In defence of Sanatan Sanstha: It is no ISIS

Whenever it has chosen to take a firm stand, it has done so within the boundaries of the Constitution.

 |  6-minute read |   06-10-2015
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In January 2001, a Kashmiri terrorist who surrendered before the security forces told his interrogators that he had studied in the Deobandi madarsa at Akwada in Gujarat's Bhavnagar between 1996 and 2000. In 2003-2004, nearly a dozen students fled two Deobandi madarsas in south Gujarat - both places often accused of allegedly radicalising Muslim students - and tried to join various jihadi organisations in Kashmir. Later in 2007-2008, a student of a Deobandi madarsa in Kolhapur became a terrorist and was killed in an encounter in Kashmir.

More recently, a significant number of boys, who had studied at a madarsa of Nadwa branch (of Indian Wahabism) at Bhatkal on Karnataka coast, had fled to Iraq to join ISIS and two of them were reportedly killed while waging jihad. If this is not enough, in July 2014, Salman Nadwi, member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and a preacher at the main Nadwa seminary in Lucknow, congratulated the modern world's most feared killing machine, ISIS founder Abu Bakr Baghdadi, for establishing the Islamic Caliphate. He also asked Saudi Arabia to raise an army of five lakh Sunni youth to help the Caliphate in its mission.

The Bhatkal branch of the Nadwa seminary is alleged to have played a role in radicalising the local Muslim youth. Most terrorists of Indian Mujahideen (IM ) either studied in the madarsas of Ahle Hadis branch of Indian Wahabism or were its followers. Ahle Hadis is the Wahhabi sect followed by Lashkar-e-Taiba. Amongst the three Wahabi streams, Ahle Hadis, Deoband and Nadwa, Ahle Hadis is considered to be the closest to mainstream Wahabism when it comes to Islamic tenets.

It is surprising that all those calling for a ban on Goa-based Hindu organisation Sanatan Sanstha, following the arrest of one of its members on the charge of murdering rationalist Govind Pansare in Maharashtra, never asked for a ban on either the chief Deoband madarsa at Deoband or the Nadwa madarsa at Lucknow or the Ahle Hadis madarsa at Saharanpur, despite a majority of terrorists having studied in the seminaries, which are part of the networks of these three Wahhabi schools of thought. Significantly, in all these Wahabi madarsas, Mughal emperor Akbar, the secular hero of Indian liberals, is portrayed as a heretic because Akbar espoused liberal ideas vis-a-vis Hindus.

This is the latest example of the double standard of Indian secularists or pseudo-secularists. In an age when the Narendra Modi government's laudable decision to restrict condom ads showing cavorting couples during prime viewing hours on TV is being opposed by the so-called liberals in what is a shocking disregard for the negative impact it has on children, the Sanatan Sanstha is showing Hindus the path of true spirituality and religiosity, thus arresting the negative influences, particularly in modern Hindu youth.

The Sanstha's average pracharak is simple - never ever given even a hint that he adheres to any kind of militancy and has in many cases weaned impressionable youth away from many evil habits including pornography viewing and addictions like smoking and drinking. Yes, the Sanstha has strong view on things which impact the nation and the Hindu community. But whenever it has chosen to take a firm stand on a controversial issue the view has been within the boundaries of the Constitution and peaceful to say the least. A classic example was the way it opposed the highly provocative images of Hindu gods and goddesses drawn by the late MF Husain. The court cases against Husain for hurting Hindu sentiments which prevented him from returning to India till his death for the fear of arrest were sustained largely because of the legal pressure built by various Hindu organisations. One of them was Sanatan Sanstha.

As a first step the Sanstha got several photocopies of Husain's catalogue and then highlighted in them the various blasphemous images of Saraswati and Hanuman and other Hindu gods and goddesses before distributing them amongst campaigners especially selected for the campaign on the issue. The campaigners made a list of people in important towns to be apprised of the issue. Then they would be accompanied by two or three co-workers to the homes of the listed people, who would be shown Husain's blasphemous paintings and then their signatures would be sought on a petition seeking legal action against Husain.

At the end of the campaign the petitions signed by thousands of people were placed before the courts which were already seized with 1,200 such petitions from across the country. The Sanstha's religious literature is about resurrecting true Sanatan Hindu practices, which are being eroded in the face of the wave of westernisation.

Significantly, the arrest of one of Sanatan Sanstha's workers, Sameer Gaekwad, from Sangli last month on the charge of having a hand in the murder of Govind Pansare brought the Sanstha into limelight once again and led to fresh demands for its ban. Earlier, six of its members were arrested in a low intensity blast in Goa in 2009 before being acquitted in 2013. The Sanstha maintains that like in the case of the Goa blast, Gaekwad too has been arrested on false charges and will be eventually acquitted.

Whatever the truth of the matter, it is possible that fringe elements of a Hindu organisation in isolated cases might get involved in violent acts provoked by the acts of terrorism by Islamic jihadis/radicals and more than that by the attempts of many from the pro-Muslim liberal brigade in the country to underplay their acts because they project Muslim community negatively.

One glaring example was the way some human rights activists unsuccessfully tried to save the alleged Muslim killers of the Godhra train burning by painting the killing of the 59 Hindus as an accident. In any case, violent or terrorist acts by any one, whether a Muslim or a Hindu, can be condoned by the nation at its own peril and it is the primary duty of the nation's criminal justice system to track and punish perpetrators of such crimes.

But while seeking action against those responsible for such violence acts how can people use two yardsticks - one for the Hindu organisations and another for Muslim Wahhabi organisations, who have much more to account for when it comes to spreading religious hatred, albeit covertly.

This is, of course, notwithstanding the fact that a vast majority of Indian Wahabis have remained outside the pale of terrorism rejecting ideologies like the ISIS in what is a positive sign.Undoubtedly, if true secularism is to be ushered in the country then the yardsticks for Muslims and Hindus, who painfully agreed to carve out Pakistan from undivided India on the demand of a section of Muslims who wanted an Islamic country, can't be different. Using different yardsticks not only makes mockery of the term "secularism" but also leads to more religious hatred because of the double standard on a sensitive issue like religion.


Uday Mahurkar Uday Mahurkar @udaymahurkar

The writer is deputy editor, India Today.

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