Drishti Stree Adhyayan Prabodhan Kendra (DSAPK), a Pune-based think tank linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, conducted a survey on ‘Status of Women in India’ that was recently released in New Delhi by RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat and Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
According to reports, here are some details about the survey:
- 43,255 women above the age of 18 years across 465 districts in 29 states and five Union Territories were interviewed.
- The data was compiled between 2017 and 2018.
- Around 7,000 volunteers were involved in conducting the survey.
- A separate survey was conducted among 7,675 girls across 25 states.
Some of the findings included:
- “Married women had a high level of happiness, whereas lowest percentage was among those who had live-in relationships”.
- “Women are happy even in conflict zones”.
- “Two-thirds of divorced women and three-fifths of those separated or in live-in relationships are employed”.
- Women in spiritual organisations or those who have renounced the world, are happiest. The survey claims to have interviewed over 4,000 women in spiritual organisations across six religions.
The survey’s findings have been criticised by many women activists.
However, the main question here is why is the RSS conducting such a survey in the first place?
RSS Outreach Among Women
According to India Today journalist Uday Mahurkar, the Sangh’s aim is to rectify its image as a paternalistic organisation. However, the aim is much bigger.
The survey must be seen as part of the RSS’ mission to become a hegemonic force in Indian society and projecting Hindutva as an ideology that encompasses every section.
The Sangh already has affiliate organisations among students, workers, farmers, intellectuals, professionals etc. It even has separate outfits for outreach with women, religious minorities and tribals. Rashtriya Sevika Samiti is often described as the RSS women’s wing.
Established in 1936 by Laxmibai Kelkar (called Mousiji by followers), the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti is technically not the RSS’ women’s wing. RSS founder KB Hedgewar had advised Kelkar to form an independent organisation rather than a women’s division within the RSS. But the ideology of the two organisations is identical and like the RSS, the primary unit of the Samiti is also the shakha (local branch).
The main ideals of the Sevika Samiti are:
- Matrutva (Universal Motherhood)
- Kartrutva (Efficiency and Social Activism)
- Netrutva (Leadership)
What is clear is that in the RSS worldview, women are secondary to men in the process of nation-building and the foremost identity of a woman is that of motherhood. While the Sangh has become more open about women working, family responsibilities are seen as paramount.
Women are seen essentially as part of society and family and their individual identity comes much later.
Even DSAPK – the RSS think-tank which carried out the survey among women – has a similar view. According to its mission statement, “A woman has a four-fold role in this society. She plays a role as a mother, as the centre of her family, as a responsible member of the society and as a person herself”.
Some of the conclusions that the DSAPK has drawn from the survey stems from this worldview, particularly the claim that married women are happier than women who are divorced, single or in live-in relationships. Single women can be extremely happy if they renounce the world and devote themselves to spirituality.
However, reinforcing the RSS’ beliefs on women is only one part of what the survey seeks to achieve. The main aim is to collect data for the Sangh’s outreach among women.
Despite being just 11 years younger than RSS, the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti hasn’t expanded to the same extent in terms of reach.
The Samiti’s national executive almost entirely comprises comparatively older, urban middle class women from upper castes. Of course the RSS top rung is no different but the Sangh has successfully expanded itself beyond these sections.
The RSS now sees an opportunity to spread its political project among women to a much greater extent. Only a part of this project will be through the Samiti.
The main priority of the Sangh is to project itself as an hegemonic organisation that has roots in and has a plan for every section of Indian society.