An In­vite That Sparked a Con­tro­versy

Deputy com­mis­sioner AB Ibrahim’s name ap­peared on an in­vite for a tem­ple rit­ual as he is the head of the dis­trict but a 1997 law says all of­fi­cials deal­ing with ad­min­is­tra­tion of a tem­ple main­tained by the state have to be prac­tis­ing Hin­dus. re­ports

The Economic Times - - Saturday Feature -

Kar­nataka’s Dak­shina Kan­nada is a com­mu­nally sen­si­tive dis­trict, so putting deputy com­mis­sioner AB Ibrahim’s name on an in­vite for a tem­ple rit­ual was bound to spark con­tro­versy. The Kar­nataka High Court, while in­di­cat­ing that the mat­ter shouldn’t have been blown out of pro­por­tion, de­cided that he shouldn’t of­fi­ci­ate at the event, in line with Sec­tion 7 of the Kar­nataka Hindu Re­li­gious In­sti­tu­tions and Char­i­ta­ble En­dow­ments Act, 1997.

The event in ques­tion is the car festival of Ma­halingesh­wara tem­ple in Put­tur, the home­town of Union law min­is­ter DV Sadananda Gowda. The 1997 law says that all of­fi­cials deal­ing with ad­min­is­tra­tion of a tem­ple main­tained by the state have to be prac­tis­ing Hin­dus. Chief min­is­ter Sid­dara­ma­iah’s Congress gov­ern­ment –he was deputy CM to JH Pa­tel when the law was passed--is now plan­ning to amend it to re­move the stip­u­la­tion.

Ibrahim’s name was printed on the in­vi­ta­tion for the April 17-19 event along with those of other gov­ern­ment and tem­ple of­fi­cials as he is the head of the dis­trict. Ra­jesh Ban­nur, a BJP coun­cil­lor in Put­tur town mu­nic­i­pal­ity, was the first to ob­ject.

“Dur­ing the festival, the sri­g­anda mudi prasada (san­dal­wood bless­ing from the head of the idol) is given to the per­son con­duct­ing it. He has to bow to the tantri (priest), who will bless him with mantrak­shate (blessed yel­low rice),” Ban­nur said. “Why should we al­low a man who does not prac­tise our re­li­gion and does not be­lieve in it, do these things? It will be wrong. We don’t want to go down in his­tory as the tem­ple that al­lowed a Mus­lim to per­form rit­u­als that only a prac­tis­ing Hindu should do.” in the fair.”

The sec­tion evoked states: “The com­mis­sioner and ev­ery deputy com­mis­sioner or as­sis­tant com­mis­sioner and ev­ery other of­fi­cer or ser­vant, ap­pointed to carry out the pur­poses of this Act by whom­so­ever ap­pointed, shall be a per­son pro­fess­ing Hindu re­li­gion and shall cease to hold the of­fice as such when he ceases to pro­fess that re­li­gion.” Law min­is­ter TB Jay­achan­dra, who has been con­sis­tently de­fend­ing the in­vite with the DC’s name, told the leg­isla­tive assem­bly on Fri­day that the sec­tion would be amended.

The sec­tion came into play in 2010, when IAS of­fi­cer PC Jaf­fer or­dered the evic­tion of squat­ters from the Lak­shmi Ja­nard­hana tem­ple in his ca­pac­ity as DC and dis­trict mag­is­trate of Mandya. Those af­fected raised the ques­tion of Jaf­fer’s re­li­gion. Chief min­is­ter BS Yed­dyu­rappa’s BJP gov­ern­ment di­rected that the mat­ter be handed over to the Mandya zilla pan­chayat chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, who was a Hindu. This was fol­lowed by the case of IAS of­fi­cer MT Reju, a Chris­tian, who was the DC of Udupi dis­trict neigh­bour­ing Dak­shina Kan­nada and part of the Sangh Pari­var strong­hold of coastal Kar­nataka. Ac­tivists there said that Reju can­not func­tion as DC, muzrai, due to his re­li­gion and a Hindu of­fi­cer was given that charge. “The law needs to be changed on this mat­ter. The of­fi­cer is there as the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the gov­ern­ment and his re­li­gion should not be the is­sue,” said re­tired IAS of­fi­cer Syed Zameer Pasha. Pasha, as Ko­lar DC, at­tended sev­eral tem­ple fes­ti­vals and car­ried out all the rit­u­als re­quired.

In his post­ing as as­sis­tant com­mis­sioner, Ling­sugur, in the early 2000s, Jaf­fer was also chair­man of the Amaresh­wara tem­ple com­mit­tee, while the then tah­sil­dar Salahud­din was sec­re­tary. Both par­tic­i­pated in the flag­ging off of the tem­ple car and other rit­u­als.

“Most of­ten, the tem­ple rit­u­als wait till the DC comes, as he is the head of the dis­trict and ev­ery­one wants him to be there. In the three years that I was Ko­lar DC, I never faced any prob­lem. I of­ten dropped other work and went to at­tend these events as they are cul­tur­ally and so­cially im­por­tant. No­body ever raised any ques­tions about my re­li­gion,” Pasha said. He also pointed out that when he was Kar­nataka Wakfs Board ad­min­is­tra­tor in 2 010, he is­sued a gov­ern­ment or­der that the DC -- ir­re­spec­tive of his re­li­gion -- would ad­min­is­ter all Mus­lim places of wor­ship un­der the board

un­til Wakfs Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tees were formed.

“I was crit­i­cised for this or­der, but I told my com­mu­nity mem­bers that the DC is the best per­son to ad­min­is­ter. The Wakfs law also has to be changed to al­low any se­nior IAS of­fi­cer to be ap­pointed to the board, rather than only a Mus­lim. All he needs to know about Shariat, he can learn, as needed. This is def­i­nitely in the in­ter­est of the coun­try and its unity,” Pasha said.

Re­tired IAS of­fi­cer Chi­ran­jeev Singh said he had not faced a prob­lem as a Sikh.

“I vis­ited all tem­ples and re­ally en­joyed par­tic­i­pat­ing in their events,” he said. “But I am of the opinion that gov­ern­ment should not be in the ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­tiv­ity of tem­ples. In Pun­jab, all the big gu­rud­waras are ad­min­is­tered by the Shi­ro­mani Gu­rud­wara Prab­han­dak Com­mit­tee. A sim­i­lar sys­tem should be fol­lowed for Hindu tem­ples.” To the ar­gu­ment by the gov­ern­ment ear­lier that the DC has to be present at such events, as he is the dis­trict mag­is­trate and tasked with over­see­ing law and or­der, Singh said there were sev­eral grey ar­eas be­tween re­li­gion and ad­min­is­tra­tion. He cited the ex­am­ple of a Catholic IAS of­fi­cer who checked with his Bishop be­fore be­ing given the go-ahead to carry out fam­ily plan­ning ac­tiv­i­ties as part of gov­ern­ment du­ties.

Re­tired IAS of­fi­cer BA Har­ish Gowda, a na­tive of the coastal re­gion, brushed aside any need for gov­ern­ment in­volve­ment. He said only Hindu tem­ples had gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in­ter­ven­ing, while mosques were looked af­ter by the Wakfs Board. Churches and gu­rud­waras had their own hi­er­ar­chi­cal struc­tures, he said.

“There is no ques­tion of the DC or gov­ern­ment in­volve­ment in their re­li­gious ac­tiv­ity. I feel this should be the case in Hindu tem­ples also. As it is, there is no need to put the DC’s name on tem­ple in­vi­ta­tions and most big tem­ples don’t do it,” he said. Pasha said that the con­tro­versy could have been avoided by the Dak­shina Kan­nada DC him­self ask­ing for his name to kept out of the in­vite.

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