No Place for Me, My Community in Their Hindu Rashtra: Ex-RSS Member on How the Sangh Treats Dalits
In an interview with Dalit Camera, Bhanwar Meghwanshi talks about the entrenched casteism in RSS ranks.
Bhanwar Meghwanshi of Bhilwada in Rajasthan, the editor of an online web portal Shoonyakaal, has a tale to tell about the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). A former member of the Sangh, it only took one incident for him to see the motivated politics of the RSS and the casteism in the ranks.
In an interview with Dalit Camera on February 11, Meghwanshi sought to unravel the conduct of Swayamsevaks towards a Dalit person. With little knowledge about it, he had initially joined the RSS as a 13-year old. He gradually realised it was a Shakha (an RSS congregation) and that there is a purpose in attending it. After his affiliation with RSS, he experienced a spurt of patriotism. Soon, he wanted to become a full-time volunteer (Pracharak) and work for the country and the Hindu community. However, the Sangh had different plans for him.
He was told that he should be an ideologue (Vicharak) for the RSS because he had a sharp mind. To be a pracharak, one needed a strong body, not a strong mind. “Hindu community is an upper-caste community. And the community from which you come is looked down upon by others. A pracharak has to go door-to-door, meet people, go to their homes, establish conversations. Once they know your caste, people’s behaviour towards you will undergo a change. This will inflict pain, and you may end up protesting against it. It will, therefore, be ideal for you to work as a Vistaarak (one who expands the work).”
In the interview, Meghwanshi recalled the 1992 Rath Yatra called by senior BJP leaders, the RSS and other Hindutva outfits. One among the many rallies that took place then for the building of a Ram temple in place of Babri mosque was held in Bhidwada. The rally that took place on a Friday had to pass by a mosque. Sensing tension, the district administration stalled the rally from entering that lane. This resulted in protest and stone-pelting by the karyakartas. The police resorted to lathi-charge and even air-fired to disperse the angry mob. The firing led to the killing of two people who had nothing to do with the Rath Yatra. yet, because both were Hindus, they were declared martyrs by the participating Hindutva organisations, said Meghwanshi.
A yatra with their mortal remains was taken out that passed through Meghwanshi’s village too. Some members of the RSS were a part of this crowd. While his family cooked food for the participants, he recalled that his father announced that they (those part of the yatra) will not eat at our place. Meghwanshi argued with his father and insisted that his father did not know the RSS. “There, every Hindu is alike. Everyone sits together, and eats together,” he told his father. Later that evening, some members of the RSS visited Meghwanshi’s village, which was followed by a meeting. Soon after, he stated to the others that food was ready at his place.
“A senior leader of the RSS was present there. He held me by my arm and pulled me aside,” Meghwanshi told Dalit Camera. “He said, ‘you are a patriot. You do understand the disparities within our community, don’t you? I can eat at your place… you would know that because you have eaten at my place. I can eat because Sangh sees everyone as one. But these priests who are here will have a problem with eating at your place. Why don’t you pack the food and give it to me? I will offer it to them in the next village.” To Meghwanshi, it was then clear that the RSS was not okay with sitting and having meals with a Dalit swayamsevak (member of the RSS) in a Dalit village. The incident took him by complete surprise.
Meghwanshi added that a Brahmin friend of his, Purshottam, was also part of the yatra carrying the mortal remains those killed. Purshottam and he, Meghwanshi added, were together in the school and also went together to the shakha. A day after the yatra, Purshottam came over to his place to return the utensils. “They threw away the food you packed before entering the other village. There, they went to a Brahmin home, made them cook at 11 pm and ate there,” Meghwanshi recalls Purshottam telling him. “I could not believe that those belonging to the RSS could do this. I wanted to see it with my own eyes to believe it. I rode behind Purshottam on his bicycle to find that the food I packed had been dumped in a corner,” he said.
“This incident took a rebel out of me. I felt that there was no place for me in their Hindu Rashtra for which I was ready to devote my life. I realised that the Sangh (RSS), for which I had committed my life, had actually no place for me and my community,” Meghwanshi told Dalit Camera.
“Although the Sangh structure is such that there is no scope of asking questions, and volunteers are only expected to obey commands, still I decided to discuss this incident with my seniors. When I confronted them, they plainly told me that there was nothing deliberate — ‘it happened on its own and it’s no big deal either (Yeh apne aap ho gaya. Aur yah koi badi baat nahin hai)’.”
A shocked Meghwanshi countered them and said that it may not be a big deal for them, but it was certainly one for him. “Because if you can’t eat at my home, why should I continue to work with you?” he asked them. Meghwanshi forewarned them that he would make this public, and also made a serious attempt at it by sending a letter narrating his story to several newspapers and to the then RSS chief. None of the newspapers chose to publish his story.
Disillusioned, Meghwanshi decided to launch his own newspaper. In 1993, he brought out ‘Dahakte Angaare,’ and in the first editorial, he published his experiences with the Sangh and also declared in the same editorial that he would no longer want to remain a Hindu. “There was no point to stay in a religion which looks down upon my community,” he wrote.
Besides being a journalist, Bhanwar Meghwanshi is a human rights activist who has been working for the rights of Dalits and Adivasis for almost two decades. He has also contributed to the work of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS).