The arrest of Dr Virendrasinh Tawde, a member of Sanatan Sanstha's offshoot Hindu Janjagruti Samiti (HJS), on Friday night for his alleged role in the murder of rationalist Dr Narendra Dabholkar in 2013 has put the spotlight back on the right-wing organisation.

Also read - Witness testified that a furious Dr Virendrasinh Tawde vowed to kill Narendra Dabholkar in 2004: CBI


The ashram of Sanatan Sanstha in Panvel. File pic
The ashram of Sanatan Sanstha in Panvel. File pic

Over the last 10 years, the Sanstha has been accused of attacking rationalists — either physically or through its paper; planting bombs at a Navi Mumbai cinema where Jodha Akbar was being screened and at a Thane theatre where play Amhi Panchpute was being staged; and causing a blast at Margao, Goa, in 2009. Last September, a sadhak of Sanatan Bharatiya Sanskruti Sanstha, Sameer Gaikwad, was arrested for CPI leader Govind Pansare's murder. The once 'fringe' organisation is now the focal point of a debate on militant Hindutva organisations.

Jumping to defence
Friday's arrest has made the sadhaks (true followers) of the Panvel ashram of the Sanstha cagey. When mid-day visited the ashram on Saturday, we were stopped 100 metres from the gates. The sadhaks claimed they were refusing entry to all 'outsiders'. The ashram saw a steady stream of poker-faced sadhaks, including women, all through the day.

Rows of terraced houses, where the sadhaks reside, adjoin the ashram. A devotee residing in one of the houses said the ashram is only a place for meditation. "For the last 18 months, I have been visiting it for treatment. We undertake spiritual activities like naam jap till we attain a state of calm."

A sadhak who claimed to have met Tawde four days ago recalled him as "a calm person". "He was not involved with any activism and kept to himself." Another sadhak, who has been residing in one of the abutting bungalows for the past five years, said the Tawdes were frequent visitors of the ashram. "They never stayed back, though. Only visitors from other districts or states can stay back in rooms within the ashram."

He, too, vouched for the organisation's 'clean image'. "The Sanstha helps people find jobs keeping in mind their skills. I am a driver. There are doctors and other professionals who help and contribute at the Sanstha."