Apart from Pak-Bangla terrorist and demographic invasion, another problem tormenting Bharat and its heritage is the outrageous government control of all prominent Hindu temples.

It is shocking that though India is a Secular Republic, and though secularism commands separation of State and Religion, state governments have taken over all prominent Hindu temples and shrines which is an anti-secular act.

All well-known Hindu temples including those at Puri, Tirupati, Guruvayoor, Kashi, Mathura, Ayodhya, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Vaishno Devi, Mumbai (Shree Siddhi Vinayak Temple), Shirdi, Amarnath, Srisailam, Madurai and Rameshwaram are under government’s control.

And in the latest of such takeovers, the ancient Shiva temple at Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu is being grabbed by the government.

And only Hindu temples have been targeted for government control whereas no Christian church or Muslim mosque has been touched.

This is not to suggest that churches and mosques should be taken over by the government. This is just to stress that Hindu temples also should enjoy the same freedom from government control as enjoyed by churches and mosques, and that Hindus too should have the same liberty to manage their places of worship as given to non-Hindus.

Moreover, as discussed hereunder, the state governments are not applying the income from Hindu temples for the cause of Hindus or Hindu religion. Rather, the state takeover has resulted in appropriation of temple funds by government, and as in Karnataka, even for Madrassas and Churches. Besides, state takeover has resulted in gross mismanagement and embezzlement of temple funds, closure of many smaller temples, encroachments, sale and alienation of temple lands, and dismantling of temple infra-structure which is leading to gradual demolition of Hindu religion.

ANTI-SECULAR AND DISCRIMINATORY

Government control of Hindu temples is anti-secular and anti-Hindu. It amounts to suppression of Hindus’ right of religious freedom guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India. Besides, it is discriminatory since only Hindu places of worship have been targeted for control.
Because of government takeover, persons with no devotion and no knowledge about Hinduism, and even non-Hindus are governing Hindu temples.

Though as per Article 25 of Indian Constitution, all persons are equally entitled to the right to profess, practice and propagate religion, and though as per Article 26, every religious denomination “shall have the right (a) to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes; (b) to manage its own affairs in matters of religion; (c) to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and (d) to administer such property in accordance with law”, various state governments are controlling all prominent Hindu temples and their estates thereby depriving Hindus of their Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26.

DEVASTATION OF INFRASTRUCTURE

All over the country, there are serious allegations of mismanagement and embezzlement of income and assets of the government controlled temples. Only a few illustrations are given here.

In states like Andhra Pradesh, the devotees’ offerings to temples are appropriated as government revenue; and are not used for Hindu community, or to promote Hindu religious activities. Besides, in several districts of Andhra Pradesh, thousands and thousands of acres of land owned by government controlled temples have been sold, alienated, gifted and permitted to be grabbed by land grabbers though the government has no right to do so since it is not the owner of temple lands.

In Bhadrachalam and Simhachalam, hundreds of acres of temple land have been given to Christian organisations. Moreover, the Endowment department has sold over 1600 Acres of Srisailam Temple land to various Missionary Organisations. And in 2005, 245 acres of prime land belonging to Seetharama Chandra Swamy temple at Devarayamjal was sold at throwaway prices causing huge loss to the temple.

And in 2006, the centuries old, 1000 pillar Mandapam in Tirumala complex was demolished.

Situation in other States is equally appalling. As reported in a section of the press, for the years 1997-98 to 2002-2003 for which figures are available, major portion of temple income in Karnataka was allocated to Madrassas, mosques and churches; whereas temples got only a little amount.
In Kerala, state control has rendered innumerable temples dysfunctional. Besides, under the Kerala Land Reforms Act, over 12,000 acres of Guruvayoor temple’s land has been reduced to a few hundred acres only. And in Sabarimala, 2,500 acres of temple land has been sold by the government’s Board.

In Orissa also the administration has been selling Jagannath temple endowment lands.

In Jammu and Kashmir, even Mata Vaishno Devi Temple University created with the funds of Vaishno Devi Temple does not have Hindu religious studies in its curriculum.

Tamil Nadu’s position is equally dismal because of the problems inherent in government control of temples.

And though the Church is the largest real-estate owner in the country, no Church land has been controlled or alienated by the government.

SHACKLING HINDU FAITH

Though a secular state can neither reward nor punish any religion, shackling Hindu religion through state control of temples continues all over India except in Himachal Pradesh where in 2008, the government decided to liberate the temples from its control.

Government control of their places of worship has crippled the cultural, social and spiritual life of Hindus. Apart from depriving temples of their income and wealth, this un-secular government action is ravaging the body and soul of Hinduism.

While the government subsidises “Haj” pilgrimage with hundreds of crores of rupees every year, state control is destroying the self-supporting edifice of Hindu places of worship.

Apart from being the centre of Hindu community’s religious, social and cultural life, the temple is supposed to be the focal point for learning Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Tirukkural etc. from religious scholars. But Vedic learning and Sanskrit have been banished from most of the government controlled temples.

As reported in media, Andhra Pradesh government has brought Christian institutions into the decision making body of Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam (TTD) and its institutions. JRG Wealth Management, a Christian organisation has been employed for Prasadam materials for use in Tirupati temple.

And there are apprehensions of evangelists’ design to build a Church at Tirumala.

WAY OUT

Since temples belong to Hindu society which has built and maintained them over the centuries, they must be restored to Hindu community to give religious freedom to Hindus. Like other communities, Hindus too have a constitutional right to manage their places of worship. And they must not be denied this fundamental right.

Independent Boards comprising of Hindus must govern Hindu temples and shrines as is the case with places of worship of other religious communities. And temple income should be used for educational institutes, hospitals and welfare activities for general public, and also for Sanskrit and Hindu religious studies.

All pro-Hindu individuals and organisations have to assert themselves and force the State governments to liberate the temples. Alternatively, apart from demanding the amendment of Hindu Religious Endowments and Charitable Trusts Act, 1951 to make it compatible with Articles 25 and 26, suitable legal action should be taken by filing writ petitions / public interest petitions in the respective High Courts since the government control of Hindu temples violates Articles 14, 25 and 26 of Indian Constitution which bestow the fundamental rights to equality, freedom of religion, and freedom to manage religious affairs.

As per Kathopnishad, “Uttishthta jaagrta praapya varaan nibodhat” (Arise, awake, and do not stop till the goal is achieved).

Personal greed of a few individuals, and Hindu community’s suicidal tolerance of gross injustice of confiscation of their temples must not be allowed to destroy Hinduism in truncated India the way Hinduism has been liquidated in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh which too used to be Hindu lands.

J.G. Arora, jgarora@gmail.com