Restore Hindus right to worship- Letter to Shri V.S. Achuthanandan, Chief Minister, Kerala

via Hindu Jagran Forum (USA) published on June 29, 2007

Subject:  Community’s right to manage temples through Hindu Advisory Councils must be restored.  Govt. takeover of Temples is an assault on Hinduism and suppression of Hindus human right to freedom of religion.


 


 


 


Hon’ble Chief Minister,


 


 


We wish to bring to your attention that the recently adopted law by your Govt. legitimizing the reconstitution of the Travancore and Cochin Autonomous Devaswom Boards as well as the unilateral takeover of temples, without the Hindu community’s participation is deeply flawed, undemocratic and an affront to the entire Hindu Samaj. The on going assault against the Hindu faith under the cover of this lawless law has caused a deep anger, anguish and resentment in the ranks of a billion plus Hindus worldwide. This anger has been well demonstrated and expressed through the large scale protests against the Govt. take over of temples and the Hindu community’s demand to keep the temples under its own domain. (attachment A). As proven by the questionable functioning of the previous Devaswom Board in Kerala, which was also set up by the state Govt., the usurpation of shrines and their assets on flimsy grounds of mismanagement while denying any role to the Hindu community and religious leaders can only lead to communal turmoil and disharmony.  With an efficient and transparent management as the goal, the Boards must be reconstituted by the Hindu community, without any state interference.


 


 


 


Not satisfied by bringing only the majority of Temples under its clutches in the Thiruvananthapuram-Kochi region, now the State Govt. is at work to extend its tentacles to grab the Temples in the Malabar region. Consequently it has served notice to 23 Temples in Malabar region including famous Angadipuram Thali Temple , Azhakodi Devi Temple properties in Kozhikode and Sultan Bathery Ganapathi Temple expressing its intent to take them over.


 


 


 


 Some of the stipulations in the hurriedly promulgated Ordinance, followed by the adoption of a state sponsored law are deeply troubling as they are bound to inescapably politicize the temple management and hurt the religious institutions. For instance:-


 


 


1)  The stipulation of a three member committee for each Devaswom Board, chosen by Ministers and MLAs is highly questionable and therefore, unacceptable. The woman and the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe members are to be nominated by the Ministers belonging to the Hindu community. The other member has to be elected by the Hindu members of the Assembly (all Board members are to be Hindus). This only shows that the intent of the legislation is to assume total control over the assets and functioning of temples using well known colonial practices of domination for disenfranchising, insulting and degrading the people.


 


 


Using this methodology the selection of the Board Members by a Hindu Minister or Hindu MLAs, who could be atheists, non-believers and non-practicing persons wearing  Hindu names, or persons contemptuous of Hindus, could be counter productive. Such a process would surely be against Hindu interests and highly questionable. The members of the Board must be devoted Hindus, understanding and having deep knowledge of Hinduism and passion for preserving, promoting and propagating it. 


 


 


 


Such members must be selected by the community and religious leaders. The ministers and MLAs, under the very nature of India ’s system of Govt., are “political persons” and not voted just by Hindus on a Hindu agenda or for protecting and propagating Hinduism. They take care of the political business of the society and state. Therefore, to avoid the presumption of political interference in setting up such organs it would make better sense if the “political persons” have no role in the nomination, election or selection of the members of religious boards.


 


 


2) Recruitment of Temple staff through Kerala Public Service Commission will neutralize and impair temples: To hand over the entire range of responsibilities connected with the recruitment of staff for the Devaswoms to the Kerala Public Service Commission (PSC) can serve neither the aims of the temples nor the religious needs of the community:


 


 


 


i) “Under this scheme all appointments of officers and employees to man the [Devaswom] Board shall be made from a select list of candidates furnished by the PSC”; and


 


ii) Further “preferably, a Hindu member of the PSC may discharge the function of conducting interview in the process of selection of candidates for appointments”, but it does not stipulate that employees must be Hindus.


 


 


The PSC, established by a secular administration, by its very mandate cannot work for the needs of the Hindu shrines. In these shrines, the staff must believe in the faith and actively support its aims. The recruitment by PSC, which is neither trained nor equipped for staffing the religious institutions, defeats the very neutrality of the secular administration on the one hand, and effective management of temples on the other.  The remark of PSC member P.R. Devadas that a secular institution like the PSC has never conducted a selection process for members of a particular religion is noteworthy.


 


 


 


These religious institutions are of the Hindus and for the Hindus and therefore, must be staffed and run by the Hindus. How would Muslims and Christians react to such a proposal for staffing their religious institutions? Would the Vatican have its staff appointed by an Italian PSC?


 


 


 


3) Hinduism in Kerala is being treated as a Govt. domain – harming the temples and the society:


 


 


 


a) Following the ordinance, the governance of the temples under the Cochin-Travancore Devaswom Board was handed over to a government secretary;


 


b) The Principal Secretary of Devaswoms is to be the special commissioner for both the boards;


 


c) From now on, devaswom board members must take their oath of office in front of the government secretary;


 


d) The devaswom commissioner must submit a working report on the devaswom board to the government once in three months; and,


 


e)  The devaswom board must submit an annual audit report to the government, but not to the community and the general public.


      


The above clauses take away the devaswom board’s right to autonomy and governance on behalf of the community.  Furthermore sidelining the community in this manner constitutes an outright suppression of the Hindus human right to religious freedom.


 


 


 


These stipulations make it abundantly clear that Hinduism in Kerala is being treated as a Govt. domain – therefore, “Govt. controls and runs the religion.” As a result the Boards and the temples are liable to become a part of politicized Govt. operation.


 


 


 


Furthermore, the audit committees are not required to report to public but only to Govt. which already controls and mismanages these shrines. It is obvious that under these provisions the Govt. has completely usurped the role and authority of the community. 


 


 


 


4) Govt. Control of Temples violates Laws of the Land


 The Govt. is charged with the responsibility of upholding the law but in the present case the state would be violating the national constitution by robbing the Hindus of their ‘Religious Rights’ guaranteed under the Indian Constitution.


 


It must be noted that: a) In Karnataka, a division bench of the High Court comprising of Justice R Gururajan and Justice C R Kumaraswamy struck down the endowment Act stating that the legislation violated Articles 14, 25 and 26 of the Constitution which provided for right to equality, freedom of conscience and freedom of profession, practice and propagation of religion and also the freedom to manage the religious affairs; and b) The Allahabad High Court directed the Central and Uttar Pradesh authorities to prepare a scheme for establishing a Board for Hindu religious organizations on the pattern of the UP Muslim Waqf Board. It would be appropriate and legally prudent for the Kerala Govt. to also follow the judgments issued by these highest judicial bodies.


 


Anticipating possible dishonorable designs in various administrations the Indian Parliament adopted a law in 1991 specifically requiring that -“the status of religious places, as on August 15, 1947 shall be retained”.  The state Govt. is duty bound to uphold this commitment made by a national law and let the religious places remain outside Govt. Control as they were in 1947. In case of conflicts or contradictions between the state and national laws the national law enjoys the precedence.


 


 


5) Govt. meddling in shrines is unacceptable to all religious communities:  Hon’ble Chief Minister, may we bring to your kind attention the resentment in Kashmir on repair of mosques by the Indian Army, under a “sadbhavana” (goodwill) project (attachment B). The army had to abandon a goodwill drive to repair old mosques in Jammu and Kashmir , days after the state’s top clerics threatened mass action if it did not stop the controversial program.


 


 


 


Similarly, when the GOI repaired the holy Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar , after the so- called Blue Star operation in 1984, the renovations were undone by religious Sikhs and they made repairs on their own, with their own labor and resources.


 


 


 


These two instances should suffice to indicate that Govt. meddling is deeply resented, counter productive and could result in such counter reactionary violence that we see in Kashmir, and that resulted in PM Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Furthermore, such initiatives clearly amount to official patronage and control of religion which is not permissible under the provisions of India ’s secular constitution.


 


 


 


6) Only Dharma Acharyas and saints have the religious and spiritual background and authority to guide religious shrines. Here are some basic questions the state govt. must ponder upon in public interest:  What authority, background and special training the government operatives posses for controlling every aspect of the cultural centers when the concept of secularism – neutrality towards religions – is enshrined in the Indian constitution? Why not allow autonomous Hindu boards to govern temples under the guidance of religious leaders, just as it is permissible in the case of other religions? The Waqf Board of Muslims and the management of Christian religious institutions have vast funds, properties and endowments, in addition to the immense flow of foreign funds – yet their independence and autonomy is left intact! Why to deny this freedom discriminatively to Hindus?


 


 


 


 7) The officials claim that the changes in the laws are being made for the benefit of the devotees, is false:  The devotees must have the over all control in the management of temples for protecting their rights & interests. The new rules deny the devotees even the right to approach the court for redressing grievances.


 


 


 


The existing devaswom rules in general are outdated and need updating. The Kuttikrishna Menon Commission appointed by the government in 1965 had studied devaswom rules and had made clear recommendations. The commission said devotees who drop money into boxes in temples must have decisive influence in the management of temples.


 


 


 


Following the meeting of leaders of Hindu organizations led by the late H.H. Swami Chinmayananda in 1982 with the then chief minister K. Karunakaran, a commission to reform devaswom rules was created under K.P. Shankaran Nair. He recommended that temple committees, where devotees are represented and devaswom boards are free of politics must be created. Shankaran Nair submitted his 400-page report to the government after visiting several temples in Kerala and collecting evidence from scores of devotee representatives.


 


 


 


8) Totalitarian Govt. control of temples seems intended to destroy Hinduism in Kerala:


 


 Though the Hindus in the state are 56 % of population, it is regrettable that due to Govt.  discrimination, suppression and aggressive minority patronage only about 25 % of jobs in various sectors are held by them and only some 5% professional educational institutions are run by them. With such revealing statistics (attachment C), one could only infer that the present Govt. is out to cleanse the state of Hinduism.


 


 


 


 9) Hindus are being driven against the wall.


 


There seems to be a clandestine and sly effort to tamper with Hinduism and the ancient culture – the basic integrating factor in the country, by some individuals and organizations, which have arrogated to themselves the right to decide what is good for Hindus.  Hindu sensibilities and icons are attacked freely in the name of ‘reforms’,  ‘progress’ etc.  Changing Hindu traditions through well recognized atheist methods, knows no bound only for Hindus, while other religious communities are untouched, as if they need no reform.


 


 


 


In your state the Hindu religious faith which is extremely important for its followers is now under attack in a society claiming to be open, free and democratic.  Confronted by the political scheming and machinations of the anti-Hindu crusaders, the followers are being compelled to search for deeper meaning in the message of Lord Krishna in the Geeta to Arjun and lead campaigns for “dharma raksha”.


 


 


 


10) Progressive Hindu Boards could undertake the task of Social reformation of community


 


  Hon’ble CM Achuthanandan, granted that some social reformation may be needed amongst Hindus like some other communities,   but such changes under no circumstances should be brought about by imposing the Govt. control and regulations driven by political ideologies and vested interests. A progressive, forward looking Board could work for the economic and educational development of poor Hindus with freed temple resources, just as some of the Christian institutions do.


 


 


 


11) Travancore and Cochin  Devaswom Boards and temples must be made autonomous under community guidance:


 


 Hon’ble Chief Minister, for social reformation and religious management there must be representative yet autonomous Hindu Boards enjoying jurisdiction over temple governance and management. We suggest that the representatives of shrines, temples, Hindu community and state and national religious leaders from Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, Dharma Sansad, etc. be motivated to convene an assembly where they could be asked to take charge of clearly defining the new legal framework for the community governance of temples and other religious places in the state.  <SPAN style="COLOR: red"

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