Dr. Narendra Dabholkar


Prabhakar Nanawaty

Suman Oak

Sanatan Sanstha

Picture a palatial china-white mansionwith a massive porch amidstthe lush green of aGoan village. Guards in slickblue uniform stand in patrolat its entrance. This isthe Sanatan Sansthas ashram atRamnathi, where the organizations self-styledGod, Dr Jayant Balaji Athavale,lives. The three-storey building appearsto have been designed tostrike awe among the villagers,but it is resentment andrevulsion that one sees intheir eyes every time youmention the ashram.

Every morning over a hundredvisitors stream in mostlyyoung men and women inthe Sansthas saffron attire witha vermilion mark on theirforeheads. Disciples of Athavale, theystay inside the ashram forthe whole day with thepermanent residents who alsonumber around a hundred and go back to theiraccommodations outside the village latein the evening.

Across the road, opposite themansion, a wide open fieldslopes down to a rivuletthat forms the northern boundaryof the village. Until recently,the land had yielded bountifulcrops every agricultural season. Butone day, early in themonsoon of 2008, a powerfulstink arose as the loggedwater receded from the field.The smell was so foulthat it soon became unbearable.The villagers came out oftheir houses to an appallingsight the receded waterhad left behind hundreds andthousands of used condoms thatcovered almost the entire field,making it stink like hell,says Basant Bhatt, the priestof the illustrious Ramnath Templeat the heart of thevillage. No tiller has eversought to clean the fieldand cultivate it again.The locals found it disgusting.Though the source of thecondoms remains a mystery, theblame is firmly placed onthe ashram.

The villagers probably arrived atthat conclusion because Athavale andhis saffron-clad followers had beenmarked by controversy ever sincethey arrived in 2002. TheSanstha had tried to constructits ashram in the neighbouringvillage of Parvatiwada two yearsbefore their entry into Ramnathibut the locals there wereable to mount a successfulresistance. It was only aftertheir failure in Parvatiwada thatthey moved on to Ramnathi,where they succeeded in settingup their ashram, says ShekerNaik, a senior resident ofParvatiwada and a former sarpanch(2002−04) of the Bandora Panchayatto which both villages belong.

Many people in Ramnathi suspectedthe Sanatan Sanstha of beingsome kind of sex cultthough there was no evidenceof that. The condoms inthe field, however, confirmed theirmisgivings even as the Sanstharefuted the allegations. There was,thus, already a good dealof ill-feeling when on theevening of 16 October 2009,a few hours after abomb blast at Madgaon, theGoa police swooped in onthe Sansthas ashram at Ramnathi.

As per police records, theSanstha had opposed the Narkasuraeffigy contest, a hugely popularfestive activity in Goa whichtakes place on the eveof Diwali. On this dayin 2009, 16 October, twoSanstha members Malgonda Patiland Yogesh Naik wereallegedly carrying a bomb ontheir scooter to plant nearthe venue of the contestin Madgaon. However, the bombwent off prematurely and theduo died.

We were shocked, recounts SaurabhLotlikar, a social worker anda resident of Ramnathi. Thatvery day some of thevillagers got together and formeda public interest group, JanJagruti Manch, with Basant Bhattas the president and ShekerNaik the secretary. Its soleobjective was to fight forthe removal of the SanatanSanstha from the village.

The new group called ameeting the very next day.Only a handful of localsparticipated. But we persisted, andday after day the knotof people around us grewbigger. Then we called apublic meeting on 20 October.That meeting was massive. Peoplenot just from Ramnathi butfrom the entire Ponda subdivisionturned up in large numbers,says Basant Bhatt. We didnot expect more than threeor four hundred people, butnearly two thousand participated. Laterwe also organized a marchagainst the Sanatan Sanstha andthat, too, was attended bya large number of people.

(Excerpts from the Book,

Shadow Armies: Fringe Organizations and Foot soldiers of Hindutva)

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