States control over temples is against Secularism

Synopsis: There is an urgent need to provide adequate community representation in the management of their places of worship

Background
  • There has been a persistent demand from the communities to deregulate state control over temples.
  • Communities are asking for their right to representation in the affairs of the management of temples.
  • Now the question is if the government releases its control over the management of temples, to whom the temples would be entrusted.
  • This article will explain,
    • How the government’s control over temples is against the principles of secularism?
    • How community control over temples can be regulated.?
Why the government control over temples needs to be replaced?

States control over temple have become a more controversial issue due to,

  • Gross mismanagement of financial resources
  • Increasing Corruption
  • Disregard to temple maintenance leading to loss and destruction of temple antiquities.
  • Against the principle of Secularism.
How the government control over temples is against the principles of secularism?

The Supreme court in Raja Birakishore vs The State of Orissa ruled that appointment of temple priests by the state a secular function.

Yet, the State’s involvement in the appointments of heads of Mutts and the authority to conduct poojas is against the principle of Secularism. Because

  • One, Article 25 empowers the state to enact laws for the regulation of religious institutions. But it is to prohibit discretionary religious practices and to make law for social welfare and reform.
      • Article 25(2)(a) empowers the state to regulate “economic, financial, political or other secular activities which may be associated with religious practice”.
      • Article 25(2)(b) empowers the state to enact a law to prohibit the exclusion of ‘classes and sections’ of Hindu society to enter into Hindu temples of a public character and also make law for social welfare and reform.
      • However, these safeguards are being misused by the state to assume ownership of properties belonging to religious institutions.
  • Two, the establishment of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department is not a cause for social justice.
      • In the Shirur Mutt case, the supreme court struck down a major portion of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments 1951 Act. The court ruled that the provisions are a “disastrous invasion” of religious liberty.
  • Three, the comparison with the Waqf Act to legitimize the control over Hindu religious endowments is misleading. Because,
      • One, Waqf Act clearly reveals that it applies only to charities and specifically excludes places of worship such as mosques.
      • Two, it also supports the argument that government should not regulate places of worship.
What needs to be done?
  • It has been said that handing over the temples to the community will strengthen class hierarchies.
  • However, communities are looking for control. They are asking for representation in the management of the place of worship. It is possible by the creation of boards with representatives of religious heads, priests, and responsible members from the dharmik sampradaya.
  • The colonial law, the Religious Endowments Act (Act XX of 1863) has similar provisions for handing over religious institutions to society.
  • It created committees in every district to exercise control over temples.
  • This act should be made applicable to all religious institutions to guarantee adequate community representation in the management of their places of worship.

Source: The Hindu

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