Law panel for reforms in Hindu temple affairs

via Pioneer News Service | Kochi published on November 9, 2008

The Law Reforms Commission, which had enraged the Christian Church and various Muslim organizations with its two draft bills intending respectively to control population growth and to put restrictions on polygamy, has prepared a draft Secular Norms for Administration of Places of Public Worship Bill for Hindu places of worship.

The commission, headed by retired Justice VR Krishna Iyer has proposed to the Government to establish one or more institutions for imparting training to candidates on Vedas and other teachings of Hindu theology to qualify them as Purohithas (Poojaris or temple priests).

The Bill suggests that the Government should at least within a year from the date of commencement of this Act establish one or more institutions for giving training to lead a life of moral cleanliness, Hindu philosophy based on Vedas, Upanishads and other great teaching of Hindu theology and to perform Pooja according to legally and spiritually accepted religious principles in all places of public worship and shrines
belonging to Hindus.

The draft Bill, which was released last week to elicit public opinion, also states that no person should claim to be a Purohitha on the ground of family heritage, succession or other extraneous consideration. The Purohitha should be a person who has successfully completed the course of study in the relevant field from a recognized institution, says the draft Bill.

It also mentions that the Government should constitute a board consisting of chairmen or presidents of all Devaswom boards in the State and frame rules for admission and formulate syllabus for the course concerned.

The draft Bill also says that appointments should be made through the board and only qualified Purohithas should be appointed at temples including the Sabarimala and Guruvayur temple. It also states that people belonging to all religions should be allowed to places of public worship.

“It shall be the State policy to permit all persons to enter into all places of worship irrespective of religion, caste, sect or other differences subject to rules laid down by the authority in management of the place of worship and not opposed to law and intended to maintain public order, decency, morality or beliefs considered as essential attribute of the religion,” the draft Bill stated.

Known Hindu scholars refused to comment on the draft saying they needed to know more about it. Though they said establishment of Tantra schools (for training persons in matters related to Vedas and Poojas) was a welcome suggestion, they aired doubts over how these institutions were going to be established. They also said such institutions should be run by persons with knowledge about temple matters and not by bureaucrats.

Hindu scholars and office-bearers of Hindu organizations said the draft Bill did not seem sincere to the actual problems faced by the temples but was trying to focus attention on things that were less important. “Even now, there are systems for the identification of qualified persons for the posts of Purohithas but, of course, there is always scope for improvement,” said a Hindu scholar.

Hindu organisations said they wanted clarification on the proposal for opening he gates of all places of worship to all religions. They said this was a very sensitive issue as far as Hindu temples were concerned because there were particular sets of rules for particular temples.

The Catholic Church has raised objections to the proposal of the law reforms committee to strictly implement a two-child norm and impose a fine of Rs 10,000 on those violating it. The suggestions of the committee in this regard include imposition of fine on couples begetting more than two children and that each child after the second should not be given education or other social benefits.

In the particular context of the Church’s call for having more children than two per couples, the committee also wants the Government to prohibit the efforts to promote begetting and rearing more children than two per couple on the basis of community, religion, class, caste or region.

The commission has also recommended a law to make monogamy the general rule for Muslims in the State, with exceptions provided under only socially exceptional circumstances.

This proposal suggests that the State Government should declare that among Muslims in Kerala, monogamy is the general rule and polygamy just an exception, permissible only in socially exceptional circumstances and that also subject to compassionate conditions.

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