Hedgewar was the fifth of six children of a very poor family in Nagpur. His father was a Hindu priest. When he was 13 both his parents died the same day in one of the epidemics of bubonic plague that periodically swept India.
The children were left to raise themselves in even greater poverty, and the eldest became a violent wastrel, leaving Keshav and the next-older brother to take responsibility for the other three children and the house.
In spite of his responsibilities, he did very well in school and soon became involved in agitation for independence, which lead to him being expelled from school when he was 19. He continued his education in schools run by radical nationalist groups, and then his medical education in Calcutta was financed by wealthy Nagpur citizens. His political views meant that he was under constant surveillance by the British authorities, but he maintained his high grades and activism.
Rather than concentrate on medicine, he became more and more politically active, initially in his home town, but soon all over India. He founded Rashtriya Utsava Mandal, a Hindu youth organization, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a pan-Hindu nationalist, revivalist and service organization with the elimination of caste and tribal distinctions at its core. He was imprisoned twice for his political work, but is revered now as one of the guiding lights of the Indian independence movement, and as one of the moving forces behind the Bharatiya Janata (Hindu nationalist) political party.
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