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
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.