The Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, or HJS, was established on 7 October 2002 for the “Education of Dharma, Awakening of Dharma, Protection of Dharma, Protection of the Nation and Uniting Hindus.” The group is known to be associated with the Goa-based Sanatan Sanstha, which was founded by Jayant Athavale in 1999. The Sanstha’s website states that it was established to “present Spirituality in a scientific language to those curious about Spirituality.” After the murders of the rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare—on 20 August 2013 and 16 February 2015, respectively—both these organisations and their rhetoric in support of Hindutva came under public scrutiny because of the alleged roles that their members had played in the killings. On the day Dabholkar was murdered, after the news had broken, the HJS uploaded a photograph of the activist with a red “X” over his face onto its website—it later took down the image on the direction of the Pune police. In a statement that was published on the Sanstha’s website the next day, Athavale wrote that “such a death for Dabholkar is a blessing of the Almighty.”
On 16 September 2015, a special investigation team of the Maharashtra police arrested a “seeker” from the Sanstha, Sameer Gaikwad, on suspicion of his involvement in Pansare’s death. In September 2016, the Central Bureau of Investigation filed a chargesheet alleging that Virendra Tawade, a Panvel-based doctor, was a key conspirator in Dabholkar’s murder. Tawade, who had been arrested by the CBI in June 2016, was previously a member of the HJS and was associated with the Sanstha as well. The Sanstha spoke out against both Gaikwad and Tawade’s arrests, terming the former “a conspiracy,” and the latter, “an Act 2 of ‘make Sanathan Sanstha the scapegoat.’” On 17 June 2017, Gaikwad was granted bail by a sessions court in Kolhapur.
Early in June, the HJS reportedly demanded a beef ban across the country. The HJS’s national guide, Charudatta Pingale, said, “There are 33 crore gods residing in the cow and this is our faith. The Constitution gives us a right to protect our faith.” Pingale made this statement in the run-up to the sixth edition of the All India Hindu Convention in Goa, a four-day event—jointly organised by the Sanstha and the HJS—which was held from 14 to 17 June. Theresolutions passed at the convention included demands for: India to be declared a Hindu state; a ban on cow slaughter; the declaration of the cow as the national animal; a ban on religious conversions; and the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. In late June, Sagar, a web reporter with The Caravan, sent a questionnaire addressed to Pingale over e-mail. In his response, which was also sent over e-mail, Pingale asserted that Gaikwad is innocent, expressed his faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister Adityanath regarding the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya, and deemed the need for a Hindu nation “inevitable.”