Pseudo-Secularism

Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Secularism or state oppression?

M VENKATARAMAN

[ THURSDAY, JANUARY 27, 2005 02:13:58 PM ]

The Indian Constitution, under Article 26, vests unfettered power in religious institutions, whether Hindu, Buddhist or Sikh, to manage their own religious affairs.

Although management of religious aspects rests completely with the institutions, the government is armed with the power to intervene on limited social and financial aspects for welfare objectives and social reforms under specified circumstances.

But sadly, the state which is expected to be distant from religious affairs and pretends to be neutral to all religious practices is now increasingly seeking a larger role in the management of religious institutions.

The power endowed to the state by the Constitution for reform, is now being misused to control specific religious institutions.

To elaborate, under the Hindu Religious Charitable Endowments Act, government has the power to appoint trustees under given circumstances.

Also there are different states' laws, under which state governments can intervene in the affairs of religious institutions.

Likewise, under the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Endowments Act, 1959, the government has the power to step-in, should any mutt be rendered without a leader.

Shri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham at Kanchipuram is now without both the Seers, His Holiness Jayendra Saraswati (senior pontiff) and Vijayendra Saraswati (junior pontiff). The Tamil Nadu government can, under circumstances such as these, invoke its power under the State Act to appoint its own trustees to the mutt.

After the arrest of both the pontiffs and in the backdrop of influenced public opinion that all is not well with the mutt, the government obviously hopes all paths are clear for the state to take over.

There is another point: Technically the mutt is not headless because Jayendra Saraswati continues to perform pooja, though he is not at Kanchi, but at Kalavai, which is technically an integral part of the mutt. It must be noted however that the pooja performed at Kalavai is no less significant than pooja performed at the original mutt complex.

Hence, on the basis of the facts, the Kanchi mutt cannot be termed "headless". Probably this is the reason that the state government is dithering over seizing control of this influential mutt.

Our Constitution treats all religions as equal. The powers given under its Article 26 are only for positive intervention or for intervention regarding financial and welfare aspects.

The founding fathers of the nation could not have visualized that the power invested in the state to intervene in distress situations would actually translate into a weapon used by the state for its arm-twisting tactics.

Constitutional provisions requiring the state to intervene for reform and welfare has today become the biggest threat to invasion of the liberties and the faith of the Hindus.

After nearly 55 years of the Constitution coming into effect, never ever has the government sought to intervene in situations of distress or precarious financial conditions, or, to build or rehabilitate the concerned religious institution.

On the contrary, the government has cleverly used the law to usurp power at many Hindu religious shrines, be it Tirupati, Shirdi or Vaishno Devi.

Likewise, the government has always sought to acquire control over shrines which generate huge income, and conveniently forgotten temples and shrines that are in distress – financially or otherwise, across the country.

Thus, it appears that the government has its own agenda, and intervenes where the votebanks are crucial and/or there are huge financial resources at stake.

Besides it uses its power to armtwist the clerics and officials of the mutts and temples to fulfill its own underlined politically motivated objectives.

But what makes the government believe that more problems and more adversities lie at Hindu temples and not at non-Hindu temples? Technically, Hinduism, includes Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism under Indian law.

Why has the government chosen its power grabbing tactics with regard to Hindu temples only and not against others?

Is the government scared of political implications if they were to take over non-Hindu shrines even if it badly needs government intervention? Or is it the appeal of power which attracts the government’s attention?

Today there are hundreds and thousands of shrines all across the country of differing faiths and religions which are crying for reform, resources, revival and conservation. Yet the government has not paid a semblance of attention to these because either the shrines are non-Hindu or financially not profitable or unimportant with reference to votebank politics.

For the last fifty years, political leaders have been preaching the country’s secular tenets and principles, yet despite our obligation to the Constitution, our government has taken charge of rich and wealthy temples, ignoring the rest.

Even where such government take-overs have become a matter of judicial scrutiny, most provisions are in favour of the state governments.

Such cases have been fought on facts and circumstances rather than on the propriety of Constitutional provision itself.

The state laws pertaining to government intervention in temples, even if emanating from Constitutional provisions, need to be debated and reviewed by the apex court, keeping in view the ways and means deployed by the state to throw out autonomous management and administrators.

The government claims to be acting for the interests of the Hindus, but the truth is, it is actually acting out of self-interest and against the interests of those it claims to be protecting.

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