Gujarat quake disaster: help came from all: RSS to the forefront
- Author: M V Kamath
Publication: Free Press Journal
Date: February 22, 2001
URL: http://www.indiavotes.com/elections/news/feature795.htmlThere is something very touching about the manner in which nations, organisations, institutions and individuals have responded to the disastrous earthquake in Gujarat that has already taken several thousand lives and left behind thousands more injured or orphaned. The true facts have yet to be accounted. Defence Minister George Fernandes estimated those most likely killed at around one lakh. The estimated damage done is to the tune of some Rs. 25,000 crore rupees.These figures may not be accurate but they reflect the enormity of the damage done in Gujarat, but more especially in Ahmedabad and Bhuj during 25 seconds when the earth shook and brought thousands of homes tumbling down. Assistance from all sides poured swiftly: it consisted of men, money and material with even so small a nation as Israel rushing its doctors, nurses and equipment to Bhuj in a matter of hours. But the very first to reach their destination were the much-maligned volunteers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – the RSS.Literally within minutes RSS volunteers were at the scenes of distress. As Outlook weekly’s correspondent in Ahmedabad, Saba Naqvi Bhaumik reported: “Across Gujarat, the (RSS) cadres were the saviours. Even as the state machinery went comatose in the first two days after the quake, the cadre-based machinery of the Sangh fanned out throughout the state. Approximately 35,000 RSS members in uniform were pressed into service.
In addition, there were thousands of Sangh sympathisers like doctors, engineers, traders, contractors and other middle-class professionals whose services were tapped…the RSS lads were always there to rush first aid, clear the rubble and provide security….” Bhaumik, by no stretch of imagination an RSS worker quoted Ahmedabad’s Collector K. Srinivas as saying: “This is an old tradition in the RSS. To be the first at any disaster strike: floods, cyclone, drought and now quake”. To that Bhaumik added: “In Kutch, too, the RSS was the first to reach the affected areas. At Anjar, a town in ruins, the RSS was present much before the Army and took the lead in finding survivors and fishing out the dead.
“Nobody has ever accused Outlook magazine as being pro-RSS but even Outlook was forced to tell the truth. Likewise its competitor Inda Today (Feb. 12) willingly conceded the excellent work done by the RSS. As its correspondent put it: “It is conceded by even their worst detractors that the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have been in the forefront of the non- official rescue and relief (operations). This has led to an upsurge of goodwill for the Sangh Parivar”.
The strange part of it all is that so little is known of what the RSS has done, though the charge has been made that it is out to take credit! Judging from reports in the daily national press, the RSS hardly exists! Almost the only time when the English press took notice of what the RSS has been doing was when a Mumbai paper quoted Tushar Gandhi, great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi who extensively toured the affected areas, as saying: “I have my differences with the RSS. But the fact remains that the RSS is doing really commendable work in Gujarat. I saw them at work at Bhuj, Anjar and other areas devastated by the earthquake and they are doing a good job”.
But the pictue of the RSS as fascists persist, especially among foreigners. Thus, a Canadian reporter, one John Stackhouse, writing for his paper Globe & Mail (3 February) said: “In the depths of crisis, India’s stoic men in Khaki emerge, their discipline as famous as their uniforms, their reputation as sure, they believe, as their nation’s. Men like Narendra Sonaniskar, a hero to thousands this week, but may be a fascist terror to millions more next week.
“A ‘fascist terror’? How many people have the RSS killed in the last fifty years? And does anyone know how many the Lashkar-e- Toiba killed in the last fifty months? And yet the Canadian correspondent could add: “(Sonaniskar), the mechanical engineer is part of the most efficient, responsible and dreaded voluntary force in India which saved hundreds of lives and comforted thousands more after last week’s earthquake”.
It is amusing to see how a “dreaded volunteer force” goes about saving human lives and comforting the living without considerations of caste, creed and community – or politics. It is apparent that western correspondents like Stackhouse cannot quite make up their mind how to describe the RSS. This correspondent said in his report: “In almost every Indian disaster, members of the Hindu group known as RSS are first on the scene.
Dressed in distinctive Khaki shorts, white shirts and black caps, they are the ones who haul mangled corpses from wrecked trains, organize mass cremations and usher children to safety”, but then he went on to add that the RSS is “accused of killing Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 (a charge that it had been absolved of, incidentally) slaughtering thousands of Muslims in the early 1990s and waging secret campaign to destroy India as a secular nation”.
Fancy an organisation accused of seeking to destroy India as a secular nation being everytime the first to rush aid to everyone, including Muslims! According to one report, RSS workers rendered the “greatest help” in the Malia tehsil of Rajkot district where Muslims form 50-60 per cent of the population. The Canadian correspondent notes that “older than India, the RSS has become, for many, the nation’s social backbone” but how can a “social backbone” go out to break it? What is interesting is that the same correspondent approvingly notes that when there was a mid-air crash of a Saudi Arabian Airlines jumbo jet in 1996 that killed 349 passengers, the first to rush aid were RSS volunteers.
RSS members removed the dead bodies, all of them Muslim, from the Saudi wreckage, carried them to a make-shift morgue and helped grieving relatives identify them. The Saudi Government was to appreciate the RSS gesture. Fancy an allegedly anti- Muslim body rushing to the help of those same Muslims in their greatest hour of distress! And yet the anti-RSS feeling among journalists persists.
Thus Chris Tomlinson of Associated Press wrote for his agency (2 Feb.); “Saffron scarves flung round their necks and pickaxes and shovels slung over their shoulders, the Hindu nationalist volunteers walk the streets of Bhuj, collecting the dead…They belong to the RSS known for its discipline and efficiency…The group has emerged as one of the leaders of the relief efforts in this devastated corner of western India where more than 10,500 people have been confirmed dead… The effort has burnished the image of the RSS…”
The AP correspondent noted that the RSS has delivered 141 truckloads of supplies to the Bhuj area and that its volunteers “fanned out daily to assess what help is needed”. Seva Bharati, an RSS-run institution has set up 5,000 tents which must be something of a record. How many secular organisations, one wonders have been able to put their men on relief work even after three weeks?
Stories of how RSS men rushed to help others when they themselves were in distress are flooding internet. There is, for example, the story of Devshibhai Bhalodia who is the taluka sanghchalak of Jodia running to help a neighbour even though his own house had collapsed. And the story of Kutch Jilla Sanghchalak Chamanlal Kansara who was trying to console others even when his own daughter lay dead.
In Kutch, RSS and Muslim organisations have been seen working in tandem to help the distraught and the lost, making no discrimination, religion-wise. One commentator noted that he saw the flags of both the RSS and the Jamat flying side by side to indicate that help was being given jointly by Hindu and Muslim organisations.
Credit is due to even the Kashmir Hurriyat leaders who have decided to send relief material for the victims of the Gujarat earthquake saying: “The people of Kashmir understand what suffering means”.
What is clear is that when a calamity of the magnitude of the Gujarat earthquake strikes the country, all thought of caste, creed, religion and politics is summarily set aside. Those rushing relief see people as human beings, even more than fellow-countrymen, let alone co-religionists.
Despite much negative reporting, the fact remains that goodness always prevailed and help was extended to those who needed it. When the senior leader of the Hurriyat, Shabir Shah said, after visiting Gujarat, that he was talking to some non-government organizations on giving relief to the people, he was not talking only of Muslims.
Goodness prevails. Old debts are remembered. In the spring of 1942 the Maharaja of Jamnagar had offered shelter to about 500 Polish orpahns and their guardians who escaped from Russia. On hearing of the Gujarat earthquake the “Jamnagar Children” now grown old and hoary were among the first to raise funds and relief material in Poland. They remembered.
In view of all this, isn’t it time to forget old prejudices and render to all those who have helped and continue to help dispassionately, objectively and credibly, the praise that is their due? How many private organisations – especially ‘secular’ ones – can claim as the RSS can, that it has set up 53 mobile dispensaries, fed over 50,000 people, brought out over 4,000 bodies and found over 1,000 survivors?