Divest Temples Before Divesting PSUs; Central Law Needed To Restore Hindu Wealth To Hindu Control

by R Jagannathan - May 28, 2020 04:46 PM +05:30 IST
Divest Temples Before Divesting PSUs; Central Law Needed To Restore Hindu Wealth To Hindu ControlTirumala Tirupati Devasthanams
  • Privatising temples is even more important than privatising public sector enterprises.

    The former is about protecting the soul of Indic culture; the latter is about filling a hole in the budget.

You can also read this in Hindi- मंदिरों को राज्य के नियंत्रण से मुक्त करने पर हिंदू हितों के लिए होगा संपत्ति का उपयोग

Recent events underline once again a simple truth: the 'secular' Indian state is a sham and scam created only to emasculate Hinduism and destroy its temple wealth. If anything, this wealth will be commandeered to benefit Hinduism’s enemies.

Consider just two stories from the past few weeks: in Andhra Pradesh, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), the wealthiest Hindu temple chain, announced plans to sell some of its 'unviable' properties. Only vociferous protests by Hindus halted this move in its tracks.

In Tamil Nadu, a state government directive asking 47 temples to donate money to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund to help with Covid-19 relief work, was withdrawn only after the matter was raised in the High Court.

A few months earlier, the Char Dham Devasthanam Management Act, 2019, which will end up bringing the state into the management of Char Dham temples and 51 others, was challenged by Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament Subramanian Swamy in the Uttarakhand High Court.

When it comes to meddling with Hindu temples, all political parties are equal opportunity offenders.

The TTD board is appointed by the Andhra Pradesh government currently run by a Christian Chief Minister, Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, and whose uncle Y V Subba Reddy is the board chairman. Reddy’s brother-in-law Anil Kumar is an evangelist for Christian conversion in the state. That itself should have raised red flags in secular circles, but it didn’t.

The Tamil Nadu government run by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is seen as an occasional political ally of the BJP, even though it does not participate in power-sharing at the Centre. The AIADMK split from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) which itself split from the Dravida Kazhagam (DK) of E V Ramaswamy 'Periyar' – a virulently anti-Hindu force. Part of the AIADMK’s DNA is thus from the DK.

The Uttarakhand government is run by a professedly “Hindu” leaning BJP, which won an overwhelming majority in the last assembly election.

What is common to all three cases is one reality: whichever be the party in power, it is only Hindu temples, Hindu resources, Hindu interests that will be targeted for political intervention.

The reason for this is simple: if you enclose some green pastures, the sheep will graze on non-enclosed land. In the matter of controlling the wealth and resources of religious places, the only unfenced resource is that of wealthy Hindu temples.

Church and mosque are fenced off from political control as the rights of minorities to own and administer their own religious and cultural institutions are guaranteed under articles 29 and 30. Even though Article 25 says that “all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion,” in actual practice this right is denied substantially only to Hindus.

The control of temples by governments effectively negates the intent of Article 25. Reason: while Hindus continue to be free to profess and practise religion, they are effectively curtailed from 'propagation' of their religion. Propagation needs resources, and Hindu resources are largely with temples.

Thus, while Christian and Muslim denominations and sects are free to use church and mosque funds to gain converts from Hinduism, the control of temple wealth by states bars even rich temples from seeking conversions from other religions. Indirectly, this control of temples by states benefits the proselytising religions, since the state cannot – or does not – seek to spread the faith and seek conversions to Hinduism.

The very fact that none of the nearly 100,000 temples run by the five southern state government has given any account of their conversion and propagation activities implies that Hindus have to retain their numbers with their hands tied behind their backs.

One can argue that 'propagation' does not necessarily imply the right to convert, but if this is the case, then the church and mosque should equally be restricted from using their devotee funds to proselytise. Since this does not happen, conversions away from Hinduism have become a one-way street through temple control.

We thus need to state the obvious: the Centre must bring in a legislation to free all temples from state control. The job of running temples belongs to priests, devotees and other stakeholders in Hindu religion, not the 'secular state'. At best, states can provide a legal framework for the running and management of temples.

The other not-so-obvious conclusion needs restating: continuing state control of temples amounts to indirect promotion of Christianity and Islam at Hinduism’s cost. It is significant that not one important Muslim or Christian organisation has even bothered to support the freeing of Hindu temples from state control.

Hinduphobes use three (specious) arguments to prevent the freeing of temples from state control.

One, many of these temples were (or are) being badly mismanaged, and so the state has had to enter the picture. This is bunkum. Churches and mosques may also be badly run, and the church has had a track record of paedophilia and sexual misconduct for decades now, but no demand has been raised for their takeover.

Two, most of the state-appointed trustees in temples are Hindus, and so they can be trusted to safeguard devotee interests. Again, a dubious argument. When Jagan Mohan Reddy’s uncle runs the TTD, even if he is a Hindu, how is it possible to believe that nepotism of this kind will be run to benefit Hindus rather than his extended Christian family? Also, when atheist communists are appointed to run Devaswom boards in Kerala, how is this even acceptable in 'secular' India?

Three, the most nonsensical argument which Hindus repeatedly fall for is that they constitute 80 per cent of India’s population. And hence any scare on the demographic front is unwarranted even if some Hindus convert to the Abrahamic faiths.

The truth is different. It is well known that many Scheduled Caste (SC) Christians do not officially report a change of religion due to fear of loss of SC benefits. In a recent Times Now appearance, YSR Congress MP Raghu Ramakrishna Raju said that officially Christians may be less than 2.5 per cent of the Telugu population, but actual numbers may be closer to 25 per cent. There is no way to check the veracity of the 25 per cent claim, but it is clearly not the 1.34 per cent indicated by the 2011 Census in undivided Andhra Pradesh.

The same census put the country’s tribal population at 8.6 per cent of the total. Since most evangelical organisations concentrate on conversions from this segment, especially since change of religion does not mean loss of quota benefits in the case of Scheduled Tribes, the low all-India total of 2.3 per cent Christian population is clearly wrong. It is not without reason that Christians have been agitating for giving quota benefits to the Dalits regardless of religion.

If this happens, and the Supreme Court seems willing to examine the issue, the proportion of Christians in the population will rise significantly. If there were very few undeclared Christians among the SCs, there would be no demand for their inclusion in quota benefits.

Thus, anti-Hindu groups want it both ways: they will use caste discrimination in Hinduism to demonise the faith and demoralise its members even while indirectly accepting that even after conversions Dalit Muslims and Christians are not equals in their own faiths.

A significant proportion of the remaining population counted as Hindu may not be Hindu at all, since atheists and Hindu baiters (from communists to Dravidian activists to converted people who retain their Hindu-sounding names) are still counted as part of the majority community. The Census figures are thus open to serious challenge.

In any case, the real way to see the Hindu majority is to check the demographics of the Indian sub-continent, which was once an undivided entity. But borders continue to remain porous, especially on the Bangladesh side. Taking Pakistan, India and Bangladesh together, Hindus probably constitute no more than 64-65 per cent of the total, and the 79.6 per cent Hindus in India may have been considerably diluted by Muslim influx from Bangladesh, not to speak of conversions within India that remain unreported.

Some media Christian commentators probably understate their numbers in order to prevent a Hindu backlash and check demands for anti-conversion laws. But few people – least of all evangelical groups themselves – believe that Christianity is failing to covert.

The Narendra Modi government should lose no time to hand over state control of temples back to Hindus with a central law. That is the only way to at least give Hindus a reasonable chance of protecting their interests and their demographic majority in the coming decades.

Privatising temples is even more important than privatising public sector enterprises. The former is about protecting the soul of Indic culture; the latter is about filling a hole in the budget.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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