Seven decades after Independence, temples still fighting for freedom


Last week, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai made an announcement. He said, “Currently, Hindu temples in the state are under different types of control bylaws and rules. Temples that have suffered at the hands of bureaucrats will be freed by our government. We will bring a law which will give rights (back) to the temple management to look after their own development.”

He further added that the government of Karnataka plans to introduce new legislation in this direction. Barring a few mentions in footnotes of newspapers, most mainstream media houses conveniently brushed this aside, making very little room for discussion. But for millions of devotees across the state, this came as a sign of blessings from above.

Bommai's message is very significant, and a symbolic one.

For one, it is perhaps the first such (promising) indication ever made by a sitting Chief Minister of a state in south India. Second, issues that are of Indic interest have often been sidelined, even by parties that call for a Hindu civilisational renaissance. But, with the emergence of political functionaries to power such as Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath, India is witnessing a resurgence of its Santani identity, which was a hush-hush affair for a long time.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi offers prayers while attending the foundation stone laying ceremony for the construction of the Ram Mandir, in Ayodhya. PTI

For reasons ranging from generation of revenues to vested colonial interests, Hindu temples have faced the brunt of unruly legislations under the Mughal and then the erstwhile British rule. This, unfortunately, continued even after India gained Independence from the British in 1947. At the time of Independence, our lawmakers should have prioritised roti, kapda, makaan to be provided first. Instead, inspired by Soviet-style socialism, the Indian National Congress (INC) under prime minister ‘Pandit’ Jawaharlal Nehru began by codifying Hindu practices, which were thought to be ‘outdated’ and ‘medieval’. But in the case of other communities, personal laws were allowed, to enshrine the principles of a remarried interfaith alliance that underwent a nasty divorce just a few years ago during Partition.

India, that is Bharata, is resuscitating the roots of its Hindu identity. I don’t mean to suggest that we lost touch with the identity en masse. No. But, as VS Naipaul rightly put it, India is a ‘wounded civilisation’. Mughal invasions, colonialism, and now the apathy towards the Hindu causes under the garb of secular politics have hurt the majority enough that the people of India favoured a different approach to pluralism. An approach that calls for the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code. One which calls for a ban on regressive and outdated religious mandates such as triple talaq and nikah halala.

Karnataka’s cultural identity, like the rest of India, has also been tampered with. Unfortunately, there’s a continued debate even today, on whether Tipu Sultan was an Islamist fanatic or a freedom fighter, whereas the evidence supports the former. He not only unleashed violence upon the Kodavas, who were known for their military prowess but also captured, converted, and killed thousands of Canara Catholic Christians.

Our history gives us a glimpse into how temples have not just supported the local economic ecosystem, but also empowered and educated people in more ways than one. The Vijayanagara Empire is one such example. Under the able stewardship of the Rayas, people voluntarily contributed to the temples, and in turn, the funds from the temple treasury were used in a very transparent manner to serve the needy, build infrastructure, establish educational institutions, etc.

Recent events such as the reconstruction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and the inauguration of the Kashi Vishwanath Dham corridor have restored faith that the aforementioned can be achieved, in spite of all the obstacles that we have endured as a civilisation.

Freeing Hindu temples from government control is important because of a few reasons. One, the temple is administered by sarkari babus (government-appointed executives) who lack cultural sensitivities and are from other faiths, in certain cases. Two, the funds that are collected by the government are often misused for reasons that are against the consent of the devotees. Three, the state should not have a role in meddling with religious affairs. That is the very definition of secularism.

Artist’s rendition of planned architecture of Ayodhya Ram Temple. News18

This definition has been tweaked from time to time, according to the whims and fancies of a few political parties. When the British enacted such laws during colonial rule, (The Madras Religious and Charitable Endowments Act of 1925), Muslims and Christians rose in revolt. So did the Sikhs. Hindus were an exception, yet again. While the announcement from Karnataka has given fresh hope to the cause, the Karnataka government must also ensure that the legislation is a promising one, where the scope of exploiting legal loopholes is minimal or none.

The author is a multilingual actress who recently starred in ‘Bhuj’ and ‘Hugama 2’. She established Pranitha Foundation, a NGO focused on education, healthcare and crisis relief. Views expressed are personal.

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Seven decades after Independence, temples still fighting for freedom
Seven decades after Independence, temples still fighting for freedom
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