I am directly accusing the Tamilnadu politics of framing a draconian law called the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments (TNHRCE) act and exploiting all the deliberately placed loopholes in the law to clearly loot Hindu temples.
Let me explain in a multi-part series. It will be a long read and be prepared to be shocked at the end of it.
Imagine you are walking in a lovely garden enjoying the view of some beautiful plants. Suddenly you see some plants drying out and dying. You want to open some water for these plants. So, you roam around to find the water tap and suddenly encounter a tall wall, then you turn in another direction and keep walking. Again, you encounter a tall wall. Then you turn in another direction — yet another wall.
Finally, you realize you are in a prison with a garden view. That is exactly how the temple management in Tamilnadu is.
The Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments (TNHRCE) Department is the jailor. All the Hindus of Tamilnadu are in that jail enjoying the plants that our temples are. But if something is really not done to revive those dying temples, we will lose them forever.
The drama is fine, but is the scenario really so bad? For that, we have to understand what the walls of this HR&CE prison are built of.
With these 4 walls, the HR&CE department is simply cutting off the community involvement in temples and slowly but surely leading to the death of Hindu temples. Let us look at each of them in more detail.
Ambiguity of Law
The following terms are not defined clearly as per the act.
- Professing Hindu Religion
- Acting In Public Interest
- Giving Reasonable Notice
- Of Secular Character
There is so much room for ambiguity to interpret any of these terms, but these terms are used throughout the act.
“Professing Hindu religion” could mean preaching Hindu religion or simply saying ‘I believe in Hinduism’. This is critical because the definition of Hindu as per the act is of someone professing Hindu religion.
Also, who is tracking if an official really is following the Hindu religion or has converted to another religion? If one does not believe in deities, should such a person be allowed to manage the temples just because he/she was born a Hindu?
Similarly, what is considered as “a reasonable notice” in one situation may not be so in another.
When does an institution become of secular character? Because a temple provides Annadanam (food offering) to Muslims and Christians, does it become secular by nature? Does a temple become secular because its land is leased to one or more Muslims or Christians?
All these are left open for interpretation. Readers should be able to see that in some cases even Non-Hindus could get into managing Hindu temples using these ambiguities in the law.
HR&CE Officials or Priests — Who manages Hindu Temples?
If you ask the common Indian public - ‘who takes care of Hindu temples’, usually they would say the priest or the pujari or the archaka, as they are known in different parts of the country.
But do you know the term used for such priests in the HR&CE act document is “Servants” of the religious institution? They are literally servants because they have no power whatsoever. Any decision in favour of the temple an archaka / priest wants to take can be overridden by the HR&CE officials.
The HR&CE department is headed by a Commissioner supported by Joint Commissioner (JC), Deputy Commissioner (DC), Assistant Commissioner (AC), Executive Officer (EO), etc. These people ‘may choose to’ appoint a board of trustees for a temple, who are also under their control. The Secularism of the Government goes for a toss right away as all these officials are considered to be Government employees and the Govt pays their salaries, allowances and even pensions.
Any or all of these officials will only decide the appointment of a pujari / archaka.
These officials can decide to override any of the priest’s decisions or requests, even if it is in favour of the temple. Worse, the priests can be fired for something as simple as not obeying an order given to them by an EO or Trustee.
The priests do not even have a fixed salary.
Just look at the disproportionate amount that goes into salary allowances of HR&CE officials vis-a-vis what is paid to the priests — 55 Crores versus 3 crores.
If you see a priest suffering because the HR&CE department is not paying them anything, and you wish to donate something to that priest, that donation can also be taken over by the HR&CE.
So, the priests are basically powerless. Now, it should be clear where the power centre of temple management is.
In the subsequent parts of this series, we will see how the HR&CE officials will not let you do what you really want to do for your beloved temple, even if you are ready to foot all the expenses.