When Rahul Gandhi made a comment about the lack of women in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) shakhas, the name given for its daily meetings, he caused a furore that led to Smriti Irani lashing back at him. But whether it’s a response to Gandhi or an internal strategy, the RSS is now considering starting female-only shakhas, according to a report.
But traditionally, the RSS does not involve women in its shakha meetings. RSS chief spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya justified this. He says to the Hindustan Times, “Except RSS shakhas, women participate in other activities like Jan Prabodhan and Jagaran (social and awakening activities). The RSS unites with a family through men. Women are not in shakhas but they support Sangh. They try to create a conducive atmosphere in their family for the Sangh work. Shakhas..Sangh shakhas for women separately…we will consider.”
Women being sidelined to non-decisive roles in the RSS does not surprise me. The RSS is known to reinforce traditional gender roles in its campaigns. In August 2016, the organisation’s women’s wing celebrated its 80 year anniversary. But how does RSS decide to celebrate ‘womanhood’? By reinforcing gender stereotypes, of course. A report about the celebration said that according to RSS, women, instead of fighting for rights, should focus on their duties, on how they can hold the society together, and impart patriotism to their children and family members. The RSS also went on to reinforce the idea that women are meant to be mothers and that their primary duty is towards raising nationalistic children. Sure.
After this fiasco, that the RSS is reluctant to offer women opportunities in decisive positions within the Sangh is not surprising, even if makes me cringe a little. Even the consideration for starting female-led shakhas sounds hesitant and more of a pre-emptive PR move. Vaidya adds, “Asking whether you have seen a woman in a RSS shakha is like asking for women in a men’s hockey match. If he [Rahul] wants to see women, then he should see women’s hockey match.” * slow clap *
So if we’ve raised a cautious head seeking room for some sort of celebration, we can go right back to putting our heads down. For, the ‘consideration’ to open a female shakha is simply that – a consideration. And given the history of RSS with women, this woman-only shakha is unlikely to ever see the light of day. Irrespective of whether there is need or enough female members in the RSS to warrant female-only shakhas, the Sangh’s demonstration of its redundant tendency to place women only in supportive roles and not decisive ones is proof enough to not get our hopes up any time in this century.