Free Temples From States

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 08 Nov 2017 11:22:09


Rich temples such as Tirupati, Guruvayoor, or Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak have routinely been raided to fund State budget programmesor line politicians’ pockets, while what happens in Tamil Nadu can only be described as wholesale loot

In April 2016, more than a 1,000-year-old temple, built by Rajendra Chola-I in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu, was pulled down by the State Government in the name of renovation. The Government said the temple was only ‘dismantled’ and would be put together again. In May 2010, the temple tower of the famous 500-year-old Kalahasti temple in Andhra Pradesh, built by King Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagara, collapsed.

A UNESCO report released in August 2017 raised alarm that the Tamil Nadu Government, which manages more than 36,000 temples, neither had the capacity nor qualified experts to carry out conservation work, leading to the “massacre” of ancient temples. These magnificent temples would be national treasures in any other country, and protected with great care. Tamil Nadu’s temples are indeed known globally, but the sheer scale of the treasure is unappreciated (dozens or hundreds of temples are over 1,000- years old) and numerous gems languish in obscurity, crumbling away for lack of care.

This sorry state of affairs is the direct result of temples being managed by callous and corrupt State Governments. Several Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HRCE) acts have allowed States to assume financial and managerial control of more than a hundred thousand Hindu temples. These HRCE departments are headed either by a cabinet Minister or by ostensibly autonomous boards. According to Supreme Court, Govts are free to appoint Marxists and non-believers to manage them.

During deliberations that preceded the passage of the landmark “Madras HRCE Act of 1951”, the Premier of Madras, O P Ramaswamy Reddiar, assured the House of his Government’s intention: “In bringing forward this Bill sir, let me make it clear that I have the highest interest of our faith at heart… The regulation of Hindu temples and maths is regulation of the community’s life and conduct; the revival of our temples is the revival of our people… If we do not make our temples a positive force, radiating a healthy progressive, social and cultural outlook, we shall be playing into the hands of the surging Godless crowd…”

How ironic then that temples are managed by Marxists in Kerala, atheist Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu, or Christians such as Y S Rajasekhara Reddy in Andhra Pradesh. They have wreaked havoc on the financial sustainability of temples, although ostensibly practising Hindu politicians are also culpable. Virtually all of Reddiar’s stated intentions stand belied or worse. T S S Rajan, who introduced the bill in 1949, said, “Ours maybe called a secular Govt, and so it is. But it does not absolve us from protecting the funds of the institutions which are meant for the service of the people.”

This has been the pre-eminent rationale to justify Govt management of Hindu temples. In reality, State after State has used the precedent of Tamil Nadu to pass HRCE acts, seeing temple funds as cookie jars they can raid for all and sundry purposes. Mismanagement extends to all aspects of temple administration, and borders on the criminal. Rich temples such as Tirupati, Guruvayoor, or Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak have routinely been raided to fund State budget programmes or line politicians’ pockets, while what happens in Tamil Nadu can only be described as wholesale loot. The HRCE Department controls more than 4.7 lakh acres of agricultural land, 2.6 crore square feet of buildings and 29 crore square feet of urban land. The Govt, however, collects a mere Rs. 36 crore in rent, while any reasonable measure will run into thousands of crores.

Financial mismanagement is compounded by gross incompetence when it comes to temple maintenance. There are long running rackets in the smuggling of exquisite ancient sculptures abroad and while there have been some notable successes in recapturing artefacts recently, they remain the tip of the iceberg. Moreover, the initiative and intelligence for these successes come from private efforts, like the one initiated by the India Pride Project.

Such a loot has been the inevitable outcome since modern bureaucratic control of temples commenced during the British rule. The first Collector of Chengalpattu, Lionel Place, noted in his “report on the jagir” of 1799 that, soon after he became the Collector, he took over the “management of the funds of all the celebrated pagodas” into his own hands and allocated expenses for their festivals and maintenance. By 1801, these were converted to “fixed money allowances” under a “permanent settlement”.

An article on the Tirupati temple by the collector of North Arcot in the Asiatic Journal in 1831, is even more explicit: “It was a strange but determined piece of policy when throughout the country the pagoda lands were resumed by the company and tusdeck allowances were granted in their place… Now let us contemplate the result of this plan. From one end of the country to the other, the pagodas are ruined, unmaintained…The revenues of Tripetty are on a gradual decline and will die in the lapse of years a natural death. Some of the most celebrated temples in the country are worse off. But there are still, alas, many more strongholds of the devil.”

These acts of what can only be called ‘State-sanctioned violence’ acquire the colours of apartheid when compared with the rights of other religions in independent India. One of the great ironies of Indian secularism is that a vocally secular Govt sees no contradiction in managing Hindu temples – and only Hindu temples. The dramatically different legal, nay constitutional, position of the Hindus vis-à-vis other religions is best understood with reference to a few key provisions of the Indian Constitution.

There are legitimate questions about how temples would be managed and how corruption can be avoided, but no one questions the right or ability of minorities to manage their places of worship. Claiming that Govt must manage temples makes the implicitly bigoted assumption that Hindus alone are incapable of managing their temples.