By Kalyani Giri

Shri Kuppahalli Seetharamiah Sudarshan gave up a career in engineering to dedicate his life to the Hindu cause as a full-time volunteer of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, India’s largest social service and religious organization [see Nov., 1999 issue]. During his first trip to Houston, I interviewed Sudarshan, who became president of the RSS in March, 2000. I found him fearlessly outspoken, yet gentle, an honorable, hardworking and patriotic son of India.

On Hindu Identity

We find that those who live outside India, Bharat, are more awakened as far as identity is concerned. When the RSS started in India, people used to say, “You can call us a donkey, but please do not call us a Hindu!’ That was the inferiority complex the Hindus inculcated because of the politics and British machinations. After 75 years of efforts by the RSS, the consciousness of our brilliant past as Hindus has risen. We realized that we could not protect our independence unless we consolidated and became filled with patriotic feelings for our country. The Vedas say: “Walk in unison, talk in unison, let our minds think alike.” In the middle, we had forgotten ourselves, and therefore we had to remain subjugated for about 800 yearsÑnow we have to come up! Now Hindus say, “We are proud to be Hindus!”

The Western World

The Western worldview is based on four principals: struggle for existence, survival of the fittest, exploitation of nature and individual rights. Western socio-economic systems have evolved from this paradigm. The Hindu paradigm does not share these principals. We do not believe in a struggle for existence because we say Sarvam Kalavitham Brahma, meaning “All is Brahma.” The whole creation is a manifestation of Brahma. There is perfect harmony everywhere, if ignorance is removed. We are a manifestation of the same ultimate reality. Next, we do not believe in the survival of the fittest. We say Sarve Bhavanthu Sukhinah, meaning “Let everyone be happy.” It is the duty of the strong to see that the weak also are able to live. Third, we do not believe in exploitation of nature. Nature has enough to meet our needs, but not our greed. We have to think of nature as our mother. Man has exploited nature; now nature finds it difficult to replenish itself. Fourth, we do not believe in individual rights without a corresponding duty. We are part of a family and society.

Religious Strife

It is the nature of the different religions. The Muslims and Christians are exclusive in their thinking. They say, “Only our path is the true one. If you follow our path, it will lead to heaven. All other paths lead to hell.” They are free to have their own ideas. But they also believe that God has ordained them to lead everyone to their path; therefore, they’re after converts. Just before last year’s Millennium Peace Summit organized at the United Nations, the Catholic Church issued a 36-page document saying no other religion can be equal to the Roman Catholic one. It said Catholics who try to put other religions on par with Catholicism are crossing the limits of tolerance. It also said that non-Christian religions are gravely deficient as far as salvation is concerned, because they do not believe that Jesus is the only Son of God. It said even other Christian churches have defects! This mentality causes friction. When they try to impose their way on us, deride our GodsÑimmediately there will be reaction. We have a strong religion. That’s why it has held up for so long. Our people may not be able to explain what their religion is, but they have belief in it.

On India’s Elite

In our country the elite, especially those who had gone to Christian schools, have lost their moorings because the main purpose in those schools is to “de-Hinduize” them. It is not the same with the general masses.

On Ahimsa, Nonviolence

Ahimsa is a negation of himsa, violence. If you have the capacity to do himsa and still do not take recourse to it, then it becomes ahimsa. A coward cannot follow ahimsaÑMahatma Gandhi used to say thisÑbecause he does not have the capacity to practice himsa. I’ve got the capacity to slap someone if he abuses me, but I can walk away, thinking he is ignorant. If I do not have the capacity to retaliateÑthen ahimsa has no meaning. So we must first have the capacity, the strength. After having the strength, then if we do not retaliate, that is ahimsa. Ahimsa is not to be followed by weak persons.

On Caste Issues

In 1964, upon the founding of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the RSS president met with Hindu leaders. He told them that the 110 million Harijans and 70 million tribals, who form a major section of Hindu society, have been discriminated against all these years. He asked the leaders to preach acceptance. At a conference in Udupi in 1969, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad came out in full force and declared that untouchability has no religious sanction. Today the caste seems to be used for only two thingsÑmarriages and elections! Even the Christian churches in India discriminate against Harijans. If they come to worship in the same church as formerly high-caste Christians, they are given different places to sit. In some places they have different churches altogether. These are the same Harijans who were promised equal status if they converted to Christianity, but are still denied equality.

On the Role of Government

According to our Hindu concept, it is not political power that can bring about a change in society, it is society itself which has to do this. Political power is only on the sidelines and is needed to protect the society from external aggression and internal disturbances. Peace and order should prevail. We are trying to prepare society for that eventuality. We say, “Do your own work, think of yourself first, the government will come afterwards.” Wherever the people have participated in developmental activities, we have had better results. Therefore, the RSS does not expect any help from the government. All we want is a good government where peace and honor prevail.

On Christian Persecution in India

Most of the incidents that had been related in the press did not happen at all! They said that in Rajkot a Bible was burnt. In a convent school, Bibles were distributed to all the children there and they were asked to sign the last page, where it was written, “I am a sinner. I want to absolve myself of sin and therefore I want to accept the guidance of Christ.” Our Bajrang Dal people came to know of this and asked the headmaster why the Bible was distributed to Hindus students and why they were required to sign it. The headmaster denied distributing it, saying that a multinational company was responsible. He apologized and gave a written statement saying such incidents shall not be repeated. But the Indian Express, which was published from Ahmedabad and whose resident editor was a Christian, wrote that the Bible was burnt! And because this was published by Indian Express, it was repeated elsewhere. Then it was reported in Allahabad that an American couple was threatened by the Bajrang Dal people and told that if they did not leave the country, they would face dire consequences. This was carried by the Associated Press and published worldwide. When it was published in India, the couple came forward and said that they were not American but Indian, and that no one had threatened them! One ghastly crime that did happen was the 1999 murder of Graham Staines, the Australian missionary, and his two sons. The courts are handling this and whoever is guilty will be punished.

On Claims of RSS “Militancy”

How can we be a militant organization? To inculcate discipline, we do drills. Drills do not mean militancy. That is completely wrong! The RSS does not believe in armed revolution. We believe in the revolution of the mind! That is what we are trying to do, and we are successful to some extent. Revolution does not give good results. What happened in Russia? A total failure! After a revolution there is counterrevolution also. We believe in minding our work. A long time ago in Andhra Pradesh, during cyclonic weather, a well-known Sarvodaya leader, Prabhakar Rao, amazed by the long arduous hours put in without any thought for return by our cadres, said that RSS stands for “Ready for Selfless Service!”

His Personal Deity

Swami Vivekananda had said, “For some years, you forget all other Gods and Goddesses and only have Bharat Mata [Mother India] as your Goddess.” We are doing that. Every day we tell Bharat Mata that we are here to serve her, and through her, we are trying to protect dharma. We have to make this nation great, with all-round prosperity. As far as personal Gods are concerned, it depends on the individual. We are Hindus, children of this soil. As for prayer, yes, I do Sandhya Vandenam [Namaskaram to the Sun] daily. When I go for my morning walk, I do pray to God. In my mind, I recite the verses to Devi, the Goddess.

On the Attack on America

The deliberate dashing of hijacked planes carrying passengers agains the World Trade Center in New York and Pentagon in Washington, DC, causing the huge loss of the lives of thousands of innocent citizens has brought out the most hideous face of terrorism afflicting different parts of the world today. Words are insufficent to condemn the barbarity and brutality of this reprehensible act. For the last more than three decades Bharat has been facing this same kind of terrorism, first in Punjab and now in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeastern states, and, as such, can fathom the agony caused not only to the relatives of the dead and injured but the psyche of the whole nation. The RSS shares the agony of the American nation and hopes that America together with all other nations will take the lead in evolving a strategy to root out this menace of terrorism, which is nothing but an affront to the whole civilized world. [From a statement issued in India, September 23, 2001.]

The Future

The thing that gives me joy is that the Sangh work is spreading, going to more and more villages. When our workers in the different fields achieve something, that gives us pleasure. We have plans to continue working for Bharat and her children.