IAS Officer Ritika Jindal’s Interference In Maa Shoolini Temple Rituals Shows Why Hindus Must Oppose Government Control Of Temples

IAS Officer Ritika Jindal’s Interference In Maa Shoolini Temple Rituals Shows Why Hindus Must Oppose Government Control Of Temples

by Arihant Pawariya - Tuesday, October 27, 2020 12:05 PM IST
IAS Officer Ritika Jindal’s Interference In Maa Shoolini Temple Rituals Shows Why Hindus Must Oppose Government Control Of TemplesShoolini temple.
  • The core issue that has surfaced from this controversy is the peril of government control of temples.

    It must be opposed by all Hindus irrespective of whether it’s the BJP or a Congress government that is enacting a law to take over their sacred spaces.

DCsOfIndia, a Twitter handle, which claims to celebrate grassroots intervention by IAS officers, posted a tweet yesterday (25 October) which has generated a lot of controversy on social media.

“Salute to young #IAS officer #RitikaJindal for breaking age old parochial tradition by performing 'havan' at Shalooni temple, Solan HP. She also taught lessons of equality to priests, others. This gutsy officer shows us true spirit of #Dussehra,” the handle posted.

The fact that the account couldn’t even spell the name of the temple right (it’s Maa Shoolini, not Shalooni) and put the word havan in single quotes probably explains why it is celebrating an act of a representative of secular government interfering in religious affairs of a community.

Nevertheless, the issue is this: Officer Jindal was visiting the temple premises to check for arrangements during Navratri and she asked to participate in the havan that was being conducted. The priest reportedly refused saying women can’t participate in the havan. But Jindal, who is de facto the head of temple management by virtue of being an IAS officer posted in Solan district, prevailed over the priest and forced him to do the rituals the way she thought fit.

Ritika Jindal, in an interview to Solan Today, which was put on Facebook, revealed her views on the matter. The IAS officer can be seen struggling to construct a single sentence in pure Hindi (the language of people she serves) without resorting to her English vocabulary. More problematic is her worldview which can be interpreted by usage of words such as patriarchy, orthodoxy, long held but outdated rituals, etc.

For a moment, one can confuse her with an officer from the colonial era with a disdain for local culture and traditions, incomprehensible to her modern and European sensitivities. But perhaps that’s the biggest achievement of the British rule. Even after seven decades, India’s education and its institutions never decolonised and decoupled themselves from the culture of its erstwhile masters.

This episode has obviously created a lot of outrage and many are demanding that the government sacks her. One wonders what this will achieve except making her a gender-rights activist. Such counterproductive campaigns usually do more harm than good.

Nevertheless, while such views of an Indian government officer are problematic for they speak volumes about our education system and inherent weaknesses of Hindu parenting, the key question that needs to be tackled is this: what business does an IAS officer have changing rituals in a temple?

The reason why officials like Ritika Jindal are interfering in Hindu religious affairs is because they have been put in charge of temples by the governments in state after state. This issue is only the latest controversy which highlights the perils of the government takeover, control and administration of exclusively Hindu places of worship.

In 1984, the then Congress government under the leadership of Virbhadra Singh, passed ‘The Himachal Pradesh Hindu Public Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments’ Act. It was a bipartisan affair with only one BJP MLA opposing the move by the state assembly.

The lone dissenter was Ram Rattan Sharma who was also a priest. He had said that the act was ‘a little too harsh’ and ‘bordered on take-over and interference in Hindu religious affairs’ but his arguments were “received with derisive laughter even from his own partymen, forcing him to quietly leave the house.”

Of course, the BJP is none the wiser today. Otherwise it wouldn’t be repeating the same mistake by taking over temples left, right and centre in neighbouring Uttarakhand. Even in Himachal, the BJP has amended this 1984 act to take over more temples and mandate how their funds and gold is to be spent.

In 2010, the BJP government in the state mandated a certain amount of temple gold to be deposited for SBI Gold Bond scheme. In 2018, it changed the act ensuring that temples spend 15 per cent of their funds on building and maintaining cow sheds.

The rationale provided for taking over temples always revolves on the principle of improving the administration of the temple. The narrative is built to demonise the priests as greedy and corrupt. And all too commonly, whenever the critics accuse the government of interfering in Hindu religious places, those are met with derision and laughter from the government faithfuls just as it happened with Ram Rattan Sharma in 1984.

But history has proven Ram Rattan Sharma right. The 1984 act was indeed draconian which made some of the most important temples subject to whims and fancies of a government appointed commissioner, a position which was vested with great powers in matters of appointments and removal of pujarin and trustees, approving budgets or expenditures, sacking officials found to be wanting in their job, inspecting temple properties and funds at will, etc.

In fact, the powers of the commissioner or other officers appointed under the act are so absolute that they cannot be challenged in any civil court but only the high court and Supreme Court.

Every temple is required to maintain a register showing the origin, the names of the past and present trustees, customs or uses regarding succession to the office of trustee, the mode of administration and scale of expenditure, details of salaries, duties and conditions of service, details of all assets, particulars of historical records, coloured pictures of the idols, etc, and this is signed by the commissioner.

Every transfer, exchange or sale of temple property requires prior sanction of the commissioner. Anyone in the management found violating the rules can be sent to jail for a year.

Section 8 of the act says that ‘The trustee of a Hindu Public Religious Institution and Charitable Endowments shall carry out all orders made and directions given by the Commissioner under the provisions of this Act.’

Section 19 of the act says that ‘The Commissioner may suspend, remove or dismiss the trustee or a pujari of any Hindu Public Religious Institution and Charitable Endowment,....(b) for wilful disobedience of any order issued under the provisions of this Act by the Commissioner or the Government’.

(Read the full act here)

No wonder, then that when IAS officer Ritika Jindal decided to order the priest to follow her command in the way temple rituals are to be followed, he had to bend the knee because he, the servant of goddess, may not only lose his job but also be sent to jail if he refuses to follow the orders of the servant of the government.

Though the views of the individual officer in question raise valid concerns about our education system and the level of deracination among English-educated youth, the core issue that this recent controversy has exposed is the peril of government control of temples. It must be opposed by all Hindus irrespective of whether the BJP or a Congress government is bringing a law to take over their sacred spaces.

Arihant Pawariya is Senior Editor, Swarajya.
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