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The Powerful Group Shaping The Rise Of Hindu Nationalism In India

Before dawn, men gather in a suburban Mumbai park to play team-building games, meditate, chant Sanskrit mantras from Hindu scripture and salute a saffron-orange flag — the color, sacred to Hindus, of robes worn by Hindu monks.

There are potbellied, middle-aged dads, retirees and a young boy in a soccer jersey and no shoes — all members of a local cell of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. It’s part of a vast all-male network that runs Hindu catechism classes, yoga sessions and these morning drill sessions, called shakhas. The idea is to celebrate more than 5,000 years of Hindu culture.

“We recite the names of great people — sons and daughters of India — right from the ancient times to modern India,” explains Ratan Sharda, 64, who has been an RSS member since childhood. “See, we have forgotten our history. We have forgotten the great deeds our people have done.”

Sharda believes that centuries of non-Hindu rule — British colonialism and the Mughal Empire before that — have left Indians without a strong sense of their culture and heritage. The RSS, he says, helps supplement their knowledge.

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