Dr G Shreekumar Menon
Across India, in every State, irrespective of the political party in power, a common modus operandi of politicians has been to wrest control of Hindu places of worship, with an eye on diverting the Temple wealth and endless steady stream of offerings by devotees in the form of cash, gold and silver ornaments.
To give a veneer of legitimacy and camouflage diversion of Temple funds, many States have created organizations known as Devasthanams, Devasoms, Shrine Boards and so on to exercise full control over Hindu places of worship, while simultaneously exempting Mosques, Churches, Gurudwaras, Jain Derasars, Buddhist Temples, and Parsi Agiary, from any kind of government control.
Around 960 million Hindus of India thus have the mortification of seeing their Temples under complete government control.
Government control over Hindu Temples started during the British era and is being perpetuated in present day India by all political parties. Party bigwigs who cannot be accommodated in any Ministerial portfolio are nominated as Chairman of the Devasthanam or Devasom Boards, and small-time politicians are appointed as members of these Boards.
There is no kind of qualification or eligibility prescribed, for these posts, and the government in power, has the unchallenged liberty to nominate their favoured party functionaries. Temple Boards also get staffed by atheists, and non-Hindus, adding insult to injury for Hindu devotees. Though Temple administration is a highly specialized discipline, the choice of political appointees, has spelt doom for all Temples.
At the helm of affairs relating to Temples, there is a separate Ministry headed by a Minister and a Principal Secretary rank IAS officer, supported by a paraphernalia of staff of various ranks and designations. Officials at the top echelons of this Ministry and the Minister enjoy air-conditioned offices, swanky high-end chauffeur driven cars, all financed by the offerings of the devotees to different Temples. Funds are first utilized to meet the comforts of the Minister and the top officials. In bureaucratic circles the post of Principal Secretary of Ministry of Devasthanams/Devasom/HR&CE is non-sensitive and powerless, hence least sought after. Disinterested IASofficers occupy the post as a stop-gap arrangement and just kill time in this low-key assignment. The Minister and his cohorts freely misuse every facilityavailable for their personal aggrandizement. The money stuffed in Temple Hundis comes very handy for easy misappropriation.
The cash offerings range from substantial funds to insignificant coins, depending on the financial status of each devotee. But the enormous crowds that throng Temples, means that the cash collections in Hundis are generally sizeable. Depending on the importance of the Temple, Hundis are emptied, at periodic intervals in a day or week or month. Thus, Temples like Tirupati, Sabarimala, Guruvayur, Palani, Madurai Meenakshi, Siddhi Vinayak, Shirdi Sai Sansthan, which witness heavy pilgrim traffic year, witness record Hundi collections. These cash collections are counted inside secluded spaces, and are not accessible to general public. The final figure announced in the media is simply accepted as true and correct. Misappropriation of Hundi money is thus not detected, but widely suspected by the devotees.
The number of Hundis installed in Temples is numerous. These are strategically and prominently placed inside and outside Temples, in front of every Deity, so that gullible devotees can keep putting cash or keep getting pricks of conscience for not giving any offering to the Lord. This also raises another important question as to why digital mode of payment is not being facilitated in Temples. Obviously, this would mean that all funds received would be duly accounted for, making illegal diversion of funds difficult. A major portion of Temple associated corruption would vanish if Hundis are dispensed with.
Another major source of corruption is in the manufacture and sale of Temple Prasad. Many major Temples have their identity associated with a specific Prasad product, for example – Tirupati is famous for its ladoo, many other Temples have distinct types of Kheers, and so on.
Nowadays mass production of Prasad delicacies is the norm to cater to the heavy demand. Politicians have introduced government method of calling for lowest tenders and contract supplies of Prasad. Heavy corruption is involved in procurement of supplies and award of contracts. There is also the associated problem of supply of sub-standard quality products and adulterated food products.
Kerala is facing a peculiar problem in that for the Kheer produced at Sabarimala Temple, it has come to light that ‘Halal’ certified products are being used. Halal process itself is in the eye of a storm, as human spit is used to sanctify the food.
Another question is why ‘Halal’ products are being used for Hindu Temple products? These kinds of issues are occurring because of utter callousness and poor knowledge of Hindu beliefs, customs and traditions onthe part of Temple administrators.
This brings us to another major question of why no educational qualifications are not prescribed for the Minister, Chairman, Executive Officer and other top functionaries? There is no proper and transparent selection. Party officials are accommodated and many openly proclaim their atheistic beliefs and, in some States, non-Hindus are being nominated. For purposes of deception, many converted Hindus to foreign religions, retain their Hindu names and caste identities. Such people because of their political clout manage to get appointed to lucrative Temple administration posts. Many Temples are over staffed with party cadres, and associations have been formed based on party ideologies. When such instances get media attention, there is widespread resentment and religious sentiments of devotees get hurt.
Many of these administrators are constantly on the lookout for ways and means to clandestinely alienate Temple assets in the form of lands, gold and silver ornaments. All sorts of diktats are being issued to melt
gold and silver ornaments and monetize these assets, and also pledge them. Unfortunately, when such issues are agitated before Courts, the fundamental question as to why only Hindu places of worship are being run by the government, is not addressed.
Funds collected by States from Temples is to the tune of several hundreds of crores of rupees, every year. There is no proper accountal or auditing of the funds, as illegal diversions and misappropriation is rampant. Specialized auditing firms or the Comptroller & Auditor General should be auditing the Temple funds, as revenue involved is to the tune of several hundred crores, mostly in cash. However, as Temple management is a State subject, poor quality auditing is the norm.
Only liberation of each and every Temple from the clutches of State control can resolve the issue of mismanagement of Temples. The Courts are fully aware of the plight of Hindu Temples and the total independence enjoyed by every other religion in India.
The Constitutional Right to Worship and the Right to administer their places of worship of nearly 960 million of Hindus is at stake, and pending before Courts. This will be the biggest pending litigation in the world and Hindus across the world should unite to resolve this continuous injustice faced by them, ever since the days of the British raj.
The author Dr G Shreekumar Menon, IRS (Rtd) Ph. D (Narcotics), is
- Former Director General National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics, and Multi-Disciplinary School of Economic Intelligence India
- Fellow, James Martin Centre for Non-Proliferation Studies, USA.
- Fellow, Centre for International Trade & Security, University of Georgia, USA
- Public Administration, Maxwell School of Public Administration, Syracuse University, U.S.A.
- AOTS Scholar, Japan
Dr G Shreekumar Menon can be contacted at email@example.com