Social work

Social work before politics, but motherhood first – all about Sevika Samiti, the women’s wing of the RSS

New Delhi: Housewives, teachers, doctors, master’s degree in criminology, master’s degree in political science — the Rashtra Sevika Samiti, the women’s wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), attracts members from all walks of life.

Founded in 1936, this organization of Hindu nationalist women remained relatively low profile within the Sangh structure for decades. Many women joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), some rising through the ranks of Union and state governments, but none prominent people have joined the Samiti.

Compared to the RSS, the Rashtra Sevika Samiti is much smaller. Its leader, V. Shantha Kumari (also known as Shantakka), told ThePrint that while the Sangh has about 3,000 pracharaks across the states, the Samiti has only 52 prcharikas and 150 vistarikas. According to the Samiti website, however, it has over 55,000 sevikas through its more than 2,700 shakes.

Sevikas are volunteers who work for the Samiti, while vistarikas are short-term members who give a few years to the organization. Pracharikas, however, are members who take an oath to dedicate their lives to the Samiti, choosing celibacy and the cause of the organization for the rest of their lives. They can be between 25 and 70 years old.

Kumari, 70, is from an RSS family from Bengaluru. She completed her master’s degree in mathematics and became a teacher. About 30 years ago, she decided to take the oath as samiti pracharika and rose through the ranks of the organization. She is now based in Nagpur, Maharashtra.

Speaking to ThePrint, she said the Samiti operates on three fundamental principles – “matritva [motherhood], Kartavya [responsibility] and Netritva [leadership]”.

“We may not be able to compete with the Sangh in terms of the number of pracharaks or their contribution to politics and representation in the BJP, but the Sevika Samiti practices the ideals of Jija mata [Jijabai Bhosale, mother of Chhatrapati Shivaji]who built and trained Shivaji Maharaj,” she said.

“We have thousands of grehinis [homemakers] like our members who contribute to social work after managing their homes and raising their children. We never ask them to come shakhas or become part of the Samiti against the wishes of their families. Motherhood and responsibility are paramount to us and they instil leadership qualities in women,” Kumari added.


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Sami in a nutshell

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the RSS have both emphasized the importance of women’s empowerment at two separate events this year.

During his Independence Day speech on August 15, Modi talked about ‘Nari Shakti’ and said, ‘Gender equality is a crucial parameter of unity’. This was followed by RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat mentioning “Nari Shakti” and “Matru Shakti” earlier this month.

Bhagwat was addressing RSS members on the occasion of Vijayadashami, at an event held at the organization’s headquarters in Nagpur. In fact, for the first time in its 97-year history, the RSS had a woman – mountaineer Santosh Yadav – as the main guest at the event.

‘The Shakha Methodology’vyakti nirman‘ (human development) is managed separately by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti. All other activities are carried out jointly by men and women. Bharatiya tradition has always thought with this view of complementarity,” he said, adding, “However, this great tradition has been forgotten and many limitations have been imposed on ‘matri shakti‘, the power of our women. Repeated attacks in our country have legitimized these false practices and, over time, they have become habits.

According to a senior RSS official, who wished not to be named, the idea that the RSS is “anti-woman” is incorrect.

“There have been controversies over RSS being called an ‘anti-women organization’ that does not promote or put women first,” he told ThePrint. “Rahul Gandhi is one of those misinformed people who questioned the Sangh based on such misconceptions.”

The official went on to say that the women’s wing of the Sangh “has the same structure as the men’s”.

“The Sevika Samiti has the organizational system shakhas (daily gatherings) and they too follow the hierarchy of vistarikas and prcharikas. We don’t force women to go out and work for the organization. Some manage their families and then work for society, while others dedicate their lives to social work and become prcharikas. That’s also why we don’t push them into politics. They are more into social work and empowering women across the country,” he added.

Kumari also explained that it is not always easy for sevikas participate in Samiti activities.

“We cannot ask women to join us leaving their families behind. But we have embarked on a program of expansion and training a strong group of at least 1,000 vistarikas by 2025. It is not easy for women to leave their families and dedicate their lives to the organization, but we ask young women to convince their parents and join the cause of nation building said Kumari.

Samiti’s work

Like the Sangh, the Samiti too sends its prcharikas to different regions and states to carry out the work of the organization. It runs multi-level programs for women in rural areas, including vocational training and health education covering menstrual hygiene and pregnancy management.

The Samiti also runs 30 hostels across India, which house around 6,000 girls.

“We have about 18 girl hostels in the northeastern states alone. The prcharikas live in hostels too and continue prava [organisational tours]. As in the Sangh, prcharikas are usually sent out of their country of residence to work for the organization. Shakhas are similar in nature. We have programs for self-defense, physical training and social training,” said Sunila Sowani, a Samiti. prachar pramukh (spokesperson).

Speaking to The Print, Akhil Bhartiya Prachar Pramukh (Head of Media and Publicity) of RSS Sunil Ambekar said: “Women’s participation in public life is generally lower than that of men because they start families . Sevika Samiti plays a very important role in the [organisation’s] structure, and they have greater contributions in different areas of life.

(Editing by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)


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