Hindu Vivek Kendra
"Manu, Sangh and I" 


Chapter  I

Recollection of the episode of the Vicharwedh (Vichar = Thought; Wedh = Analysis) conference still gives me a fright. Some people in the progressive and transformationist movements in Maharashtra had decided to organise a meet of thinkers. The first Vicharwedh meet took place at Satara a district place in Maharashtra, on 19th and 20th February 1994 with 'Dharma' as its theme.

The Conference was widely publicized. To ensure free and unfettered deliberations, people belonging to diverse schools of thousands and viewpoints were invited to participate. Social Scientist Y. D. Phadke, Scholar and Educationist Prof. M. P. Rege, the President of Dr Ambedkar Academy Dr A. H. Salunkhe and the cinema and stage artiste Sreeram Lagu were some of the luminaries who graced the meet. Dr Arvind Lele, Sr leader and ex-Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Bharatiya Janata Party and I attended the Conference as RSS delegates. Both of us were to participate in a symposium and I was to read the background paper in it.

The Conference was taking place at a time of countrywide rethinking and introspection. The entire nation was shaken by the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. Comprehensive discussions on Hindutva were taking place all around. An unprecedented wave of Hindu re-awakening was sweeping over all the land. Both Prime Ministers, Rajiv Gandhi and Viswanath Pratap Singh had received big blows from the wave their Governments had collapsed. The Hindutva party, BJP was gaining momentum and its canter had developed into an impressive gallop. 

The 'Vicharwedh' meeting emerged against the backdrop of Hindutva. Many thinkers in Maharashtra had misconceived and misinterpreted Hindutva as a religious movement and they were rather nervous that injecting religion in politics could take India back to medievalism. That was why a debate on religion was needed.

The topic of the symposium in which I was to participate was, "Do Religious sentiments of the people lead to fundamentalism or mobocracy?" In other words, the question raised was, are Hindus becoming religious fanatics or fundamentalists because of Hindutva. The time allotted for my speech was 10 to 12 minutes. I was well-versed in giving lectures at meetings and did not have any tension on that account. But speaking before the Swayamsevaks was one thing. The Vicharwedh audience was different. It was composed of people holding diverse and varied views. Their thinking did not run parallel to mine. It was obvious that the speech required meticulous planning and preparation. 

I took pains to prepare my speech. I first made notes and then wrote down the speech. I read it out to Dr Arvind Lele. The gist of my speech was that Hinduism can never be fundamentalist because it does not have the three prerequisites of fundamentalism - the prophet, the book and the code. A society can be fundamentalist only if it is organised on the basis of religion. The Hindu society and civilization do not pass this test because religion is not the basis of their magnificent edifice. Therefore, Hinduism is incapable of leading Hindus to fundamentalism. 

Then what is the reason for the present restlessness of the Hindu? Why has the Hindu become so aggressive? We must go a little deep into these questions. The Hindu aggressiveness and disquiet today are responses to the humiliating stimuli of appeasement of Muslims and the calumny and ridicule heaped on Hinduism. Hinduism is blamed for all its demerits but its merits are often ignored or are attributed to humanism. Harsh and critical blows are continuously showered on Hindutva. They, the Hindutva baiters, found in Manu a handy stick to beat Hindutva with, and this was bound to produce reaction. The reaction is perceptible in the atmosphere today. 

After attentively listening to my speech, Dr Lele advised me to delete the reference to Manu. "We have already earned enough disrepute on this score. They will breathe fire and brimstone at you and subject you to ruthless attacks if you make any mention of Manu in your paper", he said. Dr Lele's advice was sound and precious, but I did not accept it, and retained the reference to Manu in my speech. 

Dr A. H. Salunkhe had made the introductory speech to the Symposium. He was the President of Dr Ambedkar Academy which was the convener of the Vicharwedh Conference. During my speech, he broke all the etiquette of a public meeting and rose to intervene. He said, "Ramesh Patange's statement that attacks on Manu are producing volatile reactions is frightening. Those who defend the Manusmriti are the assassins of Hindutva. I am prepared to have a public debate anywhere with Patange on the Manusmriti, and if he convinces me of the greatness of Manusmriti, I will consign all my books to fire". Dr Salunkhe's speech caused tremendous excitement in the audience. Dr Lele had proved prophetic. All the progressives in the hall thought 'a Sanghisht' had unwittingly walked into their hands. I was observing them from the dais. I sat quietly and did not feel any tension at all. Of course I was upset, but I was not afraid. 

I replied to the challenge of Dr A. H. Salunkhe on the spot. I said, " I fully agree with Dr Salunkhe's statement that defendants of the Manusmriti are assassins of Hindutva. The Manusmriti has become outdated and today it has no relevance to the Hindu Society. Since I am in total agreement with Dr Salunkhe on this point, there is no scope for any debate between us. We, of course, can have debate with those who uphold the sanctity of the Manusmriti and defend it."

My explanation quietened the commotion in the audience. However, whenever I remember the occasion, I experience a tense feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was attending the Conference as a representative of the Sangh what if I were to commit a serious lapse? But I safely walked through the ordeal. 

For me, the matter did not rest there. It spurred me to think deeper. Why was Manu associated with the Sangh, although the Sangh and Manu were not even remotely related? Was it all a part of evil propaganda? Or was it mere ignorance? The questions led me to some introspection. I started to continuously mull them over in my mind. 

The process of introspection inevitably began with the question, "Who am I?" The reply was simple, "I am a Swayamsevak of the Sangh". 

I started going to the RSS shakha (branch) since 1954, at the age of seven. We were then staying in Gudavali village at Andheri. Slums were recently springing up in Bombay and we lived in one of these new slums (Zopadatties}. Our shakha was located in a mango-grove on the western side of Andheri. Today a huge shopping centre is situated there. 

Very young kids in the Shakha are called Shishus. My Shakha had some boys of my age. We were grouped separately according to age, and played games appropriate to our age. The elder boys, who were called Baal Swayamsevaks, had different programmes. 

During the Shishu age, the Sangh atmosphere produced deep and lasting impressions on my mind. Playing together, going for picnics twice a year, singing together - all these experiences stay with one for the rest of one's life. At that age, we did not understand the importance and meaning of what we experienced nor the thought that lay behind them. One's intellect is too young at that age, to fully grasp everything. But impressions on mind last long. The impressions made on my mind by the atmosphere in the Sangh in the childhood are still vivid.

Life in the Slum continued till education was over. Poverty was rampant. At an age when no child should remain hungry, I often went without meals. Having known in the past the pangs of hunger, a hungry person invariably evokes compassion in me. I feel an urge to do something for the person.

Memory of an incident lingers from those days. There was nothing to eat in the house, not a single grain. We-two brothers and two sisters-were acutely hungry. Our mother was anguished by our hungry looks. I found a two-rupee note while playing on the Maidan (Ground). I brought it home. My mother did not believe that I found the note while playing. "Tell me, from where have you stolen it?" she shouted. "I have not stolen it, I found it in the maidan. Come and ask Baban and Shankar, (my school friends) if you don't trust me", I pleaded. She accepted the 2-rupee note only after confirming that I had not stolen it.

Those days of appalling poverty have left a permanent impression on my mind. Why had I to suffer such frightful poverty, I often ask myself now. The answer is not pleasant. It was my father who was solely responsible for our poverty. My father had a tailoring shop. It is still there. We are Kshatriya Bhavsar by caste and tailoring is our traditional profession. The Patange community has tailoring shops at many places. It is not difficult to earn two square meals a day with tailoring. However my father ran his shop in a royal style. He used to go to the shop at ten in the morning. Cleaning, arranging the things, sipping tea and chewing tobacco took about two hours. Soon, it was time for lunch. We kids carried the tiffin to him. Then he had a nice, cosy nap till 3 p.m. and started his work leisurely by 3.30 p.m. 

He never delivered clothes to his customers on schedule. The customer had to make at least 5 to 6 rounds. The delays in deliveries meant loss of customers. No customer came to my father's shop again, after experiencing his waywardness. Untimely deliveries also meant no timely payments and inadequate money for household expenses. I did not have textbooks and notebooks until 4 to 5 months after the schools reopened. It was an embarrassment to go to school without books. Teachers and students looked down upon a student who came to school without books. This in turn, bred an inferiority complex which kept one lifetime company. Such fruits of poverty are carried through on entire lifetime. I have preserved them. 

If it was not for our mother, we would not have survived. She always tried to provide for us by cleaning vessels, washing clothes, doing other similar work and at times, by borrowing money. She killed all her personal needs for the sake of her family. My father was exactly the opposite. His personal needs, his meals, his clothes, occasional dose of liquor, and his comforts were of supreme importance. He did not permit any breach of his comforts. He was, in this respect, verily like the Sthitapradnya, (a person who has transcended all passions described in detail in Geeta). I and my body. That is all. The rest does not count. I never saw him emotionally perturbed for any other reason. 

So far as I was concerned, my father did two good things. He got me enrolled in the Sangh. He personally took me there and never interfered with my association with the Sangh. On the contrary, he encouraged it with some ardour. Secondly, he never put a brake on my education. He did not force me to earn. These are the two things which made me what I am the Sangh and education. Although I nourish profound anger for my father, I give him credit for my association with the Sangh and my education. 

I had my primary education at the Suren Municipal School, Andheri. The standard of municipal education in those days was good and teachers too were competent. At least we had the good fortune of having competent teachers. From VIII standard onwards, I was a student of the Parle Tilak Vidyalaya (High School). Parle Tilak Vidyalaya is a reputed High School. My four years in Parle Tilak from grades VIII to XI were however not joyful. 

I never had any emotional rapport with the atmosphere there. The school's students came mostly from the middle class families in Vile Parle, a Mumbai suburb, and its vicinity. Teachers were trained and knowledgeable. But a student living in poverty in a Slum, often coming to school without footwear, overlooked. I too, pushed out of the keen educational competition among mainstream students was at the School. Why should any attention have be in paid to a dunce of a boy who always failed English and Math and to be promoted to the higher standard? The teachers gave me derisive looks. In the ninth standard, we had a lady teacher called Borwankar. I had been promoted from Standard VIII to IX. On the very first day, in front of the entire class, Borwankar asked me, "Patange, how did you manage to pass the exam?"

Whenever I look back to the moments of humiliation I suffered, the episode in Parle Tilak Vidyalaya stands out. 

My class teachers repeatedly advised me not to opt for English and Math at the S.S.C. Exam. Even in the preliminary examination, I had failed to score minimum marks for passing these two subjects. However, I was determined. I had a classmate friend, Prabhakar Vispute, who was a Swayamsevak in the same Shakha which I attended. For two months, the taught me English and Math. When the S.S.C. results were out, I showed my marksheet to my class teachers. The boy who for four years had consistently failed English and Math had scored first class marks in both subjects. My teachers could not believe their eyes! Doubtless, the entire credit for my success in S.S.C. belongs to Prabhakar Vispute. Without him, I would never have matriculated. 

One pleasant memory from the Tilak Vidyalaya still lingers. At Secondary School Certificate Examination (S.S.C.Exam), I had opted for History as the eighth subject. I was the only student to opt for History in the entire school. Since there was no arrangement for teaching History in the school, I had to study it on my own. My answer book of the preliminary examination in his story went to N. R. Sahashrabuddhe for evaluation. After reading it, he sent a message for me to see him. When I went to him, he said: 

"You have written your history paper well. Study more. You will score excellent marks".

He also made some suggestions and recommended a few books. Later, N R Sahasrabuddhe became the Principal of the school. During his tenure, the school became recognised for excellent results in the S.S.C Board examinations. 

Sadly, the inferiority complex rooted in poverty and the dismal experience of life in a Slum were both augmented by my experiences at the Parle Tilak Vidyalaya. Naturally I feel no emotional attachment whatsoever, to my alma mater, the Parle Tilak.

Life in a Slum is a harrowing experience. It is devoid of even the most elementary amenities. All morning ablutions are performed in the open, in public view. While growing up I have seen men who were sexually intimate even with their own daughters or sisters. There was a peculiar person in our chawl (a building with a number of very small and cheap accommodation) called Mestri whose main business was to dupe people. He was a trickster. Once he hurled a choice abuse at our landlord, and although I did not understand what it meant at the time, till today it is etched on my mind, Later when I grew up, I understood its meaning. Mestri had called the landlord "family fucker, son of a bitch (kutumbchod bakreki aulaad)". There were kidnapped girls living in the Slums, and many couples lived together, pretending they were brothers and sisters. There were many things, which were beyond my comprehension at that age.

When kids in slums grow up a little, they take to smoking cigarettes and bidis, consuming liquor and womanizing. I got involved with a group of boys who collected cigarette butts to smoke them. Another older boy briefed me on the pleasures of drinking, the various brands and kinds of liquor available, and the requisite quantities in which each could be consumed. He also described to me the pleasures of sexual intercourse. Boys in slums get this valuable knowledge even before they come of age. Of course my valour in these matters restricted itself to merely smoking discarded cigarette butts!

The reason for my limited progress in this direction was my shakha, and the teachers in the shakha. The atmosphere at home was not conducive to the cultivation of sound habits, or "sanskaras". However, all the drawbacks in my household were more than made up during my one hour in the shakha. That one hour gave us a sense of being special. Fortunately for me, I got guidance from good teachers from a very young age right upto my adolescence.

Appa Desai was the Karyawah of our shakha when I was a Baal Swayamsevak. He was employed with Premier Auto Limited and after his daily quota of work there, used to come to the shakha. During his tenure, attendance at the shakha was always heavy. He mixed with us and told us stories. He also paid visits to the homes of swayamsevaks. We learned from him how to build personal rapport with the swayamsevaks.

Another teacher who left impression was Chandrakant Diwakar. I personally benefited immensely from his guidance. He tried to appeal to the best in me. He taught me how to sing the Sangha Geet (song), and used to entrust me with small responsibilities of the shakha. He trained me in the tasks of running a shakha including how to tell stories, maintain house to house contacts, and other organizational matters.

Although Chandrakant Diwakar belonged to an average middle class family, he spent a good deal of money on us. I was not able to join any picnic organised by my school, since I could not afford to pay the required subscription. At such moments I found it very difficult not to cry. But I never harassed my mother for the money. As it is she was finding it tough to make the two ends meet. How much more could she be expected to bear alone? Yet I did not miss a single picnic or a camp organised by the shakha.

It was not that the attendance in the camp or joining the picnics of the shakha were free of charge. But Diwakar used to bear my expenses. I remember once I told him that I could not go to the camp because I did not have the money to pay the subscription. He laughed and said "Don't bother yourself about these petty things. We will take care of it. You get ready to go to the camp."

When I was in S.S.C, Arvind Joshi was the Karyawah of the Andheri shakha. Being a matriculation student, I was busy with my studies and rather irregular in my attendance at the shakha. Arvind Joshi, however, came to my place every week to enquire about me and my studies. By some coincidence later, I became very close to the Joshi family and a frequent visitor to their place.

My father disposed off his shop in 1962 and started running his tailoring business out of our home. In a 10'x10' slum of how could anybody work? Sangh workers observed this plight of ours. Arvind Joshi graciously gave a place under the staircase of his bungalow to my father. He did not take a single farthing in return. He even arranged supply of power from his electricity metre. The Joshis were not very affluent people. They were four brothers staying together and holding jobs. It was Arvind's attachment to the Sangh and its Swayamsevaks that prompted him to offer a place in his bungalow to my father.

I did all my college related studying at this shop. Which increased my association with the Joshi household. Joshi's mothers was called Tai, a fond appellation for sister in Marathi, by all. Tai was a deeply religious lady who meticulously observed all fasts, rituals, and abstinences on scheduled religious days.

At all religious ceremonies, I moved about as though I were a member of their family. Initially, I felt overwhelmed. I was apprehensive of unwittingly polluting the sanctity of the ceremonies. On many occasions, I had to enter their kitchen to get some drinking water. Tai would get up and give me water. Later one day she said, "See, Ramesh, when you need water, go to the kitchen and have it. Then wash the cup and keep it in its place. You are not a stranger to us now, so don't behave like one".

I did not realise then the social significance of what Tai said. May be Tai herself was unaware of it. She was, however, aware of one thing. I was a swayamsevak and hence I was one of them.

A swayamsevak called Prabhakar Khanagan came to stay in our neighborhood at Gudavali when I was studying for S.S.C. Khanagan a Brahmin from Nagpur, was recently married. He had an ordinary job in the Port Trust. We developed mutual affection. We called his wife "wahini" (brother's wife), and Prabhakar earned from us the epithet of mama (maternal uncle). We did not have a true maternal uncle, but Prabhakar, who was not of our caste, filled the gap. During my S.S.C days, I used to have my meals at the Khanagan's daily. The couple loved me as well as my brothers and sisters.

My being a student at one of the finest high schools in Bombay did not produce any social change in me or my thinking. On the other hand, shakha stimulated social awareness in me. The Hindu society should be unified, all Hindus are brothers, we are all one. No one is big or small. We should go to each other's homes, even their kitchens. We should eat together. We should have uninhibited contacts. We should develop good dispositions and cultivate virtues. A Swayamsevak should become a centre of gravity for others. He should be looked upon as an asset to the society. I had these thoughts firmly fixed in my mind by the time I matriculated.

Curiously the people who made me think this way were mostly Brahmins. At the time, I was not familiar with words like Brahmin, non-Brahmin and Bhatshahi (rule by Bhats i.e. Brahmins). I had not yet read any literature of progressive writers. I was therefore not conversant with their concept of Brahminism and did not know what made one a Brahmin. I only knew that I was a swayamsevak as were other member of the Shakha. And that was the cementing bond.

I was neither class nor caste-conscious until I passed my tenth grade. Although I grew up in poverty, it never occurred to me that my poverty was the handiwork of some people who exploited me because of my caste or class. My father's laziness and lack of initiative had made us poor. My father was responsible for our miseries. There was no point in saying that the caste system was responsible for our backwardness.

I studied in a reputed frontline school. Nobody there asked me "To which caste do you belong?" In the shakha, of course, caste was never mentioned.

Introduction is an important programme in the Sangha shakha. Each person is required to introduce himself in this programme. We had to reveal where we stayed and in which standard we studied. The introduction programme invariably took place whenever some important persons of the Sangh visited the shakha. One Shri Bhaskarrao Mundle, a Sr leader of RSS, VHP etc. visited our shakha. I still remember a dialogue which occurred when we introduced ourselves to him. Mundle asked us a question. "Who are you?". The answers were:

"I am a student".
"I am a boy".
"I am a Brahmin".
"I am a Maratha".

"This is all wrong", Bhaskarrao said. "We are all Hindus and that should be our only introduction. A Hindu is one who loves this country".

Thereafter repeatedly I heard this refrain in the shakha. We were constantly reminded that we were Hindus. Even the songs and choruses in the Sangh had the same message: "The Hindu has reawakened".

"Hindusthan, with its saffron flag, belongs to Hindus".

"Why have you forgotten to say that you are a Hindu?"

"The Hindu has risen. With the saffron flag in his hand, he has risen to defend Hindutva".

The impact made by Hindutva in my childhood was deep and abiding. It made me forget all casteist feelings.

Gradually I too, became a Karyawah of a shakha. Situated at Gudavali, the shakha has a fair attendance. Boys who came there belonged to different castes. I started to share with them what I had imbibed. I told them stories. Soon, I earned a reputation as a good story teller. In the Sangh, the swayamsevak, while doing the shakha work, automatically develops his own faculties.

Telling a story presupposes preparing its format, and that some prior thought has gone into the impact intended from it. Soon I became accustomed with this narration process. Today if I am known as a reasonably good orator who is able to articulate thoughts and ideas, the entire credit goes to my story-telling drill in the Baal shakha.

While managing the shakha as the karyawah, I was hardly aware that some time in the future we will have to work for social transformation, organise service projects, or try to build a harmonious and integrated society. I was then neither capable of thinking about these things nor did any of the Sangh officers ever refer to these matters. The one thought incessantly inculcated in us was that we are all Hindus, the Hindu society is our society, and we have to organise it.

An episode which occurred when I was karyawah is deeply etched in my memory. A Dalit family lived in the neighborhood of the shakha. (The word "Dalit" had not yet come in vogue in 1965-66, when I was running the shakha. Dalits were then known as Mahars). The said family lived in poverty. They had a son, Gautam who attended the shakha. Once when I went to his place to inquire about his absence, I came to know that his Gautam's father had lost his job, and there was hardly anything in the house to eat.

Just about that time, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had come into existence and had launched a scheme called 'Handful of grain'. I arranged supply of some foodgrains to Gautam's family from one of VHP branches. I was not at all conscious of caste while doing so. It never occurred to me that the family was Mahar and therefore untouchable, or that it had suffered injustices and inequalities in the past which had to be corrected and compensated. That was not what the Sangh taught us. The only thought I had was that Gautam's family members were my Hindu brethren and I must do something to help them in their distress.

The three years I spent as a karyawah represent the golden period of my life. They were blessed moments. Being a karyawah gives real pleasure and thrill from performing the Sangh duty. The shakha's daily class lasts merely an hour. But that Sangh hour becomes the supreme hour of the day, with the other 23 hours subordinate to it. Shishus, Baals, youth form refreshing company. Each becomes a part of the emotional makeup of the entirety. Bonding in brotherhood with those who are not blood or even distant relations is a pleasuresome experience.

Through the shakha, I came into close, cordial contacts with a number of families. Sabnis, an excise Inspector lived Shakha's vicinity, I vividly remember my first visit to his house. I had been told often in the Sangh meetings that it is one of the duties of the karyawah to visit swayamsevaks' homes and keep in constant touch with their families. I was doing this diligently. Each day, I scheduled my visits after the conclusion of the shakha hour. One day I went to Sabnis's place. His three sons were swayamsevaks in my shakha. They were also with me.

I was quite nervous to go there. Those were the days when the mere word inspector filled us with fright. Whether he was a police inspector or an excise inspector hardly mattered. How will I be received at the place of Sabnis? What question will he ask me? Will he enquire about the work of the Sangh? Will I be able to converse with him? These doubts troubled me.

Sabnis had just come home when I got there. Inspectorial toughness was writ large on his face. My stomach turned with fear. He rose quickly to greet me. "Welcome, teacher," he said. "Kids are full of praise for you."

The tension that had burdened my mind instantly vanished. I ensconced myself in a chair. Sabnis was extremely affectionate in his inquires about me. Where did live? What was my profession? How far was I educated? After I had answered his queries, he said, "Persuade my boys to study well and sincerely. They should excel in their exams."

How else could I respond to his request except to give him fervent assurance that I would do so. That was all the conversation we had. He never asked me about the work of the Sangh, what it was doing, was it owned by Brahmins? Nor did the ask me to explain what was meant by the Hindutva of the Sangh. Not only Sabnis, but of the literally hundreds of households a visited later, none asked me any of the above questions.

As I rose to go, Sabnis's mother came in and said, "Meals are ready. Have your meal with us today."

I felt shy and tried to offer various excuses. "Mother will be waiting for me, I have not informed her," and so ones but ultimately yielded to the pressure of the kids and their parents. Thereafter, meals with Sabnis-at least once a week-became a routine. If I missed any meal, Subnis's mother would send me a message "You are to come home".

In that way, I developed close and affectionate links with the Swayamsevaks' (volunteers') families, so much so that gradually I had my evening meal daily at some Swayamsevak's place. I got so accustomed to having my meals with them that it created a problem after my marriage! My wife was naturally keen that I should have my dinner with her everyday at home but it was very difficult for me to get out of my habit. Later, when the nature of my work with the Shakha changed, I was able to discontinue the practice of dining every evening in favour of a monthly lunch with Swayamsevaks. Invariably, after that lunch, I would tease my wife, "Today I feel I had a real meal!"

Steadily my responsibilities expanded and from karyawah, I rose to be Mandal (circle) karyawah and then Nagar (city) karyawah. The field of my activities widened. I had to move about a lot and in the process came into contact with Sangha workers at various levels. As a Nagar karyawah, I was in charge of the Sangh activities in Vile Parle, Andheri and Jogeshwari before the Emergency. I also had completed the Third Year Sangh training. To coordinate the functioning of shakhas in the expansive area, conduct programmes, organise training of workers, and give momentum to our work were some of my responsibilities.

By this time I had developed close emotional ties with numerous Sangh workers. Vimal Kedia, now Sarkaryavah (Chief Karyavah) of RSS - Mumbai District is perhaps the most noteworthy of them. Strangely there was nothing common between us which would be conducive to close friendship; Vimal hailed from an affluent Rajasthani family while I was mired in poverty. He was bright while I was average. He had no complex, could confidently meet anybody, was a good conversationist, whereas I was shy, rather tongue-tied and came into my own only in some particular circles. Our worlds seemed wide apart.

But the style of work in the Sangh is such that differences in social circumstances, status, and disposition do not come in the way of meeting of the minds. The nature of our work was capable of bringing us close together, rarely despite our socially different perspectives. We hardly had a long dialogue with each other; one or two sentences were enough to articulate what was in our minds. Sangh teaches obedience to officers and modesty in our conduct to ward them. That is why even when socially superior more senior in age, and with greater experience, Sangha member's had no reservation in working under officers junior to them in all respects. In my case, I had personal experience of this.

The Sangh's work took me frequently to Vimal's place. Compared to my hutment, his house in Vile Parle was verily a palace! I used to feel embarrassed while entering his house. However, Vimal's attitude to me was so friendly and affectionate that all embarrassment melted away. He freely took me to all parts of the house and on many occasions, I had to have my meals with him.

I remember the occasion when I had a meal with him for the first time. There was a thali (plate) which contained daal (preparation of pulses), subji (spinach), roti (flat round thin wheat bread), curds and sweets.

Vimal said, "Start eating".

I asked him, "Where is your plate?"

He said, "This thali is yours as well as mine."

I felt embarrassed to eat in the same plate.

Vimal is clever. He said, "Ramesh, now you are one of our family. And we have a custom of eating in the same plate with those who are close to us. Please start eating".

At that time, I was as unfamiliar with the concepts of equality, as with class distinctions and social status. Perhaps Vimal too was unacquainted with those concepts. We were aware of only one thing, "Hindu Hindu Bhai Bhai", The Sangh's believed is that all Hindus are one. While I was senior to Vimal in age, it was he who played the role of the elder brother. Without him, I would have remained only a swayamsevak and perhaps would never have been able to be an officer of the Sangh.

I had to go very often to Jogeshwari for our work. At times when I had to work till late at night, I would sleep there. In Jogeshwari, I came into contact with the Barsode family. They were four brothers of lower middle class staying together in a small one-room tenement.

Their house was small and usually crowded with Sangh workers like me. Among the Barsode brothers, Madhav and Sudhakar were very active Sangh workers. Many times after my work at Jogeshwari, I used to have my dinner with the Barsode family. Madhav used to personally attend to the needs of the touring Sangh workers.

Sudhakar's brother's wife was an embodiment of Annapoorna (Goddess of food). Her deportment and nature were her wealth and charm. She not only looked after her younger brothers-in-law, but also toiled a lot for the intruding Sangh workers like us. Today the Sangh is the talk of the town everywhere. Its reputation is owed to countless mothers like Barsode never inquire about anybody's caste or social status. Vahini served the same food to all. She would clean the table and wash the plates. And she did all this without ever having heard any lecture on the subject of Samarasata, social harmony or equality.

When Sudhakar married and brought home his wife who was not a Brahmin, Barsode vahini saw to it that she was absorbed in the family. Sudhakar's wife was a so-called "Shudra" but she mixed with the Barsode family as sugar does in milk.

There was a swayamsevak called Girkar. I often used to sleep at night at his place. He had a house in a chawl, a two-room tenement, with a loft. They had two daughters and a son. As the Sangh worker, I became the sixth family member. On many occasions, we all had our food together. The entire family used to sleep on the loft. I used to stretch out with them as one of the family.

The reason why I remember this today is that Barsodes and Girkars are Brahmin workers. I did not realise the revolutionary impact of their simple affectionate dealings with me. Nor did they realise it, I suppose. Caste considerations seemed irrelevant and ridiculous to us who felt bound together by the sole fact of being Swayamsevaks.

I was not introduced to Manu in the Sangh till 1975. The Sangh has its own style of functioning. When the Sangh worker gets involved in the Sangh's work, he has hardly any time to brood over any other thing but the Sangh. Usually he has no leisure to read and also, no need for such reading.

The "bouddhikas" or discourses mean stereotyped lectures. Rarely do bouddhik sessions stimulate thinking or shake the underlying assumptions, which are taken for granted. In the Sangh Training Courses, other ideologies are rarely discussed. Hence, the ordinary Sangh Swayamsevak is not widely informed. In fact, he is quite ignorant about many topics. Confronted with a point of view different from what is inculcated, his response may not always be logical or well-reasoned.

And 1967, an article was published with the title "Is the Sangh a workshop to pickle the youth?" The author of the article was Aniruddha Punarvasu(pen name of Shri Narayan Athavale, a bitter critic of RSS). The responses to this article were bitter and many of them were worded in rude and vulgar language. Only a few persons made an attempt to logically counter Punarvasu's attack.

Why do we not try to give fitting replies to the criticism made against us? The Sangh officers' answer to this question was, "We should ignore criticism and continue to do our work. Our work itself is able to silence criticism. We should not fritter away our energies to replying to critics". Unquestionably, this stance was conducive to greater concentration on our work. At the same time, unanswered criticism, was likely to spread misunderstanding about the Sangh among more and more people.

When I was holding the charge of the Sangha shakhas, I also used to ignore critical references to the Sangh and advised others not to waste their time in responding to such criticism.

Till 1975, I was being shaped as a Sangh Karyakarta (activist). Emotional identification with the Hindu society, mutual cooperation, mutual complimentarity, greatness of Hindu culture and civilization, and uniqueness of Hindu philosophy were getting embedded in my total awareness. I was also getting familiar with the aggressiveness of Islam and Christianity.

Paradoxically, I did not know much about the day-to-day material problems of the Hindu society. Absorbed in the Sangh duties, my commitment as the shakha Karyakarta was only to the growth in the attendance at the shakha. The questions which constantly occupied my mind were: how many new swayamsevaks are enrolled? How many are uniformed? How many will go for the Sangh training class? Who will assume the responsibility of the new shakhas? And so on.

Why is there such appalling poverty in Hindu society? Why is illiteracy so widespread? Why are women treated so meanly? What is this conundrum of castes ? Why and what is untouchability? Why is there so much cheating and hypocrisy in the name of religion? Why unemployment? These questions never occurred to me when I was running the shakhas. Our slate remained blank in those respects.

That our slate remained blank did not mean that the Sangh leadership at higher levels was insensitive to these problems. It might well be giving serious thought to these matters. Some very capable people in the Sangh were deputed to work in various fields. Deen Dayalji and Atalji entered politics, Dattopant Thengdi joined labour movements, Dadasaheb Apte. a senior leader of RSS, was sent to the sphere of religion. Many more Sangh workers worked in varied fields of social activity, giving concrete shape to projects in their respective areas of service. However, the need or educating the Sanghshakha workers about the numerous social problems must not have been acutely felt.

Due to such one sided intellectual development, we were unable to comprehend the import of a number of issues raised in the Sangh. In 1969, Shri Guruji Golwalkar, second Sarsanghchalak (Chief of RSS) gave an interview to a Marathi daily, "Nawakal" on the subject of "Chaturvarnya" (a system of 4 main castes by birth described Manusmriti, a code of conduct Hindus laid down in ancient times). This interview provoked quite a storm in Maharashtra and gave a handy weapon to leftists and socialists to beat the Sangh with. Meet were held to launch protests against Shri Guruji's view and abuses were hurled on the Sangh.

I had read Guruji's interview. I was at a loss to know why the socialists were making so much fuss over Guruji's view on the Chaturvarnya. Nobody in the Sangh believed that Guruji might have said anything improper. For the people associated with the Sangh, Guruji was a fountain of inspiration and they had unshakeable faith in this great man whose love for the Hindu society knew no bounds. All the socialists in Maharashtra were concertedly trying to spread their rancour against Guruji by trying to project him as the champion of inequalities. They were floating canards against Guruji who in 1948 had asked the swayamsevaks to go home since he did not wish to see any Hindu blood being shed for the sake of his own protection, who had converted his life into a yajna (a ritualistic performance for purification) to bury all the differences among Hindus, and build up an integrated, unified Hindu society. What was the motive of this vile socialist propaganda? Why were they bent on raising enormous controversies on the subject of "Chaturvarnya"? Why were they creating a stir and so much noise? At that time, answers to these questions were not readily available to me.

Perhaps I could not get the answers because I did not know then that Chaturvarnya, caste system, inequality, social justice were terms with specific meanings and belonged to a specific political parlance.

A great social movement to eradicate the Charturvarnya had taken shape in Maharashtra. Mahatma Phule and Dr Ambedkar, both renowned ardent social reformers from scheduled caste had unfurled the flag of revolt against Chaturvarnya. I was not aware of the intellectual content of their revolt. I knew about Mahatma Phule only from lessons in school textbooks. I had heard about Dr Ambedkar but was not yet aware of the revolutionary impact of his work.

Sangh shakas should have allotted some space in their time table to the introduction of the thought and work of these two great men to swayamsevaks. But there was total darkness in this respect in my student days. Our galaxy of heroes and great men was composed of Chhatrapati Shivaji a great Maratha warrior and the founder of Maratha empire, Rana Pratap, a brave historical warrior who fought with emperor Akbar throughout his life for freedom, Guru Gobind Singh, tenth Guru of Sikhs and founder of Khalsa sect, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, a Congress leader and later founder of Indian National Army and valorous fighters in our history. My incomprehensibility of Guruji's interview on Chaturvarnya, and of the storm raised in its wake, was due to my own unawareness of social issues.

Later, the third Sarsanghachalak, Balasaheb Deoras delivered a lecture on the subject at the Vasant Vyakhyanmala,a yearly series of lectures by intellectuals arranged in the spring season, at Pune. Later, the speech was published in the form of a brochure. The speech was in a way simple but I could not at all grasp its essence at that time. This incomprehension was again due to my unfamiliarity with the thought currents in Maharashtra. I was interested in the speech primarily because the Sarsanghchalak of the Sangh was speaking and therefore, it was an article of faith with us.

It was in this way that my intellectual development was taking shape. I had completely identified myself with the work of the Sangh which was the same as the work of Hindu unification. I was yet to be intellectually aware of the obstacles to Hindu unification posed by Chaturvarnya, the caste system, and by the philosophy that was built around them. I was also not yet acquainted with Manusmriti which championed Chaturvarnya.

In 1975 Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency on the country. A ban was clamped on the Sangh. In May that year, I had been to Nagpur to attend the third-year Sanghashakha training class. Nagpur is unbearably hot in May. Sultry winds blow during the day. People who are not accustomed to such terrible heat suffer a lot. In the third year of Sangh training, one really comes to know Hindustan in miniature. Swayamsevaks come from all parts of the country with their differences in food, dress and customs. Despite these differences, here we get the thrilling feeling that we are all Hindus and therefore, integral and indivisible part of the Hindu nation.

It had now become necessary to take away some time-a brief holiday-from the Sangh's work, and earn some livelihood. I had acquired adequate proficiency in tailoring and had also completed my M.A. Either to get employment somewhere or to start a tailoring shop were the options available to me and I was more inclined to start my own shop rather than take up a job. My sisters had grown up and I had to arrange for their marriage. My father was not in a state to discharge any family responsibility. The family was his, but the responsibility of running it was mine. That was the situation.

But destiny had chalked out a different path for me. I returned from the RSS training class in Nagpur in June. The Emergency was declared on 26th June, and immediately in its wake, a ban was clamped on the Sangh. All the leading workers of the Sangh were arrested under Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA). The workers belonging to the second line, like me, had to come forward to fill the gap created by the incarceration of the frontline leaders. I thought it was cowardice to think of earning money for self and family when the Sangh was in crisis. We have to confront the crisis, I resolved and went underground.

The Sangh was determined to fight the Emergency and towards that end, it organised the opposition and launched Satyagrahas. From my underground hideouts, I was busy training the Satyagrahis, organising their batches and sending them to launch the satyagraha, as well as collecting funds for the movement and keeping up and strengthening the morale of the swayamsevaks.

Senior officers of the Sangh also had gone underground. I was engaged in finding places for them in the area of my jurisdiction, and in arranging and organising meetings. The mere sight of a policeman used to fill me with fear. I was apprehensive that if they caught me, they would subject me to torture. I had read details of such harassment meted out to patriots during the British days. I had considerable information about the underground Sangh activities. For instance, I knew the hideouts of Madhavrao Mulay, Sarkaryawah of RSS as well as those of Moropant Pinglay, a prominent RSS leader and now Prachaar Pramukh and Dattopant Thengdi. I also knew the venue of the meeting of the Central Committee of the Sangh in the area of my jurisdiction. I continually prayed for the spiritual stamina to withstand police harassment in case I was rounded up.

Sometimes the stress during the Emergency became unbearable. To relieve the tension, at times I saw two cinemas a day! During this period I came into close contact with Dattopant Thengdi, and was busy making arrangements for him. Dattopant was a great thinker, skilled and competent organizer, and one of the seniormost leaders of the Sangh. Therefore, it was inevitable that his personality induced awe. I was shy and did not talk much. Dattopantji, however, used to put me at ease by affectionately asking me to sit near him, making anxious inquiries about me, and patting me on the back to carry his approval for the work I was doing. His pat on the back always made me feel that my work was appreciated.

In those days, I never had any intellectual discussion with Dattopantji even though I stayed and worked with him. I did not dare open any intellectual dialogue with him nor did any intellectual subject come to mind while talking with him. Later, I became chief of the Samarasata Manch (a Unification forum) which was launched by him but during the Emergency period, not a word was exchanged between us on the subject of Samarasata.

I once asked him only one question in the context of the Emergency. How long would Emergency last, when it was likely to end, and what would happen to the Sangh if it lasted for a long period? The reply given to this question by Dattopant Thengdi made me think a lot. He said the Emergency would not last long, and the Sangh would emerge triumphant from it. There was no reason, he felt, for the workers to worry about what would happen to the Sangh. They should concentrate on discharging successfully the responsibilities entrusted to them. The workers were really worried about what would happen to them, he said, and their worry for themselves is projected as worry for the organization. Our work is divinely ordained. We need not be skeptical about its success. It would be more worthwhile if we thought about the work on hand. Thereafter, I stopped the meaningless worry about the future of the Sangh.

Finally, what I was most afraid of, did take place. I was trapped in the police net. It happened this way. I was entrusted with the work of taking Ravindra Verma, General Secretary of the undivided Congress, later of Congress (O) and also Secretary of Janasangharsha Samiti (Committee of people's struggle), to the place of a Sangh meeting in Vile Parle. Ravindra Verma was to come from Ghatkopar, a Mumbai suburb. Manohar Pathak was to escort him. Manohar Pathak did not know the venue and therefore it was decided that along with Ravindra Verma he should come to the house of Prof. Bhalla, a lecturer and RSS sympathizer, near Sangam Cinema. Since Prof. Bhalla's house was situated on the main Andheri-Kurla Road, there was no problem in locating it. From there, I was to take Ravindra Verma to the place of the meeting. We had finalized these arrangements with Vasantrao Kelkar,an RSS Pracharak for Western Zone, the then Prant Pracharak in a meeting with him the previous night.

As Manohar Pathak was late in bringing Ravindra Verma to the appointed place, I had to wait on the road. Once Ravindra Verma came, I was to take him by taxi to another place. While I was looking for a taxi, a posse of 15 to 16 policemen in plain cloths encircled us. Assistant Police Commissioner Mokashi said to Ravindra Verma, "Mr Verma, you are under arrest." Taking advantage of the commotion, Manohar Pathak disappeared.

To find out why I was late, Bhimsen Rane, a worker of Samarasata Manch, had come from Parle. He too was nabbed. Prof. Bhalla's house was thoroughly searched. The entry of the police in the house and the search flabbergasted Prof. Bhalla. We were first taken to the Intelligence Bureau Office at Andheri and from there, to the main police office situated opposite Crawford Market, a prominent Market in Mumbai City. Bhimsen Rane's statement was recorded. Ravindra Verma and Prof. Bhalla were seated separately.

I thought that the police would now subject me and Bhimsen Rane to third degree, to extract information from us. But surprisingly, police did not seem interested in making any inquiries. They did not even cross-check my statement they had recorded. Their behaviour with us was polite and affectionate. May be they were happy over a big catch like Ravindra Verma and they regarded us as very lowly workers. Or it might be that they sympathized with our struggle.

In the evening, the three of us, Ravindra Verma, Bhimsen and I, were taken to the Thane Jail. Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) was applied to us. Prof. Bhalla was released as the police thought he was not involved in the affair. I had said so repeatedly in my statement. The episode upset Prof. Bhalla greatly. When I went to see him after the Emergency was lifted, he subjected me to a harsh harangue, though everything had ended happily. I took his rebuke as a normal human failing and ignored it.

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