RSS and Hindu-Muslim relations A look Back

The decade of 1920s witnessed a significant deterioration in the relations between Hindus and Muslims.

The Muslim masses were mobilised by the Khilafat movement, demanding the reinstatement of the Caliphate in Turkey, and Gandhi made an alliance with it for conducting his own Non-co-operation movement.

Gandhi aimed to create Hindu-Muslim unity in forming the alliance. However, the alliance saw a "common enemy", not a "common enmity". When Gandhi called off the Non-co-operation movement due to outbreaks of violence, Muslims disagreed with his strategy. Once the movements failed, the mobilised Muslims turned their anger towards Hindus.

The first major incident of religious violence was reportedly the Moplah rebellion in August 1921, it was widely narrated that the rebellion ended in large-scale violence against Hindu in Malabar. A cycle of inter-communal violence throughout India followed for several years. In 1923, there were riots in Nagpur, called "Muslim riots" by Hedgewar, where Hindus were felt to be "totally disorganized and panicky."

These incidents made a major impression on Hedgewar and convinced him of the need to organise the Hindu society.

After acquiring about 100 swayamsevaks (volunteers) to the RSS in 1927, Hedgewar took the issue to the Muslim domain. He led the Hindu religious procession for Ganesha, beating the drums in defiance of the usual practice not to pass in front of a mosque with music. (Chitkara, M. G. (2004), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh: National Upsurge, APH Publishing, ISBN 8176484652)

On the day of Lakshmi Puja on 4 September, Muslims are said to have retaliated. When the Hindu procession reached a mosque in the Mahal area of Nagpur, Muslims blocked it.

Later in the afternoon, they attacked the Hindu residences in the Mahal area. It is said that the RSS cadres were prepared for the attack and beat the Muslim rioters back.

Riots continued for 3 days and the army had to be called in to quell the violence. RSS organised the Hindu resistance and protected the Hindu households while the Muslim households had to leave Nagpur en masse for safety.

Tapan Basu et al. note the accounts of "Muslim aggressiveness" and the "Hindu self-defence" in the RSS descriptions of the incident. The above incident vastly enhanced the prestige of the RSS and enabled its subsequent expansion.

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