October 15, 2018

India: Sanatan Sanstha and Its Hindutva Designs | Sanghamitra Prabal

Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 53, Issue No. 41, 13 Oct, 2018 »

Sanatan Sanstha and Its Hindutva Designs

Sanghamitra Prabal (sanghmitraprabal[at]gmail.com) is a political commentator based in Mumbai.

The Sanatan Sanstha has always been ignored for being a small bunch of fanatics. However, the threat that it poses is highlighted once again after the arrests of a few of its followers and sympathisers in connection with a terror plot and possible involvement in the killing of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar. Even earlier, the members of Sanatan Sanstha were caught making bombs, openly advocating arms training, and waging war against the state. What more evidence does the centre need to ban the organisation?

The Sanatan Sanstha must be the only Hindu extremist organisation that preaches spirituality along with the stated aim of waging war against the state. It aims at establishing a Hindu rashtra or God’s Kingdom by 2025 for which elimination of all durjans (evildoers) is a precondition (Athavale and Athavale 2001: 25, 31). The Hindu rashtra will not have any place for the Buddhist, Jain, Shaiva, Vaishnava, Muslim and Christian communities. The Sanatan Sanstha has its own constitution ready with no provision for election, no democracy, no judiciary, and an education system promoting the Hindu religion (Athavale and Athavale 1999: 124, 145).
The Sanatan Sanstha came in the news again after arrests of few of its followers and sympathisers in connection with a terror plot and possible involvement in the killing of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar. Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad (ATS) has arrested seven people so far who are sympathisers of the Sanatan Sanstha. Vaibhav Raut, Sharad Kalaskar, and Sudhanva Gondhalekar were arrested on 10 August following the seizure of an arsenal of arms and ammunition at Raut’s bungalow in Nalasopara (NDTV 2018). The network of Hindutva terrorists did not stop with the Sanatan Sanstha alone. Shrikant Pangarkar, former Shiv Sena corporator from Jalna who has links with the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) was arrested on 19 August based on confessions by Raut, Kalaskar and Gondhalekar. Avinash Pawar, another suspect who also has links with Hindutva groups, was arrested (Rajput 2018). Sachin Andure, who was arrested on 18 August on the charge of being the shooter in Dabholkar case, also has connections with Hindutva groups. These arrests were made after investigation into the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh started to unravel the larger network of Hindutva groups like the Sanatan Sanstha and the HJS.
Two Sanatan Sanstha Sadhaks, Virendra Tawde and Samir Gaikwad, were arrested in 2016 in connection with the Dabholkar and Govind Pansare murder cases, respectively. Tawde, who is an ENT specialist, has been charged with planning the murder of Dabholkar, but Gaikwad was released on bail later. If we could recall, a few more incidents of terror activities are linked to the Hindutva organisations. A bomb explosion happened in Nanded in April 2006 at the house of a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) activist and a similar explosion took place in February 2007 in the same city which killed two (India Today 2008). In 2008, the Malegaon blast involving Sadhvi Pragya Singh and Shrikant Purohit took place. In the same year, theatres in Thane, Vashi and Panvel had low intensity blasts. Two of the perpetrators, Ramesh Gadkari and Vikram Bhave, were convicted and given 10 years of imprisonment by the court (DNA 2011). Recently Gadkari, who is out on bail, was conferred with “sainthood” by the Sanatan Sanstha (Sanatan Prabhat 2018). The Sanatan Sanstha was also linked to Margao blast in Goa that killed two of its own members in 2009 (Hindu 2009).
These early incidents were the signs of the silent emergence of Hindutva terror across the country. It appears that organisations like the Sanatan Sanstha not only supported the terror activities but also participated in them and funded them without any qualms. It is a sign of prevalent Hindu majoritarian common sense that the investigative agencies and the centre were hesitant to accept that the Hindutva organisations were involved in terror acts. This angle was largely ignored then. The Goa and Maharashtra governments had been making pleas to ban the Sanatan Sanstha since 2008 but the centre did not find “sufficient” grounds to do so (Hafeez 2016). It was a Congress-led union government that neither cracked down on such organisations nor inquired about their funding. The country then, by and large, was convinced with the narrative of “Islamic terror,” a term that was coined in the 1990s. For the large majority, the terror, bomb blasts and riots were only associated with Muslims. This singular obsession with “Islamic terror” has destroyed many lives of innocent Muslim youths and their families after being falsely implicated in terror acts. On the other hand, invisible protection from the state was a booster for the Sanatan Sanstha that aggressively started preaching its ideology and openly participating in debates on news channels. But slain Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare exposed the operations of Hindutva terror for the very first time in the investigation of the Malegaon blast which changed the entire narrative about terror activities in India.
Sanatan Sanstha Cult
The Sanatan Sanstha and the HJS were established in 1995 against the backdrop of the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya by frenzied Hindutva mobs. A doctor and hypnotherapist by profession, Jayant Athavale, who established both the Sanatan Sanstha and the HJS, first started preaching a mix of pseudoscience, spirituality and religious mysticism. Athavale who is from Sion, Mumbai did research in hypnotherapy between 1971 and 1978 in England along with his wife Kunda. He practised as a clinical hypnotherapist at Sion during 1978–1990 before founding the Sanatan Sanstha. Ashutosh Prabhudesai, a psychiatrist from Goa, was said to have helped the couple to design and spread Sanstha’s spirituality theory. The organisation has its primary base in Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka. After gaining confidence that their spiritual teachings have attracted enough followers, Athavale inculcated bellicose ideas of the Hindu rashtra among the followers. Though in the infant stage, the organisation started coaching self-defence and training in arms in 1999. The followers were told that the arms training was necessary to teach a lesson to evils in society. It is needless to say that this evil includes Muslims, Christians, and even the police and the army.
“Only five per cent battle will be at the physical level. Therefore it is necessary that five per cent Sadhaks should take arms training. God will provide the arms through somebody,” the Sanatan Sanstha preached them. It further encouraged them to use a gun. “It is okay to not have practised firing. The target will be correctly aimed if one fires bullet by chanting God’s name” (Athavale and Athavale 2001: 49). The organisation floated Dharmashakti Sena to teach self-defence to its followers. There are pictures available to prove how the followers, dressed in military uniform, were learning “self-defence.’’ Its mouthpiece Sanatan Prabhat on 16 August 2005 printed a photo of Athavale in a military uniform appealing followers that
the formation of a Hindu rashtra is inevitable to prevent India from getting divided into pieces in the hands of secular forces like Congress. (Sanatan Prabhat 2005)
On the other hand, the Sanatan Sanstha kept its “righteous” face intact to attract nondescript people from all sections, especially women. Despite its belief in Brahminical values and the Chaturvarnya system, the Sanatan Sanstha has managed a huge following from intermediate castes and Other Backward Classes. It has written a number of books on how men and women should wear clothes, how to wear ornaments, how to celebrate Hindu festivals, how to worship god, etc. The organisation has defined its own gods, as they believe that the present images and idols of Hindu gods are not appropriately designed. The images of gods created by the Sanatan Sanstha would fulfil the desires. These images were seen by their Sadhaks in dreams after achieving a particular spiritual level. The Sanstha has a solution for everything, from hairfall to sexual problems, which can be resolved with hypnotism. In the book Laingik Samasyanvar Swasammohan Upchar (Solution to Sexual Problems through Self-hypnotism), Athavale has claimed to have “cured” one person from impotency and another gay man was “converted” into a “straight” man (Athavale 2014: 17–41). The organisation entered into the households of common people to sell camphor, incense sticks and harmless religious literature. They definitely gained sympathy from the common people for being polite, humble and having no apparent nuisance value. In a country like India, any spiritual guru gets more number of followers, especially among women, than any political leader. The satsangs are a way for ordinary women to freely socialise with men in the society. The Sanatan Sanstha is no exception to this. It got many women followers who willingly agreed to stay in its ashram parting ways with families. They snapped all ties with parents and disappeared in the ashram never to return. A few such parents have come together and filed a public interest litigation in the Bombay High Court demanding a ban on the Sanatan Sanstha.
However, the cult did not lose its focus from the original aim of the Hindu rashtra. A book titled Love Jihad was published by the HJS in 2011. Along with the conspiracy theory of how Muslim youth lure Hindu girls into marriages, convert them to Islam forcefully and make them “baby producing machines,” the book has produced a “rate card,” claiming that Muslim boys are getting paid to marry Hindu girls. The cash reward differs on the basis of caste and region, for example, a Muslim youth marrying a Sikh girl is paid the highest amount (₹ 7 lakh), followed by Punjabi and Gujarati girls (₹ 6 lakh), Brahmin girl (₹ 5 lakh), Kshatriya girl (₹ 4.50 lakh), Gujarati Kachhi, Jain, Marwadi girls (₹ 3 lakh), backward and Scheduled Castes girls (₹ 2 lakh) and the lowest rate (₹ 1.50 lakh) for a Buddhist girl (Shinde and Gauda 2011: 9).
In Sanatan Prabhat, dated 9 June 2013, one Charudatta Pingle of the HJS has given a road map of the Hindu rashtra. The report says,
Police are biased towards Hindus and forgive crimes of Muslims. Do not forget atrocities committed by the police against Hinutvawadis. Prepare a list of those policemen from now. The first action would be against them during the revolution. We will not be able to form the Hindu Rashtra without defeating the police and army.
It has further said that the Sanatan Sanstha should create its own army of four lakh Sadhaks trained in arms as well as sadhana or jaap. The organisation is confident that it can fight 30 lakh soldiers, police and paramilitary forces (Sanatan Prabhat 2013: 3).
Differences with the RSS
Arguably the extremist organisations like the Sanatan Sanstha have emerged after being disillusioned with the RSS. Like the RSS it too believes in militaristic training and taking an extreme or sometimes ridiculous stand on the Hindu religion. But the Sanatan Sanstha is openly against elections, democracy and the Indian Constitution, and has no direct interest in electoral processes whereas the RSS is busy enjoying political control. At this point, both the organisations differ with each other. The Sanatan Sanstha has already declared that all the political parties and its leaders are enemies of Hindu rashtra (Sanatan Prabhat 2013). It has clearly differentiated itself from the RSS. In one of the news in Sanatan Prabhat, Jayant Athavale was quoted as saying
the RSS has 40 lakh volunteers but because they do not perform saadhana (spiritual exercise), over the last 68 years, they have taken the nation to a new low, step by step, across all spheres. On the contrary, over the next five years, HJS will get 4 lakh sadhak-karyakarte (spiritual activists). These activists will perform sadhana and start a religious revolution to establish a Hindu Rashtra … in the next three years. Which means, eight years from now, in 2023, we will establish a Hindu nation. (Haygunde 2015)
This is where the Sanatan Sanstha differs with the RSS. At a subtle level, differences between the likes of the Sanatan Sanstha and the RSS has an undercurrent of tussle between two Brahmin subcastes, namely Chitpavan and Karhade. This tussle reflects in the fraternal differences between RSS Hindutva and Savarkarite/Hindu Mahasabha Hindutva. The origin of the Sanatan Sanstha can be traced back into V D Savarkar’s thoughts on Hindutva and the making of a Hindu rashtra.
The ultimate goal is to achieve a Hindu rashtra. But, the methods they have chosen are different. The Sanatan Sanstha’s ideology is not different from that of the RSS but it has camouflaged it with spirituality, religious mysticism and the promise of cleansing the society of all “evildoers.” This is the reason why Sanatan Sanstha keeps talking about corruption in Hindu temples. It helps them in building a “clean” and “righteous” image among people. These techniques helped the organisations to reach larger masses despite having a narrow Brahminical ideology. Nevertheless, the RSS does not want to be overshadowed by the Sanatan Sanstha. On several occasions, the RSS has disowned the Sanatan Sanstha and criticised its methods. On the other hand, the Sanatan Sanstha has criticised the RSS and BJP after the recent round of arrests of its sympathisers (Haygunde 2015). But at the same time, the Sanatan Sanstha seems confident that the present BJP government will protect the organisation.
Hindutva Designs for Western Maharashtra
It is instructive to see the activities of these hard line Hindutva groups in western Maharashtra to see how they complement the Sangh Parivar. The western part of Maharashtra up to Belgaum in Karnataka has been systematically radicalised by Hindutva elements for over 15 years. Western Maharashtra is a rich sugar belt with the legacy of a cooperative movement. The cooperative movement helped the social upliftment of farmers as compared to other regions of Maharashtra. The milk dairies, sugar factories, cooperative banks, educational institutes and engineering colleges were all started because of the cooperative movement in the region. It was once a stronghold of the Congress and later the Nationalist Congress Party led by Sharad Pawar. This region has been a source and pivot of anti-caste social revolutionary movements and progressive activism.
This was the part of Maharashtra which the RSS could not penetrate for a long time. However, Hindu extremist leaders who were disillusioned with the RSS, formed their own organisations and started infiltrating some parts of western Maharashtra. However, the background of hard line Hindutva leaders who parted ways with the RSS raises the question whether the RSS itself entrusted them with a responsibility of concentrating on western Maharashtra. Manohar alias Sambhaji Bhide who was associated with the RSS started his own organisation Shiv Pratishthan Hindusthan in Sangli in 1984, a district of western Maharashtra. He has successfully managed to mobilise the youth, especially from the Maratha community, towards Hindutva. In the guise of telling stories of Shivaji Maharaj, Bhide has inculcated hatred towards Muslims. But he seems to be protected because of the admiration he receives from political leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Firstpost 2018). Bhide has been accused of engineering the Sangli riots and also the recent Bhima Koregaon violence that took place on 1 January 2018 (Gangan 2018). Another leader of Samasta Hindu Aghadi, Milind Ekbote from Pune is also an accused
of the Bhima Koregaon violence and 23 other criminal cases. Ekbote has been radicalising youths in Pune and surrounding areas. Hindu Rashtra Sena leader Dhananjay Desai is under arrest with charges of killing a Muslim engineer, Mohsin Shaikh, who was returning from work in Pune in 2014. Desai is known for his hooliganism and Hindutva activities.
The Sanatan Sanstha has its main ashram in Goa and Panvel but has attracted many followers from western Maharashtra. Its mouthpiece Sanatan Prabhat has a special edition for western Maharashtra. These organisations believe in twisting history and narrating false stories about historic monuments, spreading hatred about Muslims and Christians, using Shivaji Maharaj and Sambhaji Maharaj’s name to attract youths, openly talking about a Hindu rashtra, with no hesitation in unfolding its plans about terror activities. When attempts to create Hindu–Muslim rift did not work in Pune and surrounding areas, systematic fissures were created among Maratha and Dalit communities by narrating a false history of Bhima Koregaon.
These activities are suitable for the RSS’s ideology and there are grounds to believe that the RSS might be supporting them in various ways. However, if they are found to be linked with any controversy, the RSS easily disowns them.
Demand for Ban
The motive of the Sanatan Sanstha is quite clear now that it is working towards forming a Hindu rashtra and does not dither to adopt violent ways for that. Creating a parallel system to the existing one is a grave threat to the country. The Sanatan Sanstha has always been ignored for being a small minority of fanatics. But the police and the government are not probing the financial support, fund-raising and dealing of lands on which the two main ashrams reside in Goa and Panvel. The Sanatan Sanstha has shown the audacity to start an armed battle within the state. They have created an atmosphere of hatred among Hindus that led to the killing of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, writer M M Kalburgi, communist leader Govind Pansare and journalist Gauri Lankesh. Members of the Sanatan Sanstha are caught making bombs, openly advocating arms training and waging war against the state. What more evidence does the centre need to ban the organisation?
Athavale, Jayant Balaji and Kunda Jayant Athavale (1999): Kshatra Dharma Sadhana, Madgaon, Sanatan Sanstha.
— (2001): Ishwari Rajyachi Sthapana, Sanatan Bharatiya Sanskriti Sanstha, Mumbai.
Athavale, Jayant Balaji (2014): Laingik Samasyanvar Svasammohan Upachar, Panvel, Sanatan Bharatiya Sanskriti Sanstha.
DNA (2011): “2 Right Wing Activists Convicted in Thane Blast, 4 Acquitted,” 30 August, https://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-2-right-wing-activists-convicted-....
Firstpost (2018): “Many Friends of Sambhaji Bhide: Bhima Koregoan Riots Accused Enjoys Massive Social Media Following, including Tushar Damgude,” 29 August, https://www.firstpost.com/india/many-friends-of-sambhaji-bhide-bhima-kor....
Gangan, Surendra P (2018): “Maharashtra Recommended Bhima–Koregaon Clash Accused Sambhaji Bhide for Padma Shri,” Hindustan Times, 1 March.
Hafeez, Mateen (2016): “State ATS Had First Sought Ban on Sanstha Eight Years Back,” Times of India, 12 June, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/State-ATS-had-first-soug....
Haygunde, Chandan (2015): “Of Sanatan’s Troubles with RSS, the Latest—Not Spiritual Enough, Taken India to New Low,” Indian Express, 28 September.
Hindu (2009): “Margao Blast: Four Members of Hindu Group Held, Two Killed,” 17 October, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Margao-blast-four-members-of-Hindu-group-held-two-killed/article16887287.ece.
India Today (2008): “After Malegaon Leads, CBI to Reopen Nanded Blast Probe,” 23 November, https://www.indiatoday.in/latest-headlines/story/after-malegaon-leads-cbi-to-reopen-nanded-blast-probe-33884-2008-11-23.
NDTV (2018): “3 Right-wing Activists Arrested after Explosives Found at Maharashtra Home,” 11 August, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/3-right-wing-activists-arrested-after-explosives-found-at-maharashtra-home-1898987.
Rajput, Rashmi (2018): “Five Held Now for ‘Terror Plot’, ATS Prepares Fresh Dossier for Sanatan Sanstha Ban,” Indian Express, 26 August, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/maharashtra-ats-prepares-fresh-d....
Sanatan Prabhat (2005): “Nidharmivalyankadun Honare Bharatache Tukde Talnyasathi ata Hindurashtrachi Nirmiti Apariharya,” 16 August.
— (2013): “Hindu Rashtra Sthapanesathi Dharmakranti Avashyak,” 9 June, p 3.
— (2018): “Sanatanchya Santanche Advitiyatva,” 27 August, https://sanatanprabhat.org/marathi/174880.html.
Shinde, Ramesh and Mohan Gauda (2011): Love Jihad, Sanatan Bhartiya Sanskriti Sanstha, Panvel.