Article 26 of the Indian Constitution provides people of all religions with the freedom to manage their religious institutions. However, Hindus do not enjoy this freedom enshrined in the country’s founding document. Various state governments through their respective Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) Acts have assumed financial and management control of over a hundred thousand Hindu temples.
Our Temples do not belong to us. In most of the states, Governments have passed acts and legislations to take over Hindu institutions including Temples, Mutts and Endowments. This has enabled the Government to interfere in the Temples’ management, practices and rituals.
Not just that, Temples’ properties and income have also been usurped by the Government. The most outrageous fact is that the Government exerts such a control exclusively on the Hindu Temples; the places of worship of other religions enjoy freedom and autonomy. This is a clear-cut case of systematic discrimination and harassment. From education to ecology and culture to charity, Hindu Temples have played a pivotal role in shaping the Indian society.
Today’s India has become a battleground for the clash of civilizations, and the Hindu society is facing an existential threat. The need to revive the Temple eco-system is more important than ever. But this cannot be achieved without freeing them from the clutches of the State. The Government’s control over the Hindu Temples is unconstitutional and immoral. Hindu Temples belong to the Hindu society and the State must exit immediately.
British rulers and Hindu temples
Until the British came to India, temples were managed by local communities. They were centres of dance and art, and at the heart of a massive decentralised trade network according to author Sanjeev Sanyal.
Every temple had charitable endowments, including property given to temples, for the benefit of the community. The benefits included rest-houses, pathshalas, gaushalas, and institutions for the advancement of education and feeding of the poor.For the British agenda of colonisation and conversions to succeed, the temple organisation had to be weakened.
So, temples were brought under government control mainly in south India because not too many temples in the north possessed such massive property or wealth. The British introduced The Madras Regulation VII of 1817 to do this. In 1840, there was a directive from the East India Company to return the temples to their trustees, because Christian missionaries, in India and abroad, did not like the idea of Christians managing Hindu temples.
Next came The Religious Endowments Act 1863, which handed over temple administration to the trustees from the British government.
the state governments control over 4 lakh out of an estimated 9 lakh temples across the country, there is no such control over Muslim and Christian religious bodies. In this backdrop, there are demands to amend “The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HRCE) Act 1951″, which allows the state governments to take over temples and maintain complete control over them and their properties.
there are over 15 state governments which control only Hindu religious institutions, specifically temples-right from the appointment of administrators to mandatory collection of 13-18% service charge. This takes.
today, Hindu educational institutions, temples, religious traditions are subject to government control and judicial review, look for instance at the Supreme Court order on the Sabarimala temple.
But a radical change was introduced in the legislation by way of Act XII of 1935, through which temples could be notified by the government and their administration taken over. This way the Hindu Religious Endowment Board assumed powers to take over and administer temples. The board consisted of three to five members.
Interestingly, the Supreme Court, in at least three landmark judgments, has asked state governments to hand over religious institutions to the community. However, this has not happened till now. At present, there are two petitions pending before the Supreme Court in this regard.
For the future of the Hindu Civilization, it is of paramount importance that the control of Hindu Temples and their finances is returned to the Hindu Community.
It is the duty of the Indian Government to ensure that a suitable framework is developed through consultations with all stakeholders from the Hindu Community to pave the way for the safe return of control.
The NDA Government was reelected to power with a massive mandate in 2019 and consistent with the path it has chosen to tread, this is another conflict that must be resolved in the near future.