Endangering Secularism: Hindu Temples for Sale

by SAHF Team

Hindu temples in India are facing a big challenge on multiple fronts. They need to oppose constant loot of their properties, take back control of temple operations, and educate Hindu devotees about the ongoing cultural assassination of the Hindu community.

The big issue is with the state government influencing/controlling a large number of Hindu temples in the matters of fund’s utilization, property management, and day-to-day operations. There are several incidents of the Government trying to take undue advantage of this control. In May 2020, the Governments of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala listed temple property and assets for sale. Kerala Govt even went a step further and took 5 crore rupees from temple income, even though the law clearly states that this money can be used for temple purposes only. Several Governments have changed; cases filed and won in courts, but still, temples got no respite. Ironically, so far, neither court of law, nor community outreach has been successful to free Hindu temples from the Government clutches.

The problem started when British drafted Madras Hindu Religious and Endowments act 1927. According to this act, the Government took over the administration of Hindu temples. Against the principals of secularism and equality, Christians and Muslim religious places were kept out of the scope of this act and only Hindu temples were brought under control. After independence from British, Hindu groups tried to take back control of the temples, but in the name of proper administration and funds usage, Congress (under the leadership of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru) made sure that state kept the control. Again, no such control was observed over Christians and Muslim religious places. The irony is that even after several decades of independence from the British, Hindus have not been able to get the temples back from the Government. There have been many cases filed in High court and the Supreme Court of India, and the court ruled in favor of Hindu devotees, but still, no real change has happened in terms of ownership and control.

For Hindus, there are huge disadvantages of letting the Government control their temples. In many cases, the Government takes a significant portion (about 65% of temple income) as administrative fees or other non-temple activities, leaving temples with the shortage of funds to continue their religious duties. Temple priests complain of meager salaries, but non-Hindus are paid higher amounts. A Hindu priest, who gets a meager salary, cannot perform his duties well. Also, having the power to distribute money and resources, the Government has a lot more say in temple activities, and that takes away much of the decision-making power from devotees. There is a lot of corruption in Government operations, which severely affects the temple works like building expansion, priest assignment, paying salaries, development of amenities within temple premises, management of land, social works and legal matters, etc. Devotees’ money should have gone to religious and social causes but went to bureaucrats’ pockets instead. Many Hindus question the lack of enough social activities, without even knowing that Government interference is causing that.

There are many attempts when land and other temples’ properties are encroached or put up for sale against the wishes of devotees. The government often pressurize Hindu temple boards to donate funds for relief work, but no such demands are known to be made to Christian and Muslim religious places of worship. In many cases, Hindu temples cannot be used by Hindu preachers for religious schooling, just because the Government controls them. So, Hindu children are deprived of their religious education. But other religions are free to plan and do such religious teachings for their people.

By letting the government control their temples, Hindus are losing their property, funds, and any hope of a strong Hindu culture and future. Without sufficient funds, temples cannot plan enough educational and social benefit schemes. They cannot help locals in times of natural calamities and other difficult situations. They cannot plan events to curb social divisions or prevent attacks on Hindus in different parts of the country. Compare this to other religions that manage their religious institutions and have grown so strong that they use their funds and institutional strength to lure Hindus into their fold.

Today, some Hindu groups are trying a scattered effort to reclaim their temples, but it is not sufficient. Even after being a majority community and court on their side, Hindus have not got the temples back. Instead of blaming the government, Hindus need to introspect. They need to join forces, create a central body, draft rules around the distribution and usage of funds for religious and other social benefit activities, and take back their temples. Hindus must work together as a strong force to bring back the strong temple culture, that used to be a center of spirituality, art, knowledge, and social harmony.

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