Nearly 80 sadhaks (followers) from across Maharashtra stay at the Sanatan Ashram at Devat village, around three kilometres from Panvel city. They maintain that Dr Virendra Tawade, arrested by the CBI for the 2013 murder of Narendra Dabholkar, is innocent and that he has been falsely implicated in the case because his arrest “fits the Hindu terrorism story”.
An ENT surgeon, Tawade would meditate regularly in this ashram and treat the other sadhaks. He also participated in medical camps organised by the ashram at various places.
“We have known Dr Tawade for almost 15 years now and he visited us till the day of his arrest. He is very polite and cannot be involved in such a heinous crime,” said Abhay Vartak, spokesperson of Sanatan Sanstha.
The ashram, which was built in 2000, has its own daily newspaper, Sanatan Prabhat, which promotes its ideology.
Vartak said the police have not visited the ashram since Tawade’s arrest. “We ask for police protection whenever we feel it necessary, and the local police provide us with that. We did so on the day of Tawade’s arrest, anticipating attacks from the nuisance elements. Thankfully no untoward incidents took place,” he said.
Vartak added, “Local residents have been co-operating with us. But we have received threats from other people in the past. For example, a communist leader from Kolhapur wrote on a social networking site last year that I should be shot dead. We then registered a police complaint against him.”
Apart from Hindu sadhaks, the ashram also houses people who follow Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, Vartak said. “The number of Muslim sadhaks is, however, minimal,” he added.
Another resident said, “All our activities, such as cooking, plumbing, and maintenance of electric systems are done by our own sadhaks and we don’t need any outsiders.”
A senior officer from Navi Mumbai special branch said, “While the CBI is investigating the murder case, we have also placed the ashram and its activities under surveillance. Local police stations have been asked to ensure the safety of the people living there.”