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In year leading up to women’s quota Bill, RSS took steps to shed ‘male-dominated’ tag

For the past year, leading up to the BJP-led Centre introducing the women’s reservation Bill to provide 33% seats to women in the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies, the RSS has been pushing for greater gender representation within its organisation and the society at large.

In a changing socio-political and electoral landscape with increasing participation of women, the RSS, which has long been criticised for being dominated by men, has been underlining the importance of women’s leadership. Notably, the Sangh has also in the past been seen to build conversation before key Bills are brought by the BJP-led government.

During the RSS’s annual Vijayadashmi speech in October 2022, Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat said that a survey conducted by it in 2017 “had found that there was nothing that men could do but women could not”.

“If the entire society is to be organised, then 50% of it is maternal power. It cannot be ignored…We either lock them in the prayer room, or brand them as second class and shut them in the house. Doing away with this, we need to make them active by giving them equal rights in domestic and public sphere and independence in decision-making,” Bhagwat said.

The event also stood out for its chief guest, mountaineer and former Indo Tibetan Border Police officer Santosh Yadav. A woman chief guest is a rare occurrence in events of the Sangh. Yadav was also the first woman chief guest at the annual Vijayadashmi event that is held at the party headquarters in Nagpur.

In March, at an Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha meeting in Haryana, the organisation said it was working on increasing the participation of women in the Sangh.

“Many programs of the Sangh such as kutumb prabodhan, sewa vibhag, and prachar vibhag cannot be successful without the participation of women. We have also decided in this meeting that there would be a family shakha organised every three months by our grihasth swayamsewaks (married RSS workers) at village and town levels and organise various cultural programmes with the participation of women,” RSS general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale had said then.

And in August, while delivering a lecture at Delhi University on women’s empowerment, RSS joint general secretary Krishna Gopal said “the lack of women’s participation in public life was not a part of Indian culture and was brought by Islamic invasions”.

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Gopal said that “traditions such as child marriage, sati, ban on widow remarriage and women’s illiteracy crept into Indian society due to Islamic invasions” and that before the 12th Century, “women were reasonably free and contributed significantly to Indian society”.

Talking about the “high status of women in ancient Indian society”, Gopal said that as many as 27 women gave hymns in the Rig Veda and added that Mahabharat’s Draupadi was an “inspiration for all women as she became the medium of destruction of all those who humiliated her”.

Two days before the special session of Parliament began on September 18, the RSS concluded the annual coordination meeting of 36 organisations associated with it. RSS joint general secretary Manmohan Vaidya said there that “RSS-inspired organisations will make special efforts to increase participation of women in all fields and ensure their leading role”.

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“The role of women in the family is the most prominent. Therefore, women should play a leading role in every field of society. The increasing activism of women in society is commendable,” he said.

Vaidya said the meeting elaborately discussed women’s participation in the centenary year of the RSS, adding that as many as 411 conferences would be organised across the country for women in the organsation. The RSS has so far conducted 73 such conferences that have seen the participation of more than 1.23 lakh women.

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Most recently, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad, affiliated to the RSS, released a “Womanifesto” for the Delhi University Student Union polls scheduled for September 23. The manifesto promised hostels for girls, initiatives such as mission sahasi for self-defence training of women, and ritumani abhiyan for the distribution of sanitary napkins.

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