November 19, 2015

India: organisations like Hindu Sena and Sanatan Sanstha are attempting to set the agenda with BJP in power

How fringe organisations like Hindu Sena and Sanatan Sanstha are attempting to set the agenda with BJP in power

Suman Layak & Indulekha Aravind, ET Bureau Nov 8, 2015, 09.43AM IST

(Having a parivar power seems…)
Temples in Ramnathim in central Goa can be global symbols of integration as they imbibe Islamic, European and Hindu traditions in their architecture. They were built in the 16th century, when multiple Hindu idols in Portugueseruled Goa were shifted to the Maratharuled area around Ponda (50 kilometres south-east of Panjim) in search of a safe haven.
By the time the Portuguese acquired the area they had become more tolerant rulers and did not damage the temples. They were rebuilt in the 18th and 19th centuries. The blend of architectural styles is apparent.
Unlike traditional Indian temples, each of the three large temples in the Ramnathim village has a perfect dome over its sanctum sanctorum. The front part of the buildings look like churches.

Each temple has a lighthouse-like pillar built in front. The pillars are used to light a lamp at the top to let people know about the location of the temple.
A usual stop on south Goa tours, Ramnathim sees a lot of foreign, non-Hindu visitors every day.
These visitors buy their offerings to the Gods, like other Hindu devotees, from the flower sellers at the gate and offer a puja like everyone else. A Brazilian doctor has even donated a collection of coins to the Shanta Durga temple trust, the largest temple in the village.
Instead of celebrating integration, the village of Ramnathim today, however, is seeing a battle of its own, a battle within Hinduism if you like — between a Hindu society steeped in tradition and Hinduism's more aggressive proponents.
Ramnathim is also home to the Sanatan Sanstha, which espouses a more codified version of Hinduism and seeks a dominant role for Hindus in Indian society. Its members are also prime suspects in the murder of rationalist and Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Govind Pansare.
In Ramnathim, a local group led by the elected panchayat member, is resisting Sanatan's presence and wants it to leave the village.
It's probably the first such resistance against the Hindu right wing, but its echo can be found in the various voices speaking out against the Hindu fringe in India, especially after the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri over an allegation of possession of beef.
Deconstructing the Ultra-right
Sanatan Sanstha is probably the largest among what are called 'fringe-organisations' of the Indian Hindu right wing — that are not part of the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party family (the family includes, among others, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal).
However, having the parivar in power seems to have emboldened these organisations to try and force their own agenda and their methods are sometimes violent, often sophisticated and increasingly assertive.
Sanatan even has a clone, called Hindu Janajagruti ( just in case the Sanatan is ever banned). The Sanatan Sanstha was founded and is led by Jayant Athavale, a former hypnotherapist.
In September a member of Sanatan, Sameer Gaikwad, was arrested for the February 2015 murder of Pansare. Another accused member, absconding at present, is wanted for an old case of bombing.
A group of young men, led by the local panchayat member of Ramnathim, Sharmila Lotlikar (Bandora Panchayat), wants the Sanatan Ashram evicted out of the village. On October 11, a public meeting held in Ramnathim to discuss the ouster of Sanatan saw participants coming from different parts of Goa. Vishnu Wagh, BJP MLA from St Andre, has also lent his support to the "evict Sanatan" movement.
According to Sanatan Sanstha spokesperson Abhay Vartak, establishing a Hindu rashtra in India is one among the many goals of the organisation, and it is mainly focused on spiritually enriching the life of its members. However, the organisation has a reputation for reacting with violence against people who oppose it, something Vartak denies.

Apart from its members being suspected in the Pansare murder, in the recent past, it has had other serious brushes with the law. It had longstanding feud with another rationalist Narendra Dabholkar. Like Pansare, Dabholkar too had been murdered in 2013.
Sanatan members were convicted for blasts in Thane on Mumbai's outskirts (2008) and one absconding accused in the Pansare murder, Rudra Patil is also an accused in the blasts in Goa's second largest city by population, Margao, in 2007. It has also got into trouble for opposing local Goan traditions like the Narkasur festival, when processions are taken out with the effigy of a demon. Sanatan seems to have irked rationalists on one side and the local villagers on the other. Dilip Gaitonde, secretary of the managing committee of the Shanta Durga temple, explains how Sanatan's religion is different from that practiced in the temples in the village.