Thursday, 27 August 2015

Afternoon Meetings with RSS Pracharak


 We had a Participatory Sociology paper during our Master's program where we had to do a project, involving some fieldwork along with literature review. I had then read 'Religious Nationalism Confronts Secular State' (1993) by Mark Juergensmeyer, who examined this scenario on a global scale, apart from Peter van der Veer's Religious Nationalism (1994) who looked at it in the Indian context. I decided to do a project on 'Religious Nationalism' and planned to interview RSS and Jamaat e Islami people and visit their offices to understand their ideologies better. It was my first year of Post Graduation and I was very excited about my first ever research project in life! 

I got Delhi RSS office's Jhandewalan number and called them. The person on the other end was courteous, I decided to change my name to Rashmi and told him I was a journalism student doing a project and would like to speak to somebody who can give details of RSS work. I assured myself, the lie was to minimize bias, and to get absolutely true views. He suggested the name of a senior guy and gave me an appointment for the afternoon next day. 

It was early winters. Thankfully, my family has always been very supportive of me and did not create any fuss about me, a Muslim girl visiting a Hindu fundamentalists' den! I had some butterflies in my stomach.  I informed, my project supervisor teacher and a couple of friends that if I do not come back by that evening, where they should look for the body! (It was just a couple of months before Gujarat riots broke out). 

As my auto-rickshaw dropped me at Jhandewalan, I asked a few passers by for directions to RSS office. And, everybody knew (except me!). Anyways, as I entered this huge courtyard and went up to the Reception office, it had a map of India - not the map we use, but the Akhand Bharat map with territories extending beyond the present borders. There were only men, not a single woman in sight (not even a cleaner/sweeper)!

I introduced myself with my false identity and told them about the appointment.  A man took me through the neatly lined rows of rooms to a room on the first floor. This man was in his fifties, grey hair, clean shaven and quite fit for his age. He asked me to sit, the room was small but clean. It had a bed, table, some chairs and an almirah for books (as far as I can remember!). The Akhand Bharat map  was pasted on his wall as well.  

 He asked me my name, my address, my family background, educational qualification (being from Hindu College, DU helped!) and my course details. I told him I was a Jamia Millia Islamia student. I was worried, that he might ask for some ID card, etc. but he was too polite to ask. He was a Maharashtrian, who spoke very fluent Hindi. He started with the glorious history of RSS and the social work that they do, the discipline they follow. The chai came. (what if there was something in the chai, I thought but still drank. It was good). Since, it was the first meeting I just touched upon the theme of Religious Nationalism and what he thought of it. He said, RSS opposed Partition which was based on religion but then why Akhand Bharat, why partiality to Nepal, a Hindu state, why oppose secularism, I asked. He tried to give a few reasons for it, the usual-secularism as Muslim appeasement, Haj subsidy, Bangladeshi influx, Uniform Civil Code, condition of Muslim women, polygamy, etc. My one hour was almost over and other visitors started coming in. The arguments that he was making with the (fudged) data, if I was not a Muslim or did not know better, I would have converted too (which he tried to do very convincingly).
He was very articulate probably the reason why they had sent me to him, a popular man for sure. I asked him for the next appointment, which I got after two days.  

 The next time, I was more confident, I went to the reception and told them his name. A man tried to help, but I told him I knew my way. His doors were open and there was another elderly man with whom he was having an animated discussion. He asked me to sit on the other chair and kept talking to the other man. In between he looked at me as he made his point and I nodded my head. The other man left soon afterwards. Then, he told me that he was his friend and Vice Chancellor of a University (cannot remember the name of central government university honestly!) and he often visited RSS office. I was shocked and wished if I had known earlier, I would have asked a few questions! 

I started with a question on Muslims. He went deep into the history about Muslim mis-rule and referred me to a map which showed all 'disputed sites' where he claimed Muslims had destroyed and made their mosques and will be reclaimed (not just Ayodhya, Mathura, Kashi). The excesses Muslim kings had committed. The way Muslim population is growing (which I had countered that depends on and differs according to classes amongst Muslims) but he just had so many numbers and so much data to counter back that it was futile to argue. He just kept giving me data from different sources (his sources!) In between came the chai and some biscuits,which I took unhesitatingly this time. 

 I got tired of his usual Muslim bashing so changed it to his personal life. He talked about his family, his parents were dead, siblings were not in touch, RSS was the only family now. He had done his Master's in Political Science (not surprising at all, as his grasp over laws/ governance was very good!) I asked him if he missed having a family. He said, RSS was his family, he lived a disciplined life of a soldier. He was a vegetarian (surprise, surprise!). I took his leave and asked for a final appointment. 
    
The final visit was again in his room. This time chai came early. I started with pleasantries and came straight to the topic of Muslims.' He told me, 'you are young, you do not know the real them as yet'. I wanted to shout, 'I am one myself', but kept my mouth shut. I tried to reason that I know enough Muslims being in Jamia that all his prejudices I can explain. He just needed to know them better. (Thankfully, by that time 'Love Jihad' was not in fashion or he would have warned me against it!)

By the third visit, despite his biased views I had begun to like him. He was no more the RSS wala but 'Ashutosh'* ji. As a person, he was soft spoken, educated, respectful towards women and as I liked to believe "misguided" by RSS's entire anti-Muslim propaganda. But, it would have been interesting to see if he remained as courteous and polite if I had told him my real name and identity.  

We already have seen and heard enough of RSS walas on Television debates that there was nothing 'new' that I found out. Maybe, they are all taught the same thing through their books and training at their shakhas and do not want to see the 'other' as human. Bigotry is difficult to practice when you know people personally. 'Humanizing' the fundamentalist did happen on a very personal level for me. 

Later, Gujarat Riots broke out and all those men brain washed with hatred killed, burnt, raped and abused Muslim men and women. It was very disappointing and disturbing. I spoke to my teacher at great length about the shallowness of these ideologies.     

  And, after that when I went to speak to Jamaat e Islami people, it was again the other end of the spectrum. There is no "humanizing" the 'other'. The 'other' is what defines 'them', this hatred will continue as its more a question for political survival for both, religion is just a tool.  

 (*name changed)
(Based on the fieldwork done many years back)


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