met Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan last week and discussed ways to support the Narendra Modi government’s efforts to check the coronavirus outbreak.”
The pan-global approach of the Sangh has also been reported on the 24th of April, 2020 by the Times of India stating that over 1,500 members of the Hindu Swayamsewak Sangha in the US had been carrying out one of the largest ever relief operations in the country and raising funds for those badly hit by the raging Corona virus pandemic. It added that the Sewa International, which is a part of the Sangh Parivar in the US, has been leading this relief operation and has raised more than USD 500, 000 in the past several weeks in as many as 28 states in the US so far. The Sakal Times also reported on the 1st of May, 2020, that over 1 Lakh RSS volunteers had been doing relief work on fighting against the Corona pandemic.
The Sewa done by the Sangh is what is actually meant by the Sangh Sanskara. Serving the people facing the biggest ever challenge of COVID19, is definitely nothing new for the Sangh. The more difficult the crisis, be it natural or artificial or the like of Corona pandemic, the higher the standard of the service always rendered by the Sangh to the nation. The Sangh works, without waiting for praise or publicity, since it is only service that runs in the veins of the Sangh Parivar. Rashtra Seva – serving the nation is one of its principle driving philosophy.
(Ayan Banerjee is an Assistant Professor of History, Kolkata & Smaranika Banerjee is an Assistant Professor, History, Nadia, West Bengal. The views expressed are personal.)
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