I FIRST HEARD about Dr Jayant Balaji Athavale in the early 1980s. I was studying hypnotism, reading a lot of books and related literature. Being an anti-superstition activist, I wanted to make doctors and social activists aware of how hypnotherapy could be used to deal with phenomena like poltergeist and possession. I wanted to make them hypnotherapists. So I was in search of an expert in the field. In 1985, I attended a workshop by Dr Athavale. He had studied hypnotherapy in England, and practised and taught there. Soon, we became friends.
I used to meet him whenever I had any work in Mumbai. I would go to his place after my work and then we would sit down chatting for long. Very often, we discussed spirituality. Those were the days when I used to expose godmen and tantriks. He used to read a lot about godmen. I told him that I had exposed some of them.
One day, he suddenly asked me to open my palm. I was curious, so I did. Then he placed his palm on my palm and told me that he was transferring positive energy to me. I told him that I did not feel anything, let alone any sort of energy transfer. He then told me that my hand had a lot of negative energy. I did not expect this kind of talk from an expert clinical hypnotherapist. In hypnotherapy it is clear that one has to accept ‘a suggestion’ in order to feel it. If I was not willing to accept his suggestion of energy transfer, there was no question that I was going to feel anything.
I used to send my patients to him for hypnotherapy. But the patients started returning disappointed. They told me that Dr Athavale told them that their kuladevata (family deity) was angry with them and hence they should do naam japa (chanting). This was exactly opposite to what I had in mind. I was trying to teach rational and scientific approach to my patients and rid them of their superstitious beliefs. Eventually I stopped sending patients to him. But our friendship continued.
One day, I went to meet him at his place. We soon began discussing godmen. I told him that I would expose all the godmen. He asked me to wait for some time. Then he and his wife began meditating. I sat there quietly. After some 15 minutes, he came out of the trance and told me that he had seen all my past lives. He said that in my previous life I had been born as a Shudra and had performed a lot of tapa (meditation), which made people angry and they beheaded me. He said that was the reason I was against godmen. Basically, he had told me the story of Shambuka from the Ramayan. “Your negative energy is overpowering all the positive energy of godmen,” he told me with a straight face. That was the last straw. I felt that I should not visit him anymore.
In 1990-91, a magician friend of mine told me that Dr Athavale had vastly improved his powers of psychokinesis. He could cause vibrations in objects, such as a clock on a table. This was a common magic trick practised abroad at that time. Today we have mobile phones which we put on vibration mode. In those days clocks with vibration power had just been introduced. Dr Athavale must have purchased one such clock, I told my magician friend.
I wrote an article in a Marathi magazine on how Dr Athavale was on his way to becoming a baba. But I decided not to intervene in his work. I had grown up in a spiritual household. I have no problem with spirituality if it does not talk about miracles and superstitions.
After the Sanatan Sanstha was founded, I often came across their sadhaks in villages during my tours. I never paid much attention to them and thought of them as yet another cult. It was after 2000 that they began obstructing our anti-superstition programmes. They would come and make every effort to disrupt the events. At one such event they began arguing with me over ‘Manusmruti’. I tried to reason with them, but to no avail. That was when I first thought what if those boys had been brainwashed and their minds programmed.
In 2006, they assaulted me and tried to choke me on stage during one of my talks in Pune. A large group of their supporters had gathered outside the auditorium.
I had shared the information I had on the Sanatan Sanstha with the police and the then home minister R.R. Patil. When Narendra Dabholkar was killed in 2013, I was one of the first to publicly say that the RSS and the Shiv Sena had no role in it, and the police should probe the Sanatan Sanstha. After the 2009 Madgaon blasts, the Goa Police had done a very good investigation. The then Goa home minister was very keen on banning the Sanstha. However, his colleague Sudin Dhavalikar’s wife was among the top office-bearers of the Sanstha. Dhavalikar said that if any action was taken against the Sanstha, the government would fall. So the Goa Police could not take their investigation to the logical conclusion.
Over the years, the Sanstha has evolved into a very dangerous organisation. They are engaged in making human robots who would not hesitate to become human bombs. There is no doubt in my mind that this organisation has terrorist intentions. It should be banned before it causes havoc in the country.
—As told to Dnyanesh Jathar
Prof Manav is a rationalist and anti-superstition crusader.