Movement to liberate temples from Andhra government control – M. Nageswara Rao

The Andhra Pradesh government has so far taken over 24,632 Hindu temples and religious institutions along with 4 lakh acres of land and other properties worth more than Rs 1 lakh crore. In this land bank, about 1 lakh acres of land have been encroached upon. This speaks volumes about the colossal losses inflicted by the government on Hindus and their institutions.

M. Nageswara RaoThe moral obligation of the Constitution was largely to nurture our ancient civilisation and its values with a view to reintegrate our nation and its people. For, bereft of those there will be no “India” in India. A mere geographical lump alone does not make a nation. – M. Nageswara Rao

“India, that is Bharat”—when the framers of our Constitution used those words in that sequence in the very first article, they were conscious of certain facts.

One, India is just a new name of our country Bharat that is the homeland of our millennia-old civilisation that gave birth to four major religions—Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism—which primarily informed our ancient civilisational ethos and culture.

Two, the Indian state is the inheritor and trustee of our ancient civilisation.

Three, the preamble’s exhortation of “unity and integrity of the nation” has civilisational connotations as deep civilisational ties bound us spatially and inter-generationally spanning across yugas.

Thus, they were cognisant of India as a civilisational nation whose unity and integrity was primarily informed by Sanatana Dharma eons before they assembled to frame the Constitution.

Therefore, the moral obligation of the Constitution was largely to nurture our ancient civilisation and its values with a view to reintegrate our nation and its people. For, bereft of those there will be no “India” in India. A mere geographical lump alone does not make a nation.

Equal rights for Hindus’ movements

There has been a growing sense of belief based on verifiable empirical data and experience that the Indian state has been dis-incentivising the majority population of the country that follows Hinduism and other indigenous religious and spiritual traditions.

Not only do certain articles of the Constitution, including articles 25 to 30, get read, interpreted and enforced selectively by governments and the judiciary, but also a number of laws, including amendments to the Constitution, have been enacted to the detriment of Hinduism and Hindus.

The resulting anti-majoritarian slant introduced into the Constitution, our laws and public policy has now come to such an unsavoury pass that unlike the minorities Hindus don’t have freedom to run their educational institutions without undue state interference.

Their civilisational knowledge and ancient texts are banished from public education. By creating a false equivalence between proselytising and non-proselytising religions, Hindus are gamed for conversions.

They are denied the right to manage their own temples and their religious properties. They don’t have the freedom to celebrate and perpetuate their ancestral traditions without undue state and judicial interference.

This is a brief snapshot of the inequality and discrimination against Hindus in matters of religion, education and culture.

This selective and targeted adversarial approach of the Indian state, its agencies and judiciary towards Hinduism and Hindus goes against the very principle of equality before the law and equal protection of laws irrespective of religious affiliation, which is the foundation of democracy and the modern secular state.

In addition to encouraging divisive electoral and communal politics to the detriment of national unity and integrity, such an anti-Hindu public policy stance has led to a growing clamour by various sections of Hindu society to be categorised as non-Hindu or minorities so as to escape the resulting constitutional, legal and policy-driven disabilities that result from being classified as Hindu in our own country.

The Ramakrishna Mission case of the 1980s and the very recent Lingayat issue are representative examples of the state-inflicted malaise on Hindu society. No wonder, Hindus are unnerved at the Indian state’s apparent zeal to fragment, destabilise and damage Hinduism and Hindu society.

Due to this, the genuine grievances of Hindus are neglected and un-redressed by successive state and central governments of independent India. And Hinduism, in spite of being the so-called majority religion of the country, continues to suffer the same or even more debilities than it did under centuries of oppressive foreign rule.

Such externally-imposed disabilities prevent Hinduism, a.k.a. Sanatana Dharma, from reviving and revitalising itself to meet the current day spiritual and temporal needs of Hindus. This works to the advantage of vested interests and causes further damage to Sanatana Dharma and our country.

It is pertinent to recall a profound observation about our civilisation by the founder of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Dr Keshav B Hedgewar:

The Hindu culture is the life-breath of Hindustan. It is, therefore, clear that if Hindustan is to be protected, we should first nourish the Hindu culture. If the Hindu culture perishes in Hindustan itself, and if the Hindu society ceases to exist, it will hardly be appropriate to refer to the mere geographical entity that remains as Hindustan. Mere geographical lumps don’t make a nation.

As the rightful inheritor, trustee and custodian of our great civilisation rooted in Sanatana Dharma, the Indian state has a civilisational responsibility to protect, preserve, nurture this inheritance and pass it on to succeeding generations.

Therefore, at this critical juncture in history, the continuance of anti-majoritarian, nay anti-civilisational laws and public policies, wreaks irreversible damage on our civilisational, religious and cultural identity and heritage.

An #EqualRightsForHindus movement was started under the aegis of the Hindu Charter Trust. As part of it, a national conference to develop a Hindu charter of demands was held in 2018 and a national conference on equal rights for Hindus was organised in Delhi the following year.

Government takeover of Hindu temples is anti-civilisational

Temples and mutts are the life and soul of Hinduism, just as churches and mosques are for Christianity and Islam. The institutional capacity for self-correction and self-defence, sustenance of the priestly class, artistes and various service occupations and crafts have traditionally come from the perennial incomes generated by temples and mutts. They helped promote organic growth of religious leadership, and had the resource capacity to serve the needy and destitute in terms of education, hospitals, orphanages and old-age homes.

A secular state by definition cannot control and manage religious institutions, that too of only one religion. Article 26 of the Constitution bestows a fundamental right on all religions, irrespective of whether they are majority or minority, to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, to manage their own affairs, and to own, acquire and administer property thereof.

If, in the past, there have been allegations of mismanagement in certain temples, then government intervention could only be for a very limited period, as per Article 31A(1)(b) of the Constitution, to set things right in that temple. The Supreme Court has also reiterated the same in the Chidambaram temple case.

Despite constitutional provisions, Hindu temples continue to be controlled and routinely taken over by state governments, whereas mosques and churches are allowed to be exclusively managed by their respective communities even though Article 26 confers this right equally upon all sections of citizens. And when temples are taken away by the government, Hindus not only lose the ownership of temples but also much of their emotional connect to them.

State control of temples is doubly prejudicial for Hindus because they become part of “the state” as per Article 12 of the Constitution. As a result, the centuries-old religious customs, festivals and practices are prone to be challenged and interfered with selectively and unduly.

Sabarimala is a prominent case in point. Had Sabarimala shrine not been under government control, Part-III of the Constitution would not have been applicable to it, and there would not have been judicial intervention in to the age-old religious customs and practices of Sabarimala.

Evidently, with the denial of the right to manage their own temples, the Hindu “majority” fare no differently from minority dhimmis as in some theocratic countries. Deprived of resources and institutions, Hinduism has been decaying. Clearly, the religious rights of Hindus count for nothing, and the governments can trample them at will. So much for religious freedom.

Government capture of Hindu temples in Andhra Pradesh

A total of 24,632 Hindu temples and religious institutions (see details in table below) have been taken over by the government under section 6 of the Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments Act, 1987, including 12 temples of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) as per section 95 read with 6 of the said Act. Temples and religious institutions are classified as per clauses of section 6 in the following way:

Section 6(a) deals with institutions whose annual income is above Rs 25 lakh;
Section 6(b) is for institutions with annual incomes between Rs 2-25 lakh;
Section 6(c) is about institutions whose annual income is below Rs 2 lakhs;
Section 6(d) deals with mutts irrespective of the income;
Section 6(e) institutions are Dharmadayams irrespective of income. (Dharmadayam means any amount charged or collected under whatever name, according to custom or usage of any business or trade or an agreement between the parties relating to any transaction or otherwise from any party to the said transactions, as being intend to be used for a charitable or a religious purpose.)

AP temples under state government control.

The Andhra Pradesh government has so far taken over 24,632 Hindu temples and religious institutions along with 4 lakh acres of land and other properties worth more than Rs 1 lakh crore. In this land bank, about 1 lakh acres of land have been encroached upon. This speaks volumes about the colossal losses inflicted by the government on Hindus and their institutions.

This has crippled Hindu society and its institutional capacity and resource raising ability to be self-sufficient and in presenting a unified front which can address the community’s religious problems, both within and outside.

Ruling parties of all hues have used state-run Hindu temples to dole out political patronage by appointing party persons to temple trust boards. This implies that temples serve vested political interests rather than Hindu society and Dharma.

Further, government-controlled temples have been turned into commercial enterprises whereby devotees have to pay for darshan and every other activity in the temple. This is outrageous, and is nothing but a religious tax, or jizya, imposed on Hindus.

Proselytisers cite the government-imposed system to vilify Hinduism by pointing out that Hindus have to pay money to pray to their gods/temples and use that to lure Hindus to convert.

Government-control of temples has also led to a lot of perversions in temple management, including employment of non-Hindu staff and the appointment of non-Hindus to temple boards, misappropriation of temple lands and properties, and interference in the age-old rituals, customs, traditions etc.

Therefore, freeing of Hindu temples from government control is of utmost importance to save Hinduism from extinction.

Hindu society alone should democratically manage temples

A secular government has no business to take over and mange Hindu temples and their properties. Just as Christians, Muslims and Sikhs manage their own places of worship without government interference, it is high time governments freed all the Hindu temples to be managed by Hindu society democratically without state interference. The Sikh gurudwara management model, with suitable modifications, can be one democratic model for the governance of Hindu temples. I have drafted a Model Temple Management Bill which provides for:

(i) Access to Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus with due regard to the religious customs of each such institution;

(ii) The management of Hindu religious institutions and administration of their properties through a body consisting of Hindu religious persons, and Hindu representatives of electoral colleges consisting of Hindus elected for the purpose for each such institution or for a group of such institutions, with the state exercising no control over the management or affairs of such institutions or administration of their properties;

(iii) The appropriation of the funds, properties and all resources of Hindu religious institutions only for the purposes of maintenance, development and construction of Hindu religious institutions; for the religious well-being of Hindus and Hindu community; and for the preservation, promotion and propagation of Hinduism;

(iv) The prohibition of non-Hindus from taking part in the management, administration or any other activity whatsoever of Hindu religious institutions and their properties;

(v) Protection by the state of all Hindu religious institutions and their properties from encroachment or illegal destruction;

(vi) The creation of state, district and local-level Hindu Dharma Sabhas consisting of both religious and elected representatives of Hindu religious institutions, for the purposes of guidance, preservation, promotion and propagation of Hinduism.

Hindu Charter Trust plans to mobilise Hindus for liberation of temples

No ruling political party will willingly forgo control over Hindu temples and their properties unless there is a mass movement to force this. Though it is a tough task, the Hindu Charter Trust (www.equalrightsforhindus.com) plans to mobilise Hindus in Andhra Pradesh through a unique model to re-establish the emotional connect of the Hindu community with temples as a precursor to regaining ownership of Hindu temples.

Accordingly, it proposes to form a group of devotees or bhakta brindams for each of the 24,632 Hindu temples under government control in Andhra Pradesh.

Taking inspiration from the Westminster model of democracy, each bhakta brindam will select a shadow committee, or chaya samiti, consisting of 10-15 respectable persons of the local Hindu society. The chaya samitis will act as a Hindu civil society watch over management of temples.

The chaya samitis will assist the archakas/pujaris, temple staff and government authorities in the proper maintenance of the temple and its properties. They will cooperate with and act as force multipliers for the police in providing safety and security of temples, deities and temple properties.

The chaya samitis will collect complete information about history, management, condition of archakas and other persons traditionally serving or dependent on the temple, etc. This data will be compiled and published as reports to educate the public and for reference.

The chaya samitis will provide learning and training opportunities to members of Hindu society in the management of temples which will enable smooth transition of control of temples and their properties from government to Hindu society as and when it happens.

The chaya samitis will be consolidated at the mandal, district and state levels as Hindu temple liberation committees, or Hindu devaalaya vimochana samitis. in a phased manner in order to articulate and voice the concerns of Hindu society and persuade the government to hand over temples to Hindu society to be managed democratically without any government interference.

The Hindu Charter Trust has decided to launch the project on a pilot basis at 1,851 Hindu temples under government control in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, which will be completed within six months. During this six-month period, they will make efforts to simultaneously do preliminary work in the remaining 12 districts for extending the project to the whole of Andhra Pradesh.

They are crowd-sourcing funds for the project, which deserves to be supported and promoted by all Hindus. Here is the link for making your contributions. – Swarajya, 26 January 2021

M. Nageswara Rao is a retired IPS officer and former  CBI director.

Temple cars burned in AP.