Suma is a 75 year old woman residing in a village at the outskirts of Mysore in the state of Karnataka. With a religious bent of mind, she wakes up early in the morning and after her bath, draws Rangoli in front of house and spends 15 mins in the puja room, reciting prayers, reading Shlokas and finally a mangalarathi in which she offers Rs 5 as token offering (from her savings) and places this into a jar in the corner of her puja room. She does this religiously 365 days an year and by the end of the year, she has 5*365 = 1825 rupees in the jar which is basically her own savings. At the beginning of the next year, she donates this entire Rs 1825 into a temple hundi in her village, assuming that it would help in sustaining the temple and hence her faith.
I am sure most of us are able to co-relate Suma to devotees among our friends and families as well. There are millions of such Sumas all over India who painstakingly save money and contribute a part of it to temples as part of their belief and as charity. Although such Sumas know that the donation does not actually go to the heaven, they have enough common sense to know that it might atleast help in maintaining the temple and other charitable activities undertaken by the temples along with providing a means of livelihood to the temple priests.
However, what she is not aware of is the demon called “secularism” which has torn the system into tatters, defying all logic, and turning the future of these temples bleak. Without her knowledge, she is indirectly funding madrassas & christian missionaries!! This might sound like an absurd statement but it is indeed true.
Before going into the details, let us first look at what our Constitution says. The makers of our Constitution were visionaries who strove hard for equality and religious freedom and the same is reflected in Article 26 of Constitution of India, which promises freedom to establish religious & charitable institutions and manage their own affairs in matters of religion (which implies no interference from Govt).
Page 13 of the Constitution of India in PDF format here:
Despite such assurance/guarantee from the Constitution, it is surprising to find that the Govt has managed to intervene in matters of religious institutions (temples) in the pretext of “streamlining activities”. And what makes it more illogical is the discrimination, because the Govt has intervened only for Hindu religion and not for any other religion. This actually started with the implementation of an act called “Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Act” in 1923 (During British Rule), which became “Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act XXII” in 1959 and has been implemented in several states in India in different forms, and despite several variations, the core idea is Govt control and fact remains that Govt seeks control of all the Hindu temples (i.e Some term it as “Nationalization of Temples”).
As per this law, the Govt has every right to acquire Hindu temples and it already has control of more than 250,000 temples in Karnataka, more than 400,000 temples in Andhra and similarly lakhs of temples in other states. As per this law, all the revenues generated by the temple (including Hundi funds) will go to the Govt (not the temple priests/heads) and it is the prerogative of the Govt to decide how much of this revenue will be returned to the temples for their maintenance.
Here is one such act implemented in Karnataka in 1997 superseding all the previous acts.
Official link to the softcopy of the Act:
http://dpal.kar.nic.in/pdf_files/33 of 2001 (E).pdf
As you can notice, the appointment of officers, archakas & even appointment of temple servants, is in the control of the govt. It even goes to the extent of controlling the salaries of all of them.
Although one might argue that having it under Govt control might streamline the process, the flaw in such argument is that not only is it against the Constitution (which speaks against state intervention in religious matters), but it is discriminatory as well because the same does not apply to other religions like Islam or Christianity. i.e There is no such Govt interference in Mosques or Churches.
Now comes the most unfortunate part. Over the last few decades, secularism has gradually turned into pseudo-secularism which is basically appeasement politics. There have been instances where a state govt had collected all the revenues from temples, but returned only a part of it to them for their maintenance & salaries, and diverted rest of the revenues (from Hindu temples) towards subsidizing Haj, funding Madrassas & Missionaries!!
Even Tirupati temple funds were not spared and were being diverted towards other activities.
Glaring inconsistencies were observed especially during the tenure of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S.Rajashekar Reddy who was notorious for christian evangelism activities.
Consider the year 2002. Karnataka State Govt received around Rs 72 crore from 251,000 temples. But only Rs 10 crore was returned to the temples while rest of the funds were used for other purposes including funding of Rs 50 crore for madrassas & Haj subsidy and Rs 10 crore for Churches.
Also, notice that the number of temples have reduced because thousands of temples had to be shut down due to “lack of funds”!! It makes no sense because there was sufficient revenue (Rs 72 crore) generated from temples but they were not used towards temples and were instead used on activities of other religions, thereby allowing the temples to deteriorate and shut them down citing lack of funds.
Coming back to the original topic of Suma, the innocent rural old woman. There are millions of such Sumas who are painstakingly saving money and donating a part of it for religious and charitable institutions/temples which in turn are being used to fund madrassas & churches without her knowledge.
So, is it all over for Hindu temples? Are Govts going to divert funds like this in the name of secularism and close down Hindu temples? Is there nothing anybody can do?
Of course, it is possible to set things right. The founding fathers of the Republic of India had laid a very strong foundation where each citizen’s voice can be heard. But the problem is that when millions of citizens like Suma do not even know the issue, how is it possible for them to speak out against it? So, the first thing that must be done is awareness. Next is to use the relevant platforms to raise the voice.
We have a democratic system and a strong judiciary which is independent of the executive. i.e No Govt can influence any decisions in Judiciary. In the last few years, this matter has been witnessing pretty good momentum and there have been intense debates over this and in some cases, the matter has reached all the way to the Supreme Court.
When the State Govt of Tamil Nadu acquired the famous Nataraja temple, a case was filed against it in Supreme Court and the Honorable Judge upheld the Constitution and slammed the State Govt, thereby reverting the decision and ordering the Govt not to interfere in the temple management.
Following is the excerpt from Supreme Court judgement which slams the State Govt for violating “Fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India”
Official link to the softcopy of Supreme Court Judgement:
If the above link does not open, you can check/download it from the archives here:
However, the above judgement of Supreme Court applies only to the case for which it was filed i.e Nataraja Temple in Tamil Nadu, and rest of the lakhs of temples will still continue to be under Govt control, but this small victory gives a ray of hope to those who want to set things right. Instead of waiting for more activists to file lakhs of such cases, the best option would be to vote for those entities (during assembly elections) who can uphold the ideologies of true secularism (not pseudo-secularism) so that they can use that landmark judgement by Supreme Court to debate on the floor (Assembly) and pass necessary amendment or maybe even get rid of the whole act itself so that there is no interference by the Govt, avoid such diversion of funds towards other activities and use them for intended purposes, so that millions of Sumas across India would not feel cheated when they donate their hard earned savings to temples.