More Than Free - Why Traditional Custodians Must Involve All Of Hindu Society In Making Temples Great
If temple resources were indeed made available, millions of scholarships and new institutions can be opened up to Hindu students of all castes.
We need our temples and their resources to take on a quasi-political role and help bring in a Hindu renaissance.
There has been significant momentum on the issue of freeing Hindu temples from state control. There have been instances of temple land sales being opposed, fund transfers from temples objected to and court challenges to new laws that allow more temples to be taken over by state government run bodies.
All of these are good developments in the sense that it sends out a strong signal that temple administration cannot be taken for granted anymore, and that there are alert activists looking for evidence to punish wanton wastage of temple resources.
However, there is yet to be a meaningful dialogue on what happens once the temples are free. It may be argued that what will happen to temples can be debated once the temples are free and that the current challenge is to first stop state control.
But that is not true. Without viable structures that can take over temple management and run them in a transparent and efficient manner, and convince the Hindu populace of its inclusiveness, there will always be a degree of support for government involvement in temples.
To be able to remove the state the temple activists must show an efficient alternative that will benefit not just the limited circle of a small community of traditional custodians but the wider Hindu community in the district that the temple is situated in
At stake here is not just the rights of traditional custodians of temples but also the future of millions of Hindus. If temple resources were indeed made available, millions of scholarships and new institutions can be opened up to Hindu students of all castes thereby deterring conversions through Christian educational institutions.
Through preferential treatment to Hindus, temples can provide social security nets (jobs) to millions of Hindus thereby making them stakeholders in a more prosperous temple ecosystem.
Hindu temples could be running massive hospitals - once again drawing millions of devotees and simultaneously acting for their benefit.
But in order for the temples to be able to do all this they must be empowered and organised in a manner that involves all sections of Hindu society. Here are some ways to ensure temples are more than traditional places of worship under control of one community.
First, the stated mandate of the organisation must be the propagation of Hindu faith - of their own respective sect, the economic well being of Hindus and challenging those that threaten Dharma.
Second, the leadership of such organisations or bodies that run temples must be elected by Hindus of the district. This is not to say that the traditional custodians should not have any say. They will continue their old roles in religious affairs - as would every community connected with the temple.
However, every Hindu in a district must be made a stakeholder in the temple. The point is not to show off egalitarian views but to ensure that leadership of temples is contested for, opening up space for discussion about how best to use temple resources and producing Hindu leaders who have the interests of the Hindus and temples at heart.
Such an exercise will also unleash entrepreneurial ideas - an ambitious temple leader could aim to build the world’s greatest university or hospital in his temple town. A good campaigner may be able to draw donations, promote religious tourism and so on.
Third, the second tier leadership must represent each major caste that is present in the district. While every community has had traditional rights in temple rituals these roles have over centuries have become just that - symbolic placeholders without deep community attachment to the temples.
A quasi-political temple body that is empowered to run the temple's secular affairs allows all castes to have a say and demand resources for its own benefits.
Fourth, co-opt the government to build at-least part of infrastructure that is required for efficient temple operations.
There is no sense in temples spending their own money in building all the infrastructure needed - it is the role of the government to do it. During the Covid-19 pandemic the US Catholic church and affiliated bodies coolly pocketed billions of dollars of money from the government. The political nature of temple leadership allows for a degree of influence to be exerted on the local and state governments.
Of course there are many caveats to the above four arguments. Temples could be organised in clusters spanning many districts, there could be differentiated voting rights, old caste conflicts will definitely need to be addressed, and thousands of ‘devotees’ sitting on temple lands would be loath to let go of their easy income.
It may even be the case that in states like Tamil Nadu conventional politicians professing anti-Hindu views are able to capture temple bodies. But regular elections specific to temple control allow Hindus to more effectively campaign, highlight mismanagement and challenge anti-Hindu politics. This allows space for Hindu mobilisation.
There is a desperate need for temples to be more than free. We need our temples and its resources to take on a quasi-political role and help bring in a Hindu renaissance, and for that to happen people more than the old custodians need to have a say.
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