The Fraudulence of Intellectualism - Why Liberal Shenanigans on the Padmanabhaswamy Verdict Have No Basis

Padmanabhaswamy Temple Verdict is a Starting Point (Courtest New Indian Express)

Indian Express and Pratap Bhanu Mehta always seems to be obsessed with the moot point of why Hindu community even bothers to seek control or seek reform in any way, or asks the system that be to respect and uphold traditions of the Hindus at large. A new example has turned up in the master ‘commentary’ of Pratap Bhanu Mehta on the Padmanabhaswamy temple verdict of the Supreme Court that Mr Mehta finds distasteful. Anything related to Hindus has always been distasteful for the duo, and one cannot wish that away even if given the magical wand that could grant these wishes. However, his unwieldy language and contorted arguments have once again been thrown up to somehow not only make the waters muddy, but to also defend the institutionalized discrimination and call out the ‘hatred’ of the Hindus of anything that puts savages like them into their place by granting them the privilege of civilization and rule of law that just did not exist in the books of lofty intellectuals who know so little about Indian civilization and heritage. Supplanting everything lazily as an extension of Hindutva is an insult to the legacy of the institutional capacity of Hindu community that has spanned for more than a millennium, and certainly shows how little of Savarkar’s writings have actually been read for what they are in coming to these vacuous positions. Be that as it may, it is important to understand exactly what the problem of the state is when it comes to the issue of temple management and what exactly is being sought.

Quoting Devaraj Urs is convenient, for his understanding of the role temples have played in ‘exclusion’ is a sloppy assessment. Au contraire, it is temples, pithas, mathas, ashramas and other Hindu institutions that have actually been the most inclusive of institutions in India and the ones that have voluntarily sought to reform problems that they have recognized. When temples like the Padmanabhaswamy or the Emara Mutt of Puri or even the Sringeri Saradamba Pitha have come forward during the days of famines to feed the hungry irrespective of caste, community or religion repeatedly, it raises the question of the sanctity of such arguments. With at least thirty castes that were directly linked to temple service and management, nearly all of whom are not Brahmins, one fails to understand where such shoddy research turns up from. Land holdings of temples were not exclusionary as many would baselessly point out – instead, temples raised their own revenues thanks to those lands, and these were compensation often for the people who would be dedicated solely to the service of the presiding deity. The example of their inclusive behaviour has been more than ever on display even during the ongoing COVID pandemic, when traditional sevayats or managers of the these institutions old and new have stepped out to work as much as possible to feed those who were languishing on the streets, something the so called civilizing force of the governments were unable to do so. What many of these temple workers in turn received was a big fat zero from this civilizing force that Mr Mehta is so unusually fond of only in the case of the Hindu community.

Coming to the question of resource management, and one sees arguments that try to be clever by half. Systemization of temple management has perhaps been the biggest joke of the last two centuries that has been played out at the expense of the Hindus. Telling Hindus that they are casteist and exclusionist bigots, Hindu religious were taken over and these takeovers were justified by the elites of the government, press and judiciary in tandem, saying there is a need for a remedy in the actual ground position. Their ‘incomes’ are taken over by the government and what they get in exchange are rates, and the temple sevayats salaries that have been probably not revised for more than seventy to one-twenty years. In the case of the Tamil Nadu HR&CE Board that Mr Mehta has so gleefully quoted, temple priests get salaries of 200 rupees a month, and get 12 rupees a day for doing puja as per the agama shastras that these priests are supposed to uphold. Even these expenses have been nowhere to be found during the COVID pandemic, as the state pleaded bankruptcy and empty coffers, despite taking ALL of the earnings and donations of the institutions. As if that was not enough, the rampant theft of precious temple idols with the connivance of several HR&CE administrators that has surfaced in recent times thanks to the interventions of the Madras High Court and a few motivated individuals at the Idols and Antiquities Wing of Tamil Nadu Police, signals in all senses the actual avarice of the state towards Hindu institutions.

Hindus have been fighting the state with one hand amputated, not even tied behind them. Repeated Constitutional morality thrown at the Hindus fails to highlight exactly under what right Hindus are supposed to be civilized and not the other communities. Christians, Sikhs and Muslims have a say in the way their religious establishments are being run; in contrast, the appointees for Hindu institutions can only be nominated by the State, and does not take into consideration even such underlying assumptions that only Hindus can understand the functioning of such institutions. Hindus have not been allowed to handle Waqf or Gurdwara or Church properties, and therefore it behoves the question as to why the State’s civilizational zeal bordering on evangelism is allowed to operate with such impunity with zero accountability to those whose institutions they are in the first place. Adding insult to injury is the fact that temple deities are treated as living beings who are supposed to pay taxes as well. Which other institution is bullied into paying taxes by the civilizing state? Why this evangelism is only meant for Hindus is a question not clarified upon with sincerity. Have any Hindus ever been asked their opinion on how their institutions are supposed to be run? Has the government ever presented a white paper on what happens to the funds of the temples and other religious institutions? Why is it that there is no compulsion to actually put forth an account of statements on how temple earnings have been used to the public unless someone approaches the judiciary for redress? That is because the laws across several endowment boards clearly specify limits to which money can be spent for activities that would actually allow temples to play similar roles in educating and providing charitable healthcare as say the Church or the Gurdwaras of the country. Usually pegged at a measly amount, the overwhelming share is supposed to fill up the pockets of the State, which then can be used as per their whims and fancies. This modern age jizya system is imposed by a state that virulently hates Hindus for asking for reforms.

Speaking of freeing temples, the premise of the argument started off on an absolutely infantile note. The State had stepped into Hindu establishments’ administration citing certain maladies that plagued these institutions. We are yet to find even a shred of evidence that suggests how the State’s interference has actually remedied those maladies that were purportedly identified. Corruption is at an all-time high, as idols get stolen to be sold on the antiquities market, and earnings get siphoned. Aesthetics and desecration is rampant – looking at the manner in which thousand year old temples are repaired, or that toilets are being opened within the compounds of the temples much like Pakistan converting old temples into public toilets would put anyone to shame except for the greedy officials who are hell-bent on destroying the state. Land property that Mr Mehta so happily quoted remains a subject of dispute, as several cases of the State engaging in corrupt practices to give away land and/or encourage massive property encroachment has increased manifold. Abetment of the State in what would otherwise be deemed as a criminal activity followed by accountability goes on unabated, and the people have no remedy except seeking judicial relief on the daily sledgehammer that is slammed against the beliefs and establishments of the Hindu community. The perfidy however is deep rooted - the state has always thrust upon the Hindus this patently absurd Abrahamic divide of the secular and the religious onto Hindu establishments, where the secular was driven entirely by the religious, to bulldoze itself into an institution where it should not have stepped in the first place unless the people had asked for it. To date, even modern endowment board acts and rules, as they are coming up, have no popular rationale or sentiment to support them – one wonders exactly where knowledge of the devotee interests is sought before taking steps to ‘remedy’ problems through an answer that no one had actually sought.

Coming to the question of a precedent, the judgment is certainly a precedent for it puts in place a starting point of a much needed discussion on how temple administration reform is to be sought in the first place. The so called remedy that the state was supposed to provide has failed to manifest itself, and so the next step needs to be taken forth. Options emerge and serve as models to discuss and deliberate upon, and must be taken up. Of course, there is something I always agree upon with the lawyer J Sai Deepak on the matter – since the state is so obsessed with managing temples for Hindus, it should declare India as a Hindu state. Otherwise, it is time for the state to actually become far more accountable, and give a voice to the devotees.


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