The Big Story: Kid gloves

On August 20, 2013, as Narendra Dabholkar was out for his morning walk in Pune, he was shot by two assailants at point blank range. He died instantly. Dabholkar had spent his life battling religious superstition and had received a number of threats from Hindutva groups. On February 20, 2015, another rationalist, Govind Pansare was killed in almost the exact same way in Kolhapur. In August 2015, a third rationalist, MM Kalburgi was shot dead in Dharwad, Karnataka.

The organisation thought to be behind the Dabholkar murder is the Sanatan Sansta, which has a presence across Goa and Maharashtra. Last week, the Central Bureau of Investigation arrested a member of the organisation, Virendra Tawade, in connection with the case. Since then, officials familiar with the case have painted a scary picture of the Sanatan Sansta and its activities. The Dabholkar murder was planned with meticulous detail, they say. Moreover, Tawade allegedly wanted to raise a militia of 15,000 people to target “anti-Hindus”.

This isn't the Sanstha's first association with violence. It has already been accused of being responsible for an explosion in Goa in 2009, and for bombings in Vashi, Thane and Panvel in 2007.

It's disconcerting, therefore, that the government seems oddly sanguine about the Sanstha. As early as 2010-'11, the Maharashtra government under the Congress had moved to ban the organisation but the Union government refused to accede to the demand. This inaction may have had consequences. “I feel had the Centre taken the decision to enforce the ban, we could have prevented the killings of Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi,” said former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan.

In 2015, a Goa BJP MLA compared Sanatan Sanstha to the banned Students and Islamic Movement of India and asked for a ban. But in December 2015, Union minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju clearly rejected calls for a ban.

This kid-gloves approach seems to be in keeping with the manner in which other terror cases involving Hindutva activists are being prosecuted. For instance, Rohini Salian, the Maharashtra government’s special public prosecutor in the 2008 Malegaon case, said she was asked to go soft on the accused by the National Investigation Agency after the BJP came to power in 2014. Hindutva activists Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and Shrikant Purohit were among 12 people arrested by the Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad for their alleged involvement in the blasts.

Already perceived as being biased against minorities, the BJP must move surely to clamp down any encouragement of this tendency of Hindutva groups to resort to violence. As a strong political signal – since that is nearly as important as criminal prosecution – the Sanatan Sanstha should be banned.

The Big Scroll

Narendra Dabholkar’s four criteria for distinguishing faith from superstition.

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