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Friday, April 12, 2024

Who killed Gauri Lankesh? The menace of Sanatan Sanstha

News Analysis |

The murder case of famous Indian writer Gauri Lankesh killed on 5th September 2017 is winding down with startling revelations being made. The investigation report is expected to be launched in two months time. The investigation has raised questions about the threat of Hindutva terrorism and the shadowy organization known as the Santan Sanstha.

A staunch critic of Hindu extremist groups, Gauri Lankesh was murdered at her house in Rajarajeshwari Nagar, Bangalore. The killers fired at least seven bullets at her at around 8 p.m. while she was unlocking the main door of her house after returning from her office. One of the killers, who was waiting for her near her house, fired the first shots at her, while the two others, who are suspected to have followed her from her office, joined the initial shooter thereafter. The killers were wearing helmets and escaped.

Information about the organizational structure of the Sanatan Sanstha is scarce due to the secretive nature of the organization. However, it seems to be composed of different offices with an inner core that functions like a cult, headed by its leader Athavale.

According to media sources, at least 12 people have been arrested with some having ties to the Sanatan Sanstha and its affiliate, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti. The Prime suspect in custody known as Amol Kale, is also suspected to be behind the murder of Indian rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, who shared Lankesh’s anti-Hindutva views. Investigators point towards an unnamed group consisting of members who once were part of the Sanatan Sanstha and its affiliate. This group is suspected to be behind the killing of at least four rationalist thinkers (Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi, and Gauri Lankesh) in Maharashtra and Karnataka between 2013 and 2017.

Investigators talking to Indian media have said that despite the arrests the threat from this group is not over. The Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the murder has been reported to have identified over 60 members connected to the gang. Nearly half of them are from Karnataka, while the rest are from Maharashtra and Goa, said sources. A senior SIT official talking to the Times of India stated “This is an army of highly radicalized youth trained in arms, to ‘protect Hindu dharma’,”

He identified that most of the recruits came from the Indian state of Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka. He also identified several groups such as the Sri Ram Sene, Hindu Yuva Sene, Shivapratishthan Hindusthan, and the recently formed cow protection forums who contributed members to this “army”.

Read more: Saffron terror: retired Indian Colonel among Gauri Lankesh murder suspects

“Even if this gang is eliminated, there are chances of radicalized persons or groups, trained in arms, turning into lone wolves. It is a serious concern,” another official feared. The Sanatan Sanstha is declared as “a non-profit organization” and has been functioning in India after its 1990 establishment by Jayant Balaj Athavale. The declared core ambition of the organization is to present spirituality in a logical manner for the common public. Its name translates into the Eternal System and is also called the Sanatana Bharatiya Sanskruti Sanstha.

The Sanatan Sanstha’s main headquarters is at Ramnathi, Ponda in Goa. It has another major office in Panvel, Maharashtra. Moreover, it has offices in Pune, Mumbai, Miraj (Sangli), and other parts of the state. Information about the organizational structure of the Sanatan Sanstha is scarce due to the secretive nature of the organization. However, it seems to be composed of different offices with an inner core that functions like a cult, headed by its leader Athavale. Its members are called Sevaks, who are posted throughout the country.

The killings of individuals are allowed by the Sanstha’s ideology that promotes the destruction of “evil doers” as a spiritual practice. The people that seem to have fallen foul of this new crusade by the Sanatan Sanstha are rationalists or simply critics who oppose traditional Indian practices.

The Sanatan Sanstha has formed a network which includes an affiliate called the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), used to propel the demand for a Hindu Rashtra. Many consider the HJS to be a militant front of the Sanstha like the Bajrang Dal. Recently, it has launched another outfit, which has clear military implications, known as the “Dharam Shakti Sena,” aiming to impart military-style training in an effort to guide Hindus in the art of “self-defense”.

The Sanatan Sanstha is unique in the manner that it is a major Hindutva group that exists outside of the fold of the Sangh Parivar, the network of groups operating under the command of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In fact, the Sanstha has faced most attacks from the political wing of the RSS, the BJP which called for its ban and labeled it a terrorist group.

Read more: Saffron terror: Same gun that killed Gauri Lankesh also killed Kulburgi

The Sanatan Sanstha has been found to be involved in a number of terrorist attacks and killings. The killings of individuals are allowed by the Sanstha’s ideology that promotes the destruction of “evil doers” as a spiritual practice. The people that seem to have fallen foul of this new crusade by the Sanatan Sanstha are rationalists or simply critics who oppose traditional Indian practices.