“Special darshan” or blackmarketing?

Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon

Nowhere else in the world, in any other religion, does any devotee have to undergo such an abominable experience. Hindus are the only community in the world that are compelled to pay for praying. Whether it is in Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, the story is the same – ‘Pay to Pray’.

A video is currently in circulation in the social media titled “No Money No Darshan at Tirupati Balaji”. The video has gone viral and is raising serious concern among Hindus not only in India but across the world, as well as consternation among foreigners as to why anybody should pay to worship the Almighty. Many are questioning as to what has happened to the much hyped ‘Right to Religious Freedom’ given in the Constitution of India? Many are asking whether Hindus are excluded and denied this Right? Many are also asking why the Central Government, High Court and Supreme Court is silent and not intervening to stop this unpardonable iniquity done to the Hindus at large and all right-thinking people across the world? Hindus are tongue-tied and crestfallen to answer the reason why such injustice is being perpetrated on them, not by any foreigner, but by their own elected government, bureaucracy and judiciary?

Freedom of religion in India is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 25 -28 of the Constitution of India. However, the framers of the Constitution neglected to liberate Hindu Temples which were strictly under the control of the British by virtue of the Madras Regulation VII of 1817 and the successor enactment, the Madras Hindu Religious and Endowments Act 1927. While Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Buddhists enjoyed complete freedom to administer their places of worship, Hindus were denied this right. After India got Independence, nobody took up the cause of restoring the Temples to the original Trustees. By default, the State governments took control of Hindu Temples and allied organizations, which continues to this day. In many States, Hindu Temples are administered by an exclusive Ministry and there is a separate Minister for this portfolio who is assisted by a complex bureaucracy headed by a Principal Secretary rank IAS officer.

Over the last seventy years, since independence many evils have crept into the administration of Temples, primarily with the objective to exploit the Temple wealth for personal aggrandizement, for enriching the fortunes of the political party in power and diverting Temple revenues to fund various government programmes. Devotees are disappointed that the bulk of the offerings are getting diverted for other than Temple purposes. Also, Hindu Temples are being subjected to Income Tax, Sales Tax, commercial rates are being levied for electricity and water, while places of worship of other communities like mosques and churches enjoy total non-interference from the government as also exemptions from all kinds of taxes. Such double standards by the state governments have raised concerns among the Hindu community as to why they are being selectively discriminated against while others enjoy full freedom and right to worship?

In any democracy, the legal solution is to approach the judiciary for redressal. Many Hindu organizations have therefore approached High Courts and even the Supreme Court seeking liberation of Temples from the clutches of the government. However, it has been a disappointingly long wait for over 900 million Hindus. Justice eludes them, emboldened State governments, keep extorting and throttling the devotees. One such ingenious scheme is the plot of ‘Special Darshan’. Devotees are kept waiting in long queues indefinitely for hours together just to get a glimpse of the Lord. To overcome the ordeal of waiting indefinitely there is a facility which is given the title ‘Special Darshan’ – by paying Rupees three hundred or upwards, the queue can be bypassed, and the devotee can proceed directly to the sanctum sanctorum.

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This is exactly what black marketers do in theaters, sports stadiums, railway stations and other public places. Just by artificially creating shortage and delay, money is made effortlessly. The scheme has caught on like wildfire and Hindus find that in many famous Temples, greedy State governments have introduced ‘Special Darshan’ in other words ‘Pay to Pray’.

Nowhere else in the world, in any other religion, does any devotee have to undergo such an abominable experience. Hindus are the only community in the world that are compelled to pay for praying. Whether it is in Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, the story is the same – ‘Pay to Pray’.

Karnataka Chief Minister Shri. Basavaraj Bommai of the BJP is very earnest to liberate Temples from government control. Predictably Congress leaders like D.K. Shivakumar, Siddaramaiah and others are vehemently opposing the move. Asinine arguments like ‘Hindus will not be able to manage Temples’, ‘not practical’, ‘unwise move’, are being aired. Going by this logic, how can Hindus be allowed to run political parties, governments, bureaucracy, and judiciary? Are these politicians not confirming the apprehension voiced long ago by Sir Winston Churchill about granting independence to Indians?

Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low calibre & men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles”.

Be that as it may, Hindus must resolutely unite to ensure that every Temple is liberated from the clutches of the government. Nelson Mandela said, “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.” Hindus need to modify this, to read “If a Hindu has to pay the government just to pray to the God he believes in, then he needs to be an outlaw, there is no other way.”


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 shreemenon48@gmail.com

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