Pseudo-Secularism

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Sunday, September 28, 2003

Exploitation Of Temples - Is This The Beginning Of Denying Freedom Of Worship To India’s Religious Majority?

An Open Letter To The Chief Minister Of Karnataka
Dear Chief Minister Krishna,

At the very outset we express our appreciation for your stewardship of a technologically advanced state in India. Bangalore has received global recognition and rightly so. Even Mr. Bill Gates, the king of computer software, has tremendous appreciation of this "Silicon Valley" of India. Such a phenomenon has resulted in a worldwide demand for the expertise built in your state. For this distinctive progress in Karnataka you have our admiration. However, we are greatly saddened to notice that your policies are not as progressive, democratic and secular uniformly. The case in point is your policy towards the de facto nationalization of Hindu places of worship and temples in Karnataka.

There are to put it mildly, alarming reports on this issue on the Internet (see attachment below) that have caused a great amount of concern and anguish amongst Hindus worldwide. Efforts were made to ascertain the veracity of the allegations contained in these reports, by approaching you through electronic mail (on October 9, 2003). Regrettably, your response has yet to see the light of the day. If the facts do not support our contention we would be happy to stand corrected.

However, as of now, in the absence of any convincing official response, our basic contention against the Govt. control of temples and their estates remains firmly rooted. This contention also encompasses the legal and philosophical commitment of the secular Indian state that the governance of the religious institutions, their estates and places of worship must reside in the representative bodies of the believers, which in this case means - the Hindu Boards.

In their judicial, political and religious implications these allegations are serious enough to merit an immediate action by the authorities. Nationalization and exploitation of Hindu temples on a discriminatory basis by your Govt., against the letter and the spirit of the secular constitution, cannot be pushed under the rug summarily. In fact given the composition of the Indian society this issue is so volatile that it can set the apparent peace and harmony of the country ablaze.

The facts contained in these reports reveal that Karnataka has enacted a humiliating law that requires privately owned as well as the trusteeship managed temples in the state pay taxes on an annual basis. Failure to do so will render the responsible persons liable leading to penalties and prosecution. This policy smacks of the reintroduction of Aurangzeb's "Jazia", though the present day enforcer of the penalties is a Hindu Chief Minister of Karnataka, Mr. S.M. Krishna.

Isn't it a shame that on the one hand the Indian Govt. subsidizes the "Haj" pilgrimage of the Muslims to the tune of Rs. 150 crores annually and on the other the Karnataka authorities are crusading to destroy the self- supporting foundations and structure of the Hindu temples. To the believers across the globe this represents an unprovoked attack on Hinduism itself - an action least expected from a Govt. professing in freedom of religion.

In the years 1997- 2002 substantial amounts of temple revenue were diverted to madrassas and churches (see the attachment below). In 2002, out of a revenue of Rs. 72 crores, Rs. 50 crores were given to Madrasas, 10 crores to Churches and only Rs. 10 crores to over 250,000 temples. This works out to an average of Rs. 400 per year, or a little over a rupee per day per temple! Such financial banditry chokes the temples of their sustenance capable of resulting in their eventual closure. It is estimated that as many as 50,000 of the 2.5 lakh temples in Karnataka will close down within five years.

Thus, Mr. Krishna , the available evidence reveals that your administration has launched a "virtual assault" against the Hindu temples as exemplified by its recent moves for depriving them of their revenues. Such initiatives are radical, provocative and cut at the very roots of the separation of religion and state. These highly controversial moves have far reaching consequences as they flagrantly violate the principle that guarantees "freedom of religion" in the Indian Republic.

Surely Mr. Chief Minister, the state Govt. has a right and responsibility of engaging in social and economic development of its citizens. But going to the extent of destroying the religious fabric of the majority community for howsoever noble cause particularly in a democratic, secular and freedom loving society is beyond its frame of reference. Only autocratic and totalitarian regimes engage in such acts of cultural destruction of people, not constitutional democracies.

"Temples and Mutts are a great spiritual institutions, are entrusted to us by our ancestors for the spiritual upliftment of our nation and it is our bounden duty to hand them over to our successive generations through proper administration and development activities in accordance with the wishes of donors and the forefathers. Government being secular according the written constitution, it has neither an obligation nor a right to administer an essentially Hindu Dharmik institution. The zeal that is required in promoting the spiritual cause cannot be expected of a secular government with all its political involvements".

Mr. Chief Minister, could you please explain to the lay public, in simple language, why nationalization and control of temples is not against the accepted practice of secularism in all progressive societies? Due to the huge sums involved, people have a lurking suspicion that it is money and assets that drive the politicians and the bureaucracy to strangle the temples. Some feel that Govt. control is desecration.
As things stand Hindus are left "without a clue as to what the Govt. is doing with all the money they offer to the gods in the temples". They are left in absolute darkness about the safety and security of the priceless artifacts of Hindu heritage in temples against the motivation of smugglers, black marketers and corrupt elements.

The monotheistic creeds, that are reported to be funded with temple money, "are not only at variance with Hindu dharma, but their very raison d'etre is expansion by the eradication of Hindu dharma and culture. Hence, when the state acts in a blatantly partisan manner to promote these faiths, the adherents of Hindu dharma certainly have a genuine grievance". In the civilized world no law can empower a Govt. to benefit one faith to the detriment of the other. Unfortunately, that is precisely what is happening in your state.
"At a time when Governments are rushing to abandon the commanding heights of the economy, state presence in the management of places of worship is incongruous. Hindu temples were once great centers of learning, and even today illustrious spiritual leaders like Sri Sathya Sai Baba and Amritanandmayi Ma have inspired magnificent medical and educational institutions through community service".

Your " rajdharma" demands that your Govt. hand over temples to community governance, bearing in mind that the Hindu board should be "of the Hindus, for the Hindus and by the Hindus". On your declaration of the intent, Hindu community leaders representing administrators, advocates, religious and political leaders, etc. will form a panel to decide on the board's guidelines and responsibilities. Being competent enough to manage multi-billion dollar corporations, Hindus can certainly take care of the temples and trusts.
The claim that the temples fall within the domain of the concurrent list of the state does not in any shape or form supercede or override the superior jurisdiction of the national constitution which among other things guarantees separation of religion and state as also freedom of religion. In summary:

1) The Nationalization and taxation of places of worship violates the basic tenets of India's secular constitution. Such extra legal actions constitute a reverse discrimination against India's majority community. The Govt. control of temples and allocation of their revenues to benefit the competing faiths is against the precept of separation of religion and state. Democratic and secular governments do not penalize or patronise religions.

2) There is great resentment amongst the majority community on the misuse of its religious funds, neglect of its cultural assets, strangulation of its cultural and spiritual pursuits as well as of its community service projects, while funding Madrassas (breeding ground for Jihadists). Such a misplaced generosity towards terrorists at the cost of Hindus could easily be construed as an anti-national activity.

3) The Govt. should place its policies relevant to - a) freedom of religion; and, b) separation of religion and state, before the general public and implement a time bound plan to establish a representative Hindu Board for taking over the governance, administration and management of Hindu temples.

Mr. Chief Minister, this issue has made a billion strong Hindu community worldwide very restive and indignant. They seek rectification of this undescended error by the Karnataka Govt. Therefore, on their behalf we ask you to take necessary and immediate measures for handing over the jurisdiction and management of temples to the autonomous bodies of the Hindu community. Actions should also be taken simultaneously for udertaking the repairs and renovations of the neglected temples. Compensating these places of worship for the damages suffered by them during the ill-conceived de facto Govt. control should also receive a priority treatment.

With best wishes
Sincerely,
People against the Govt. Exploitation of Hindu Temples
October 27, 2003
============================================

ATTACHMENT

Sent: Sunday, September 28, 2003 8:16 PM
Subject: Revenues From Temples Diverted For Haj Subsidy And
Madarassas In Karnataka
Author: Annonymous

The Congress Government of Karnataka has made another breakthrough in appeasing the minority communities in Karnataka. The Government passed a bill in the assembly that all the private owned temples and the temple comprising of trustees in Karnataka must pay minimum tax to the Government every year. Failing to which the authorised people of the temple would be liable and or would be prosecuted. This law is being passed in order to generate income for the development of madarasas and provide subsidies to Haj Pilgrims in Karnataka.

Earlier to this the Government was collecting the entire income from all the Government Controlled temples in the state. We have received few data from the Revenue section of Tourism and Temples Government of Karnataka. I am enclosing the data of revenue status of last six years for your references.

1997
Revenue: The Government Received Rs 52.35 Crs of Revenue from 2,64,000 temples in Karnataka
Expenses: Rs 17.33 Crs were given back to 2,64,000 temples for maintenance
Rs 9.25 Crs were given for Madarasas development all over the state
Rs 3.00 Crs were given for Church development purpose.
Total: Rs 29.58 Crs was spent and the balance amount of 22.77 was diverted towards Rural and Women Development.

1998
Revenue: The Government received Rs 58.35 Crs of Revenue from 2,67,073 temples in Karnataka
Expenses: Rs 16.50 Crs were given back to 2,67,073 temples for maintenance
Rs 14.25 Crs were given for Madarasas development all over the State
Rs 5.00 Crs were given for Church development purpose.
Total: Rs 35.75 Crs was spent and the balance amount of 22.60 was diverted towards Medical and Health Facilities in Villages and Rural areas.

1999
Revenue: The Government received 65.35 Crs of Revenue from 2,67,000 temples in Karnataka
Expenses: Rs 15.00 Crs were given back to 2,67,000 temples for maintenance
Rs 27.00 Crs were given for Madarasas development and towards Haj subsidy all over the State
Rs 8.00 Crs were given for Church development purpose.
Total: Rs 48.00 Crs was spent and the balance amount of 17.35
(Details N / A).

2000
Revenue: The Government received Rs 69.96 Crs of Revenue from 2,62,038 temples in Karnataka
Expenses: Rs 13.75 Crs were given back to 2,62,038 temples for maintenance
Rs 35.00 Crs were given for development of Madarasas and Haj Subsidy all over the State
Rs 8.00 Crs were given for Church development purpose.
Total: Rs 56.75 Crs was spent and the balance amount of Rs 13.21 crs reserved towards compensation of Haj Victims.

2001
Revenue: The Government received Rs 71.6 Crs of Revenue from 2,54,038 temples in Karnataka
Expenses: Rs 11.50 Crs were given back to 2,54,038 temples for maintenance
Rs 45.00 Crs were given for Madarasas development all over the State
Rs 10.00 Crs were given for Church development purpose.
Total: Rs 66.50 Crs was spent and the balance amount of Rs 5.1 Crs (N/A)

2002
Revenue: The Government received Rs 72.00 Crs of Revenue from 2,51,012 temples in Karnataka
Expenses: Rs 10.00 Crs were given back to 2,51,012 temples for maintenance
Rs 50.00 Crs were given for Madarasas development all over the State
Rs 10.00 Crs were given for Church development purpose.
Total: Rs 70.00 Crs was spent and the balance amount of 2 Crs (N/A)

It looks like the Congress Government of Karnataka is more concerned about the madarassas and the Haj Committee, but it has turned a blind eye at the fate of 2.5 lakh Hindu Temples in Karnakata, which is actually under their direct control. If the Government continues its neglect towards the maintenance and development of these temples for other few years, we will not be surprised to see that over 50,000 Temples will be forced to closed town in next five years. Karnatka is the 4th State in India of having highest number of temples, out of which large number require immediate financial aid.

In regard to this, we made a visit to few ancient temples in Karnakata. We felt very sad seeing the pathetic conditions of the poorly maintained temples by the Government. We had spoken to a few temples Uttaradhikaris and priests in Government owned temple. Each and everyone expressed their displeasure and at the attitude of the Government. They say that they are not receiving any financial aid for day to day maintenance of the temple. They even said that they were employed on salary basis which they are not receiving regularly. Some priests told us that they have not received salaries for over 6 months period and they are surviving donated by the devotees by the in the Aarti plate.

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