Photo Feature: An RSS Training Camp at Work

On Vijay Dashami, RSS shakhas organise training sessions for people to practice and learn martial arts.

Founded in 1925, the Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is an ideological organisation inspired in part by the European fascist movement. In recent years, after the BJP came to power at the Centre, the RSS and other similar organisations in the Sangh parivar have become the political behemoth.

Across the country, the RSS runs shakhas for local people, holding events, training sessions and other activities.

On Vijaya Dashami (the final day of Durga puja, marking when Durga killed Mahishahura, according to Hindu mythology) every year, the RSS holds sessions to practice defence skills. Arms are displayed in front of ‘Bharat Mata (Mother India)’, Ram and the founding members of the RSS, K.B. Hedgewar and M.S. Golwalkar. In front, uniformed cadres known as ‘swayemsevaks’ display their martial arts skills. The instructor issues commands in Sanskrit.

The images below were taken in the Ghaziabad district, where the shakhas come under RSS’s Meerut leadership. At the training camps, there were around 200 young men, along with their teachers.

On previous such occasions I have seen young men in the thousands, but this year was different. There was no extravagant procession. When asked, one RSS cadre said it was because the shakhas have split into smaller factions to have more focus. When I asked a journalist and writer who specialises in Hindutva politics, however, he had something different to say. According to him, although Uttar Pradesh has a BJP government, families aren’t sending their children to shakhas to avoid unnecessary problems and because they are suspicious of the RSS’s polarising efforts. At the training camp, however, lectures continued about building a large force to fight the “enemy”.

All images by Shome Basu.