An intimidating sight greeted residents of Shillong on an otherwise quiet Sunday morning with the hundreds of members of the right wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) taking out a march through the city.
Dressed in their white and khaki uniforms, the RSS members were accompanied by a strong police presence as they walked from Police Bazar to Garikhana where they held a meeting at Gorkha Pathshala Higher Secondary School.
The police presence was a change from a different, unpoliced, RSS event which fell on Palm Sunday, which caused a spike in tensions.
Despite being an organisation that wears its Hindu nationalist credentials on its sleeve in other parts of the country, the RSS in Meghalaya has made, or is trying to make, common cause with the minority indigenous faiths.
At the meeting, the general secretary of the RSS’s East Khasi Hills unit, Pawnam Khongsngi, tried to put to rest any fears the public might have about the organisation.
He denied “propaganda” made against the RSS that it is interested in converting the people to Hinduism, that it is a militant organisation, that it promotes divisions between communities and that it is only made up of non-tribals.
The RSS has been in the North East since 1946 and has been active in Meghalaya ever since the state was carved out of Assam in 1972, he told the audience.
Rejecting any suggestion that the RSS wants to convert people to Hinduism, Khongsngi, who is a member of one of the indigenous faiths of Khasi-Jaintia Hills, said, “We who believe in the indigenous faith do not have any tradition to convert anyone. Conversion is an alien word.”
He, however, toed the RSS’s standard line that the Muslim Mughals looted the country’s wealth and, through them, India lost its culture and traditions. Khongsngi also said that the people’s displacement from their roots continued during British rule and, thus, the RSS was needed to restore the lost cultures and traditions of the people that were lost to the invaders.
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