Sanatan Sanstha, which hit the headlines for the murder of rationalist Govind Pansare, is not new to controversies.
It has been accused of carrying out bomb blasts, committing murder and issuing threats.
The fringe rightwing group, however, claims to “provide education in dharma in scientific technology for the benefit of Hindus.”
The website of the group discusses an odd mixture of issues.
It discusses how wedding cards should be: they should be “sattvik” rather than expensive and be printed in the mother tongue and not English. They should also have pictures of deities, it says. The website also says a marriage performed as per Hindu rituals is superior to a registered marriage.
It says men should keep their hair short and discusses the differences between theists and atheists.
The organisation — apparently dedicated to the reinstatement of the divine kingdom — is shrouded in mystery till now.
Firstpost says the registered non-government charitable trust was established in 1990 by a ‘hypnotherapist’ Jayant Balaji Athavale and has been apparently organising activities like Satsangs and offering moral science lessons to children.
“It seems more on the conservative side, with some talk of spirituality and pseudo-science. But little is known about it beyond that,” veteran Pune academic Suhas Palshikar told The Hindu.
The organisation, Mr. Palshikar adds, seems to be different from the Sangh Parivar.
In fact, the website at one place complains that two U.P. families apparently related to the RSS took away two girls who wanted to practise spirituality with the Sanstha.
The Maharashtra police claimed that one of the members of Sanstha — Samir Gaikwad — was involved in Pansare’s murder along with another accused identified as Ravindra Patil, who is wanted by the National Investigation Agency in a 2009 case.
The Sanstha’s website, however, claims Gaikwad has been framed.
Patil has been absconding after his name surfaced in the Murgaon church blast case of 2009, when two members of the Sanstha were killed when the IEDs they were carrying on a scooter detonated accidentally. Six other members of the Sanstha — Vinayak Talekar, Vinayak Ashtekar, Dilip Mangainkar, Dhananjay Ashtekar, Prashant Juvekar and Vinay Patil — were also arrested in connection with the blast but they were acquitted in 2013.
In 2008, the name of the group surfaced when two of its members reportedly carried out a blast at a Panvel cinema screening Jodhaa Akbar and carried out another blast at a Thane auditorium staging the Marathi play Aamhi Pachpute. A public interest litigation (PIL) was also filed against the group by some Raigad-based activists.
In 2011, not only Maharashtra government but Goa and Karnataka had also sent reports to declare the Sanstha a terrorist organisation. The then Home Minister P. Chidambaram turned down the suggestions by the State governments and termed the request as ‘cryptic.’
Mr. Chidambaram opposed the demands to ban the organisation under section 35 (3) ( c) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act (UAPA) citing lack of “specific incidents, activities” which could have justified the ban. Mr. Chidambaram wrote, “none of the three [State governments] have addressed the real issue and they may be asked to indicate whether the organisation be banned or members of the organisation be prohibited from undertaking any activity under section 153 (b) IPC [imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration].”
In 2014, the plea of Maharashtra government was junked by the Home Ministry as no credible proof was found against the organisation.