— Consider reading the article Nagpur Riots of 1923: How it played in Dr K.B Hedgewar’s life and lead to the formation of RSS on OpIndia website —
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, in 1920, started the non-cooperation movement in India in an attempt to overthrow the British rule from the country. Coupled with the Khilafat movement that sought to support the caliphate during the first World War, Gandhi attempted to forge a utopian alliance of Hindus and Muslims in India by merging the two very different movements in the country. Both communities had very different motives and objectives, with the Hindus wanting to achieve ‘Poorna Swaraj’ while the Muslims wanted to support the Caliph of the Ottoman Empire.
This alliance was destined to collapse since it was depending on a thin line of adhesive to sustain. During a Khilafat agitation in the Malabar region of South India, the protestors went rogue and attacked the local Hindu residents. Hindus were lynched, raped and murdered in the hands of murderous and red-eyed Moplas, blinded by extremism. This incident sparked communal tensions all over the country for the next couple of years. After the incidents of communal violence in the country, Gandhi called off the Non-cooperation movement in India.
Before the non-cooperation movement, Dr Hedgewar (founder of RSS) was an active member of the Congress. He was deeply influenced by the literary works of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Veer Savarkar. Hedgewar had in the past participated in the Anushilan Samiti movement that advocated armed revolution against the British government and was arrested several times for defiance against the British government. However, the delusion of ‘Hindu-Muslim unity’ of the Congress made him less keen on participating in the affairs of the party, and he ultimately left the party to start a new nation-building organisation in Nagpur (Ref: Dr Hedgewar, Founder of RSS by Rakesh Sinha).
In 1923, several members of the Hindu Mahasabha had led a procession on the streets of Nagpur during the auspicious occasion of Lakshmi Pooja. As the procession advanced with beating drums and intoxicating music, they happened to pass through an area with a mosque.
The local Muslim youth, angered by the bhajans, attacked the procession that was passing from the area in the front of the mosque. Several Hindus were injured and few succumbed to injuries due to the communal clash. What followed was a near-massacre of Hindus in Muslim majority areas of Nagpur and this led to the steps which Dr KB Hedgewar took next.
According to Dr Hedgewar, the disunity and lack of organisation amongst Hindus were the main reasons behind their suffering during riots. Unlike Muslims who act as one large unit, Hindus are divided into multiple sects, beliefs, castes and ideologies. This made Hindus most vulnerable to damage during communal clashes at that time.
Despite enjoying majority status in Nagpur, Hindus were being lynched and attacked by Muslim mobs. There was no unity amongst the community to defend themselves from the rioters, but the Muslims managed to fund, protect and mobilise to attack Hindus.
The incident of 1923 made Dr Hedgewar think intensively about the condition of Hindus in Nagpur, and played a major role in his decision of founding the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in Nagpur to bring unity amongst Hindus. After founding RSS in 1925, Dr Hedgewar started shakhas in every locality of Nagpur and trained Hindus to act as one single entity.
Energetic Hindu youth were recruited to join the Sangh and participate in its activities. Hindus from all castes and creeds played various games together and practised self-defence in these shakhas regardless of their differences. By 1927, 16 shakhas were functioning in Nagpur within merely 2 years of foundation, with a membership of over 100 active Swayamsevaks.
In 1927, Dr Hedgewar defied the symbolic practice of Islamic slavery by leading a procession of 100 Swayamsevaks through a lane with a mosque in it. While the Swayamsevaks danced to the tunes of Lord Ganesha, they were blocked by Muslim youth when they were passing through the Mahal locality of Nagpur.
Infuriated by the audacity of the “Kaafirs” to dance and sing songs in the glory of their gods while passing by the mosque, the Muslim youth of Mahal tried to raid houses belonging to Hindus in the area. Which, to their surprise, was foiled when Swayamsevaks armed with lathis were ready to face the mob. The Muslim mob was routed and many had to flee the city for their safety.
This act of defiance to Islamic slavery made RSS gain a commendable reputation in the eyes of local Nagpur residents and changed the fate of Hindus in Nagpur. Hindus were no longer disorganised and had acquired a disciplined structure in times of chaos and violence. Moreover, this gave Dr KB Hedgewar a sense of confidence which lead to him initiating the same organisational strategies in other parts of Maharashtra, and gradually all over India.
Slowly, RSS shakhas spread to every corner of India, including Muslim majority areas such as Sindh, NWFP and East Bengal. Seva work was initiated by the Sangh in disaster-struck areas (such as floods, droughts, etc), making the reach of Sangh gain roots and percolate deep inside Indian society.
After Dr Hedgevar breathed his last in 1940, Guru Golwalkar took the charge of Sarsanghchalak and continued the work of expanding RSS all over India.