Friday, August 2, 2013
On temples, some little known facts and a story of “secular” loot
An eye opener for Hindu population
In 2009, even as the governing body of Tirumala Tirupati was facing questions over 300 missing gold coins, a priest was arrested after confessing to stealing a deity's two gold necklaces weighing more than a kilo. Governing body officials “said the priest was only a small fry and that there was a larger scam happening at the Lord Balaji temple - which is in possession of jewellery worth more than Rs 45,000 crore”. No inventory of the temple assets, controlled by the government, has been done since 2005. An inquiry in July 2008 by the Vigilance Department of TTD resulted in the suspension of several officials but the findings were never made public.
In 2010, the state government of Orissa apparently sold several hundreds of acres of land belonging to Jagannath Puri temple to Vedanta Foundation at throw-away prices. The matter is now under investigation.
In 2003, the Telugu Desam government in Andhra Pradesh “offered ayurvedic giant Dabur as much as 120 acre of land for a monthly lease of Rs 5,833”. The land belonged to Kodanda Rame Swamy temple in Chittoor.
In Tamil Nadu, an audit in 2007 of the ancient Parthasarathi Temple in Chennai, managed by the government, revealed that records of seventeen temple grounds (~41000 Sq Ft) in T Nagar were missing; In addition 11 other grounds had incomplete records and lacked clear titles. The audit also found properties that were let out to non-existing tenants & those that were sold apparently on an ad-hoc basis.
In 2006, A probe conducted by the Justice Tipnis committee on disbursal of surplus funds by Siddhivinayak Temple noted in its report, “the most shocking aspect..is that there is no method or principle followed for particular institutions. The only criteria for selection was recommendation or reference by trustees or the minister or a political heavy-weight, generally belonging to ruling party"
In 2006, Acharya Kishore Kunal, the Religious Trust Administrator in Bihar mentioned that “government control over the temples..has resulted in loss of temple properties worth Rs. 2000 crore”. He went on to point out “the alienation of property” that had taken place via “sale, lease and forcible occupation by persons with criminal antecedents” and how “several temples, mutts and trusts…(had) slipped into the hands of criminals masquerading as priests and swamis."
In Kerala, anecdotal evidence suggests that the extent of donations from the Bhaktas at Sabarimala expropriated by the government is such that without them, the government treasury will not be able to break even.
This is the story of some of India's richest temples. This is about the little known fact that they are all controlled by the government. This is a story of "secular” loot. These sacred places of worship and living symbols of our heritage, culture & civilisation that managed to survive centuries of invasions and plunder are today prey to a rapacious government’s systematic loot.
By virtue of control over the Trust Board, the government also controls the surplus funds generated by these temples. Bear in mind that these are some of the richest temples anywhere in the world, not just in India. What happens to these surplus funds? The reality is no one quite knows.
All we know is that they are rarely - if ever - diverted back to improving the temple, the facilities, the salaries of priests or for Hindu religious pursuits. For the most part, they are transferred arbitrarily by the government for “secular”, non-Hindu purposes. The most damaging side-effect of this is lack of resources for maintenance and upkeep of temples, leading to irreparable damage to many medieval and ancient structures.
In what may be the most appalling instance of such wilful neglect, disbursements to temples in Karnataka for renovation and maintenance between the period ’97-’98 to ’02-’03 fell (more than halved) from Rs 16.5 crores to Rs 7.1 crores even as revenues collected from temples rose from Rs 58.63 crores to Rs 79 crores! Interestingly, over the same period, disbursement to Madarsas, Mosques and Haj committee rose more than 4 times from Rs 14.25 crores to Rs 58 crores and disbursement to Christian institutions and churches more than doubled from Rs 5 crores to Rs 12.75 crores.
To the best of my knowledge, such intervention in temple affairs, their management and finances rarely extends to mosques or churches. And where such interference is feared, protest is swift.
But here is the most cruel twist to this sordid state of affairs. While the government shamelessly continues this “loot” of Hindu temples & sacred spaces, political parties, with an eye on votes, compete with each other to provide sops to Imams & Mosques. Thus, we had RJD & Trinamool Congress in 2010 demanding the implementation of a Supreme Court order to provide salaries to Imams of “government-aided mosques”.
Yes, you read that right.
In this wonderful “secular” country of ours, where the government arrogantly takes over the “right” to manage some of the richest Hindu temples, we actually have “government-aided mosques”, complete with Imams whose salaries are supposed to be paid by the Government.
In 2012, the government of Paschim Banga went one step further. It announced that Imams will be “give a monthly honorarium of Rs. 2,500” and “homeless, landless Imams” will be given land to build homes, with the government footing the bill for “construction expenditure” too.
Sadly, most Hindus remain blissfully unaware of all this and of course, no “liberal” will raise their voice on this matter. Should a concerned Hindu mention this in polite conversations, you can safely assume he or she will instantly be branded as “communal”.
Fortunately things are changing. In Nov ’12, the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha (the apex body of Hindu religious leaders) decided to take up this matter. Other activists are gathering information and evidence to challenge these laws in courts. But we have a long way to go – and we cannot afford to be complacent. Why? Because we have not seen the end of this yet.
From a report dated 15th May ’12: “The Tamil Nadu government today proposed amendments to a 1959 act governing temples seeking to bring 'samadhis' and 'brindavans' under its ambit for effective control.” The reason? “(these) samadhis and brindavan..are being worshipped as a place of public religious institution..and..own vast property..(these) are not being controlled effectively”. Sigh.
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By the kind courtesy of blogs.timesofindia under heading Reclaiming India