Seven decades after independence, temples still fight for freedom
Basavaraj Bommai with former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa. Twitter / @ BSBommai
Last week, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai made a announcement. He said, “Currently, the Hindu temples in the state are subject to different kinds of regulations and control rules. The temples which suffered at the hands of the bureaucrats will be freed by our government. We will bring in a law that will (in turn) empower the temple leadership to look after its own development.
He further added that the government of Karnataka is considering introducing new legislation in this direction. With the exception of a few mentions in newspaper footnotes, most mainstream media conveniently dismissed this, leaving very little room for discussion. But for millions of devotees across the state, it came as a sign of blessings from above.
Bommai’s message is very meaningful and symbolic.
On the one hand, this is perhaps the first (promising) indication of its kind ever made by a sitting chief minister of a southern Indian state. Second, issues of Indian concern have often been put aside, even by parties calling for a revival of Hindu civilization. But, with the emergence of ruling political officials such as Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath, India is witnessing a resurgence of its long-hidden Santani identity.
For reasons ranging from income generation to vested colonial interests, Hindu temples have faced the brunt of unruly legislation under the Mughal and then under the old British regime. This, unfortunately, continued even after India gained independence from the British in 1947. At the time of independence, our lawmakers should have prioritized roti, kapda, makaan to be provided first. Instead, inspired by Soviet-style socialism, the Indian National Congress (INC) led by Prime Minister “Pandit” Jawaharlal Nehru began by codifying Hindu practices, which were seen as “obsolete” and “medieval”. But in the case of other communities, personal laws were allowed, to enshrine the principles of a remarried interfaith alliance that suffered a nasty divorce just a few years ago during partition.
India, that is to say Bharata, resuscitates the roots of its Hindu identity. I don’t mean to suggest that we’ve lost touch with identity en masse. No. But, as VS Naipaul rightly says, India is a “wounded civilization”. Mughal invasions, colonialism and now apathy towards Hindu causes under the guise of secular politics have hurt the majority enough that the Indian people favor a different approach to pluralism. An approach which calls for the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code. The one who calls for the prohibition of regressive and outdated religious mandates such as triple talaq and nikah halala.
Karnataka’s cultural identity, like that of the rest of India, has also been altered. Sadly, there is still debate today as to whether Tipu Sultan was an Islamist fanatic or a freedom fighter, while the evidence supports the former. He not only unleashed violence against the Kodavas, who were known for their military prowess but also captured, converted and killed thousands of Catholic Christians in Canara.
Our story gives us a glimpse into how temples have not only supported the local economic ecosystem, but also empowered and educated people in more ways than one. The Vijayanagara Empire is one of these Example. Under the able leadership of the Rayas, the people voluntarily contributed to the temples and, in turn, the funds from the temple treasury were used in a very transparent way 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 above can be achieved, despite all the obstacles we have endured as a civilization.
Freeing Hindu temples from government control is important for several reasons. First, the temple is administered by sarkari babus (executives appointed by the government) who lack cultural sensitivities and belong to other faiths in some cases. Second, funds raised by the government are often abused for reasons which are against the consent of the faithful. Third, the state should not play a role in meddling in religious affairs. This is the very definition of secularism.
This definition has been changed from time to time, depending on the whims and fancies of some political parties. When the British enacted such laws during colonial rule (The Madras Religious and Charitable Endowments Act of 1925), Muslims and Christians revolted. Sikhs too. The Hindus were an exception, again. While the announcement of Karnataka has given new hope to the cause, the government of Karnataka must also ensure that the legislation is promising, where the scope of exploitation of legal loopholes is minimal or zero.
The author is a multilingual actress who recently starred in ‘Bhuj’ and ‘Hugama 2’. She created the Pranitha Foundation, an NGO focused on education, healthcare and crisis relief. The opinions expressed are personal.
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