AS THE RSS bid farewell this weekend to one of its enduring symbols, the khaki knicker, at the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha in Rajasthan’s Nagaur, tailors were busy wrapping up the last order at a prominent stitching centre of the Sangh nearly 500 km away in Mathura.
“We send knickers all over the country… RSS knicker ke bina kaisa lagega (How will the RSS be without the knickers)?” said Radheshyam, the pramukh at the Silai Kendra in Deendayal Dham, a memorial for Jan Sangh founder Deendayal Upadhyaya, in Farah town.
The Indian Express had reported last year that the khaki knicker — part of the RSS uniform since 1925 — was likely to be replaced. The final decision to replace khaki knickers with brown trousers was taken at the three-day sabha — the Sangh’s highest decision making body — that ended Sunday.
At the kendra, which also stitches kurtas, jackets and white shirts, Radheshyam is curious about the decision, like the other 54 employees. “What will be the price? What will be the colour, design and fabric?” he asked.
Earlier, he says, the kendra used to stock around 15,000 knickers, but since last August began catering only to specific orders that have since dipped in number. At present, the tailors are busy finishing the last order of a few hundred pieces from Uttarakhand.
Incidentally, the pricing of these knickers, which are distributed across the country with no transportation cost, has remained static over the years: Rs 3 per waist inch. Radheshyam says when he joined the centre in 1998, the cost was Rs 2.5 per inch. Here, a tailor stitches around 10 knickers a day, and is given Rs 15 per piece.
Radheshyam said he was a private tailor in Farah before he joined the centre in 1998. “Yahan bahut samman milta hai (I get a lot of respect here),” he said.
The kendra, which employs poor men and women from neighbouring villages, began operations in 1980 when the Sangh decided to give shape to Upadhyaya’s idea of “antyodaya”, or the rise of the last person.
Today, almost half of the tailors here are women, who are also gifted sewing machines by the kendra at their weddings.
On the walls are quotes by Upadhyaya, including one that says: “Vyaktivad adharm hai, rashtra ke liye kaam karna sachha dharm hai (Individualism is evil, working for the nation is true religion).”
Radheshyam admits that he doesn’t understand much of this. He’s an RSS worker but has little interest in the ongoing debates on “intolerance” or being “anti-national”.
His primary concern is something else. “Maybe, trousers will be employed for formal purposes and knickers will remain for shakhas,” he said.