Disaster Relief and the RSS: Resurrecting 'Religion' through Humanitarianism studies the political implications of the humanitarian work of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) by examining the institution of seva (service) in disaster situations. This book provides a refreshingly new perspective of the RSS by recognizing its 'compassionate' aspects and understanding its appeal from the point of view of its benefactors. It examines the religious, moral, intellectual and instrumental heritage of seva and discusses the possible reasons for its continual resurrection in modern India.
By highlighting the under analyzed aspects of the moral complexity of evaluating the RSS's humanitarian work, the book provokes the larger question of whether there is a need to move beyond the stereotypical understanding of Hindutva as a challenge to liberal democratic principles. It attempts to nudge the reader towards some of the limitations of the 'secular' and the repercussions of the political project of secularism to suppress and de-recognize the non-secular experience.
What can one say about the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that has not been already said before? Over the past few decades, scores of books and articles have been dedicated towards understanding India's perhaps most controversial organization. Many of these are in-depth accounts of the organization's genesis, its leadership, its modus operandi and its interface with politics. Therefore, for those looking for additional 'information' about the Sangh, as it is popularly known, this book will be a disappointment. What this book does attempt to do though is to bring a fresh perspective into the workings of the Sangh. I go about doing this by interrogating its humanitarian activities, particularly in the realm of disasters.
It has been a while since I have been intellectually fascinated by the RSS and its larger Parivar. The primary motivation for writing this book however stems from the fact that I now strongly feel that if there is any time to seriously engage with the Sangh, intellectually and even otherwise, it is now. This is partly because I see the growing popularity and influence of the RSS as part of a larger phenomenon worldwide, that is, the resurrection of 'sacred forms' in modem societies. I elaborate more on the idea of the 'sacred form' in my introductory chapter, but I must add here that the term 'sacred' should not be equated with religiosity, although it does draw upon certain aspects of religion. Since the early 1990s, there seems to have been a resurgence of sociocultural/religious movements across the world that alludes to this phenomenon of 'sacred forms'. These movements have been enormously influential in not only shaping public policies but also lending a sense of purpose and identity to millions of people who seem to be struggling with the anomie imposed by a modern rational and largely secularized world. A few important examples that come to mind are the Gulen movement which originated in Turkey and gradually acquired a transnational character, the Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Soka Gakkai movement that started in Japan and the Muhammadiyah in Indonesia. The remarkable similarity in all these cases is demonstrated in that they all have massive networks at their disposal, conduct a vast array of humanitarian work and enjoy enormous following both in their countries of origin and among diasporic communities settled outside their countries of origin.
The other and more important reason why I think we need to take the Sangh more seriously than we have before is because of the acute religious/political polarization that we have come to witness in contemporary times. In the history of Indian politics, there has seldom been a moment such as this when the country has been so divided in terms of their world view with regard to the most normatively significant questions. Subjects of secularism, liberalism, citizenship and minority rights are being contested like never before. These contestations, which are amplified on the news hour slots of various television channels, often manifest as polemics without being backed by any substantive intellectual rigour. What is also evident from these debates is a discernible fault line between 'conservative' and 'secular' thought. The imagination that frames this binary discourse seems to emanate from an insipid understanding of reality and understanding that the realm of the rational and the irrational can be clearly distinguished.
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