‘FREE TEM­PLES FROM STATE CON­TROL AND MAKE IN­DIA TRULY SEC­U­LAR’

Gov­ern­ment agen­cies re­spon­si­ble for main­te­nance and ren­o­va­tion of old tem­ples are stuff­ing the bro­ken por­tions with stones, while ar­ti­sans hav­ing ex­per­tise in carv­ing tra­di­tional de­signs are dy­ing of hunger.

The Sunday Guardian - - Nation -

Union Home Min­is­ter Ra­j­nath Singh had some time back dubbed the term “sec­u­lar” as the “most mis­used” word in the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal dis­course. He also pointed out that due to this ram­pant mis­ap­pli­ca­tion of the word, there have been in­stances of ten­sion in our so­ci­ety, and hence it must end now. The as­ser­tion has not come out of the blue. Such word­play by a sec­tion of the ide­o­log­i­calpo­lit­i­cal spec­trum in a bid to show Hin­duism in poor light has proved quite dam­ag­ing to our so­cial fab­ric. The over­bear­ing view that the ma­jor­ity com­mu­nity should not be al­lowed to dom­i­nate and hence kept un­der tight leash has led to en­act­ing laws so as to con­trol their en­dow­ments while their mi­nor­ity coun­ter­parts en­joy all the free­dom, some­times to un­rea­son­able ex­tent.

Supreme Court lawyer J. Sai Deepak says, “The Hindu tem­ples have been usurped upon by the very in­sti­tu­tion that is duty-bound to pro­tect the free­dom of re­li­gion—the In­dian state.” Af­ter the Apex Court struck down the Hindu Re­li­gion and Char­i­ta­ble En- dow­ment (HRCE) Act in 1954 terming it as “un­con­sti­tu­tional”, Hindu en­dow­ments were brought un­der state con­trol through the back­door by en­act­ing the same law al­beit at pro­vin­cial lev­els.

The main al­ibi was that it would check mis­use and mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of the prop­er­ties. How­ever, ex­pe­ri­ence in the last half cen­tury re­veals that it has only given rise to cor­rup­tion, by none other than the state ap­pa­ra­tus it­self. There are umpteen num­bers of cases wherein the politi­cos in power and the bu­reau­crats man­ag­ing the tem­ple af­fairs have been ac­cused of mas­sive cor­rup­tion—the Tiru­pati episode be­ing the lat­est glar­ing in­stance.

On the other hand, it amounts to “tax­ing” the Hin­dus for prac­tis­ing their re­li­gion in their own coun­try. “For ev­ery hun­dred ru­pees a Hindu do­nates at a tem­ple in Tamil Nadu, Rs 18 land in the cof­fers of the gov­ern­ment. So, in ef­fect, Hin­dus are pay­ing a Jaziya-type re­li­gious tax even af­ter In­de­pen­dence,” says Deepak, who is the le­gal men­tor of the Indic Col­lec­tive that ad­vo­cates the right of the Indic way of life to ex­ist and thrive.

Other ill-ef­fects of the laws are also equally detri­men- tal to the sec­u­lar fab­ric of the coun­try. They not only vi­o­late the fun­da­men­tal rights of Hin­dus but also dis­crim­i­na­tory in na­ture. Deepak points out: “Re­cently, the Devas­wom Min­is­ter of Ker­ala took a lead in or­gan­is­ing ‘beef fes­ti­val’ there. Sim­i­larly, a top ex­ec­u­tive of the board that con­trols the af­fairs of Tiru­pati tem­ple is a Chris­tian while 40 other em­ploy­ees work­ing there are non-Hin­dus.”

“Why are mat­ters of a cer­tain faith be­ing al­lowed to be man­aged by those who pro­fess a dif­fer­ent faith?” he asks. This in­fil­tra­tion of tem­ple man­age­ment by non-Hin­dus fa­cil­i­tates re­li­gious con­ver­sion too. “The tra­di­tional eco-sys­tem has bro­ken down. So peo­ple spe­cial­is­ing in cer­tain roles such as sculp­tors have suf­fered fi­nan­cially and thus been made more vul­ner­a­ble to pros­e­lyti­sa­tion.”

State med­dling in the dayto-day busi­ness of Hindu tem­ples is also bring­ing a bad name to the fol­low­ers of the faith. In re­cent years, many of the tem­ple prac­tices have been in­tro­duced at the be­hest of the state au­thor­i­ties with­out tak­ing the con­sent of the com­mu­nity lead­ers. Queu­ing up for dar­shan against a pay­ment, for ex­am­ple, has ac­tu­ally em­bar­rassed well-mean­ing Hin­dus but they only are blamed for it, whereas the de­ci­sion was taken by the gov­ern­ment of the day.

A closer look at the state of Hindu tem­ples that are not pop­u­lar or fa­mous shows that ap­prox­i­mately 85% of them re­ceive a mea­gre Rs 10,000 an­nu­ally or even less in con­tri­bu­tions from devo­tees. In other words, tem­ples with a monthly in­come of less than Rs 1,000 are un­der state con­trol to “check cor­rup­tion” and the state ap­pointees have the last word in all mat­ters, from ap­prov­ing bud­gets for per­for­mance of daily rit­u­als there to ap­point­ing key func­tionar­ies to their ad­min­is­tra­tion.

On the other hand, the gov­ern­ment agen­cies re­spon­si­ble for main­te­nance and ren­o­va­tion of old tem­ples are sim­ply stuff­ing the bro­ken por­tions with in­sipid stones, whereas the ar­ti­sans hav­ing ex­per­tise in carv­ing tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­tural de­signs are dy­ing of hunger. The best ex­am­ple of it is the Sun Tem­ple at Konark in Odisha which has lost its sheen to so-called preser­va­tion work.

More­over, there are also in­stances wherein the old Hindu struc­tures have been painted with art­work typ­i­cal to other faiths. In a re­cent such in­ci­dent, the HRCE De­part­ment of Tamil Nadu has been ac­cused of paint­ing the ceil­ing of the 1,000-year-old Lord Vishnu tem­ple at Thirukan­na­pu­ram with Chris­tian an­gels. It is al­leged that some of the top of­fi­cials of the de­part­ment are Chris­tians who have fa­cil­i­tated this.

“By mak­ing tem­ples sub­servient to it, the state has ended up smoth­er­ing the cul­tural life of In­dia and thus has alien­ated the In­di­ans from their own roots,” Deepak says, adding that “in a way, the state in In­dia has paral­ysed its own ma­jor­ity com­mu­nity”.

Talk­ing about the way out, an­other Supreme Court lawyer pre­fer­ring anonymity said, “We are not to­tally against the laws con­cern­ing the Hindu en­dow­ments like the Chris­tians. But it should be sim­ple ‘reg­u­la­tion’ as in the case of Waqf prop­er­ties and not ‘ to­tal con­trol’ or ‘takeover’. The state should play the role of an ‘ob­server’ and ‘au­di­tor’ in case of ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, but they must not in­ter­fere in the ad­min­is­tra­tion or rit­u­als of the tem­ples. That’s ex­actly what the Comptroller and Au­di­tor Gen­eral of In­dia (CAG) does as far as gov­ern­ment func­tion­ing is con­cerned.”

Ide­ally speak­ing, the scope of the state’s power should be strictly re­stricted to reg­u­la­tion of fi­nan­cial, po­lit­i­cal or other sec­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties of an in­sti­tu­tion. This will en­sure that at no point of time, the state has the power to take over the ad­min­is­tra­tion of any Hindu in­sti­tu­tion, di­rectly or in­di­rectly. This ap­proach strikes a bal­ance be­tween the rights of re­li­gious de­nom­i­na­tion un­der Ar­ti­cle 26 and the power of the state to in­ter­vene in sec­u­lar as­pects of ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der Ar­ti­cle 25 (2)(a).

Se­condly, the role of any HRCE leg­is­la­tion must be min­i­mal and should not have the ef­fect of un­der­min­ing, di­lut­ing, cur­tail­ing or en­croach­ing upon re­li­gious as­pects un­der the garb of in­ter­ven­ing in sec­u­lar as­pects. Clearly, the state’s over­ar­ch­ing role in ad­min­is­ter­ing Hindu en­dow­ments should be done away and re­placed with a min­i­mal­ist frame­work whose man­date is lim­ited to cor­rec­tive in­ter­ven­tion through reg­u­la­tion in the event of mis­man­age­ment.

A model leg­is­la­tion should em­power tra­di­tional tem­ple man­age­ment sys­tems to the ex­tent that such sys­tems are not in­her­ently dis­crim­i­na­tory on a caste or gen­der ba­sis. Where the his­tory of the tra- di­tional man­age­ment sys­tem of a cer­tain tem­ple is lost or un­avail­able, the leg­is­la­tion must pro­vide for com­mu­nity rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Re­sources of Hindu en­dow­ments and the pro­ceeds from there should not be used for any sec­u­lar pur­pose with­out the con­sent of the com­mu­nity, and in any event, should not be used to ben­e­fit any other com­mu­nity in the form of sub­si­dies like Haj trips. Also, no mem­ber of any other com­mu­nity should have a say or role, di­rect or in­di­rect, in the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Hindu in­sti­tu­tions.

Lastly, the model leg­is­la­tion should pro­vide for an­nual and ran­dom au­dit of the ac­counts of Hindu in­sti­tu­tions. This is for the lim­ited pur­pose of en­sur­ing that there is no mis­man­age­ment. A leg­is­la­tion with all th­ese at­tributes would go a long way in un­do­ing the harm done by decades of state in­ter­ven­tion. Sev­er­ing the state from the tem­ple would also al­low the Hindu com­mu­nity to ac­cess and use its own re­sources to pro­tect and fur­ther its in­ter­ests. Th­ese re­sources could be used to tackle the ex­is­ten­tial threats to Hindu way of life and their civil­i­sa­tional jour­ney. Con­cluded

A por­tion of the roof of 1,000-year-old Lord Vishnu tem­ple at Thirukan­na­pu­ram in Tamil Nadu painted with Chris­tian an­gels dur­ing ren­o­va­tion.

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