NEW DELHI – A hardline Indian Hindu movement announced Sunday it is abandoning its trademark khaki shorts to try to modernize the dress code, 91 years after adopting the austere military-style uniform.
Foot soldiers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are often seen after dawn across India engaged in physical drills and uttering religious chants — dressed in pleated shorts, white shirts and black hats.
But Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi, the general secretary of RSS, acknowledged the organization, the ideological fountainhead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party, must keep in step with a modern, changing world.
“We have decided to replace khaki half-pants with brown pants. We are not rigid and take decisions according to the times,” Joshi told reporters at a three-day meeting of the group’s top decision-making body.
The RSS announced last year it was considering the decision.
The rare sartorial tweak made headline news Sunday across India where the RSS says it has several million members, including at one stage Modi himself.
The RSS styles itself as a cultural organization devoted to protecting India’s Hindu culture. But critics accuse it of being an anti-Muslim pseudo-fascist organization with a history of fueling religious tensions.
RSS members carrying bamboo sticks often carry out daily “shakhas” — a combination of physical training, yoga and religious chanting.
The RSS has been banned three times since its inception in 1925, including after a former member assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.
It was also banned after the 1992 demolition of a mosque in Ayodhya, in northern Uttar Pradesh state, which led to nationwide riots.
Members have spoken out against concessions to religious minorities. They also oppose homosexuality and the special constitutional status of Muslim-majority Kashmir.