Teaching Animosity: A conversation with students of an RSS shakha
By Adil Bhat
In 2016, as the unrest in Kashmir peaked, I left for Delhi. I was studying at Jamia Millia Islamia and stayed with my brother at Jawaharlal Nehru University. This time he was not in town, so I could not stay on the JNU campus. Looking for a place to live, I zeroed in on Sarai Jullena, a locality not far from Jamia Millia.
Jullena is a middling urban cluster: no match for the affluent New Friends Colony to the northwest but much better than the neglected Noor Nagar to the southeast.
As I was walking down a street, a flashy store with “Rent a Room” scribbled on its facade caught my eye. I peaked inside to find a stout man yelling at a pageboy. Noticing me standing in the doorway, he cleared his throat and asked, “What can I do for you?”
“Sir, I am searching for a place to stay. I saw this writing on the wall so thought of inquiring.”
Satya, that was his name as I learned, agreed to rent the room. “Sir, we need to do some paper work first,” he said.
“Paper work” is a loaded term here, essentially meaning a “security check” by the police. It could be just a formality or a nightmare depending on a host of factors, not least which side of the great urban class divide you are on.
As I started filling in the form, Satya sat in front of me, watching. He read aloud my permanent address: “Vessu, Anantnag, J&K.” The tone of his voice made me curious, and I looked at him. He looked back into my eyes and said, “Is this the district from where the terrorist Burhan Wani hailed?”
“Yes, I belong to the same district,” I replied, and continued filling in the form.
When I wrote in my previous residence, he stood up as if shocked: “You stayed in JNU?” I replied in the affirmative.
“I don’t want any political meetings in here. There is nothing in these political meetings,” he advised me, “Be a good Kashmiri, a good student.” His advice ended with a sheepish smile.
Having signed the lease agreement, I told him I would be shifting in at night. After a short pause, he said, “The room in front of yours is usually busy till late in the evening. My brother and I have opened a small ‘charity school’ for underprivileged children from the neighbourhood who come for their classes here.”
In the evening, I entered my room. It had a peculiar smell of dampness, as if the place had been locked for years. I thought of going back to where I had been temporarily staying for one more night, but I realised there was no point fretting about taste. I got down cleaning my room, only to realise somebody was peeping from the window. I turned and saw nobody. In a few minutes, I heard giggling. It was Satya’s students.
As I was settling down, one of them came to me and asked, “Brother, have you come to stay here?” I said, “Yes”, and in a jiffy he ran away. Later, I thought of going out to eat. But before I could lock my room, I got engaged in a conversation with these young boys. They showed me their books that appeared peculiar to me. They were not the books I had seen any schoolchildren aged 6-12 studying. The books were primarily on Hindu nationalism posed diametrically opposite to the history of Mughal India. In fact, the knowledge base of the children was evidently majoritarian in nature, claiming and excessively relying on the ancient past, but conveniently ignoring the medieval period or portraying it as foreign rule over the people of Bharat. While some books depicted huge time gap in the narrative on Indian history, others were laden with prejudice. This bias was visible in my conversation with the children.
I asked the children about their books and what the teachers taught them. “We study everything here,” one of them replied. “How Muslim invaders came to India and ruled us for so many years. How we can make this country a great Hindu rashtra.” My worst fears came true when another student joyfully said, “This is a shakha, Sangh Shakha.”
I sat still looking at the young faces brimming with passion as they talked about Muslim rule over the Hindus. I contemplated leaving the place immediately, but thought better of it.
Out of sheer curiosity I asked the kids what they wanted to do when they grew up.
The answers can be easily categorised as dangerously communal. The aggressive education campaign pursued by the RSS and its affiliates is essentially preparing these young children for a war against an unknown enemy – the Muslims. When I asked them if they had ever met a Muslim, the entire lot jumped to respond, “No! Neither are we interested in meeting them. They stay dirty and look different.” The tone was militant and the content was hate. Worse, these indoctrinated children were completely ignorant about the ‘enemy’ against whom they were harbouring such sentiments of hate.
Before retiring to my room, I asked them, “Will you kill me?” The children laughed and said, “No brother, why will we kill you?”
“I am also your enemy, I am a Muslim,” I replied. The kids seemed shocked to have discovered my identity. They did not utter a word and rushed to their “classroom”. I felt betrayed. The landlord had not told me about the existence of this full-fledged RSS shakha operating right under my nose.
To read about the RSS and their Hindutva ideology is one thing, to interact face to face with their trainees quite another. The episode disturbed me deeply. The unease of that night stayed with me long after I left that place the next morning.
Adil Bhat is Assistant Editor at Cafe Dissensus. Twitter: @Adiljourno
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One Response to “Teaching Animosity: A conversation with students of an RSS shakha”
so sad to hear this