1. What is Sanatan Sanstha?
Founded in 1990 by Dr Jayant Balaji Athavale and Bhaktaraj Maharaj, Sanatan Sanstha is a non-profit trust registered as a ‘charitable organisation’. On its very perplexing website, it declares its aims to “present spirituality in a scientific language to those curious about spirituality and to guide seekers” and “to inculcate religious behaviour in the masses”.
Other gems from its website, which do more to obfuscate its true aim than reveal, the fringe right-wing group aims to “provide education in dharma in scientific technology for the benefit of Hindus.” Elsewhere it says it seeks to establish the divine kingdom in India by 2023. According to its print daily, Sanatan Prabhat, the intervening years will be a time of psychological and physical battles against ‘evil forces’ that will prepare people for the advent of the holy kingdom.
When asked to define the evil forces, Sanatan Sanstha’s spokesperson explained to LA Times that these were people who develop “increased egos and personality defects and can't lead a normal life.” But the (heated) rhetoric is more often than not about how even as a nation of Hindus in majority, Hindu Gods are being insulted, western way of life is taking the place of our traditions and the sattvik Hindu way of life is under threat by non-Hindus and secularists who deny that India is first and foremost a Hindu Rashtra.
Sanatan's official text says, “violence against evil is not violence” and the outfit claims only to teach self-defense, but not the use of dangerous weapons. However, for instance, in 2008, a Sanatan worker informed the police of a meeting where an explosives demonstration was going to be held.
The Sanatan Sanstha has continuously denied all allegations, and insist they’re a straightforward place for spirituality and science.
For instance, the Sanatan Sanstha is headquartered in Ramnathi in north Goa since March 1999 and its sprawling ashram hosts several thousand people at once, including celebrities and politicians. Other ashrams, like those in Panvel and Miraj in Maharashtra, are registered as separate trusts, as are organisations like the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti and the Dharamashakti Sena.
Who runs the show inside today, no one knows, as a reticent Athavale lives out his late seventies and stopped making public appearances since 2004.
Who was Athalve?
Athavale was a consultant clinical hypnotherapist first in Mumbai and then in the UK for almost two decades, when he realised that his success rate of treatment was only 70%. A steady margin of patients would not recover through his usual treatments, but seemed suddenly cured after having gone on a pilgrimage or having followed the advice of a saint.
Despite being an atheist up until this point, Athavale was intrigued by this trend and decided to spend his time studying the reason behind this spiritual healing. And thus, the Sanatan Sanstha was born. Almost 30 years later, the outfit has become one of the most controversial, hardline Hindutva groups in the country.