It is time to update archaic laws that were premised on a post-colonial mindset.

 

Way back in 1999 I had written, “The Government is not in the business of business. It is in the business of governance.” Little did I foresee I would use this line 20 years on, in the context of religion.

Nor did I foresee that “freeing temples from government control” is more naturally, a communist idea.

Now, before you panic, let me explain by going back in time. Let’s assess why temples were taken under government control in the first place:

  1. Casteism: The forced exclusion of the disenfranchised from accessing temples.
  2. Command-and-control Nehruvian socialism: That ensured all public property was publicly run.
  3. Babu culture: Assuming that educated, elite, bureaucrats would do a better job than the “backward, illiterate, peasant class”.
  4. Protecting minority interests: Ensuring that the Hindu majority “took care” of minority interest and protected it.

70 years since Independence we are in a new India. A team of women just launched the Mars Orbiter; and the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce (DICCI) mission is to “Be job givers—Not job seekers”. Quite a movement on the needle of gender and social justice!

I propose it’s time to update archaic laws that were premised on a post-colonial mindset. I propose that temples need to adopt the communist agenda—of giving power back to the people.

I premise this hypothesis, of course, on the good old Pied Pipers of communism—Stalin, Lenin, Marx and Mao.

THE NEW OLD MODEL

* CASTEISM: Comrade Joseph Stalin famously said, “A man’s eyes should be torn out if he can only see the past.” Golden words!

While caste-divides are still a reality, society has moved on. Those that claimed oppression and backward status have become Chief Ministers, actors, and businessmen (in Lalu Prasad Yadav’s case, all of the above). Sure there are bad establishments; but would the government take over all restaurants if one of them denied entry to a Dalit? Then why take over temples? What we need instead, is better implementation of existing legal provisions that protect the disenfranchised; not a blanket assumption of guilt.

  • COMMAND-AND-CONTROL NEHRUVIAN SOCIALISM: Comrade Joseph Lenin said, “Our state apparatus is so deplorable, not to say wretched, that we must first think very carefully how to combat its defects…” Golden words again!

It is time to free temples from the shackles of the state, and return them to the community they were originally intended for. If recent activism is anything to go by, young India is happy to take responsibility for its beliefs. Akshardham is a shining example of what community-run temples can achieve. The ISKCON movement is a case-study of self-organised groups exporting Indian culture, way more successfully than Incredible India type campaigns.

  • BABU CULTURE: Comrade Karl Marx stated, “For the bureaucrat, the world is a mere object to be manipulated by him.” Well, golden words just keep coming!

The wilful atrophy of temples has been carefully implemented by bureaucrats. 2,800 murtis have been stolen, 47,000 acres of temple land have been illegally grabbed (only in Tamil Nadu), crores in hundi-donations are misdirected to inefficient and inexplicable purposes. In short, bureaucrats have been spectacular failures in managing temple affairs.

In an era of enhanced social-prosperity, awareness, and transparency; community-managed temples will not be the black box that was initially feared. It’s not like the bureaucrats have set high standards to begin with.

  • PROTECTING MINORITY INTERESTS: Comrade Lenin insisted, “But every little difference may become a big one if it is insisted on.” These are perhaps, the most golden of words.

The fact that the state allows one set of faiths to run their own religious institutions, while disallowing other faiths to do so, is not just unfair, but a socially unsustainable model. In fact, it is condescending towards minorities as well, to imply that their faith, rituals or institutions need to be subsidised by others.

Differential policies and laws have only polarised and driven wedges between neighbours. Instead of turning a little difference into a big one, wouldn’t it be more inclusive for everyone to have equal rights?

VIVA LA REVOLUCIÓN

Karl Marx, who makes an illustrious comeback on our list, said, “Revolutions are the locomotives of history.”

Chairman Mao Zedong, who didn’t have the luxury to stop with theoretical platitudes, was far more reasonable. “New things always have to experience difficulties and setbacks as they grow” he said. The idea of revolutions is romantic. Most social change, however, needs to be inclusive and therefore incremental; especially in large, heterogeneous civilisations like India.

Temples are inalienable from the ethos and DNA of India. They have been the nerve centres of community. They are often the cleanest part of your home.

The government though, defines Mahabalipuram and Hampi as just “monuments”. Government running temples, is like a butcher running a gaushala.

QUE VIVA EL ­PROLETARIADO

In 1893, Lokmanya Tilak led the resurgence of Ganesh Utsavs, when the government didn’t care.

India Pride Project built the case for bringing our Gods home, when the government didn’t care.

Temple Worshippers Society exposed corruption in temple land allocation, when the government didn’t care.

Indic Collective Trust fought for banning access-inequity (where the rich could pay for a special darshan), when the government didn’t care.

Thousands of bold women ran the “Ready to Wait” campaign for Sabarimala, when the government didn’t care.

You see, people are finally willing to step up to the plate, and take ownership of our rich temple heritage. It’s time to entrust Indian heritage, back to Indians.

In short, let’s follow Comrade Lenin’s golden words, “Sometimes, history needs a push.” It’s time we pushed ourselves to give it that push.

Anuraag Saxena is based in Singapore and leads India Pride Project. He has been featured/published in BBC, Washington Post, Economic Times, Times of India, Sunday Guardian, Doordarshan, Man’s World, Swarajya, DailyO, and SPAN. He tweets at @anuraag_saxena