There has been a systematic destruction of the Hindu way of life by attacking the institutions that are at the core of Dharmic religious and philosophical thought. In turn, this has created a fertile ground for the Abrahamic religions to slowly creep up on to the various susceptible populations, aided by the govt led destruction of temples and their resources. Eating away at the various activities that were originally a part of the temple’s aegis of functioning. Viewing it through the single lenses of govt control, though, does not do justice to the various other aspects of society within which these temples are situated. One such is the jati-varna system.
A number of artisan jatis were originally associated with a wide plethora of activities that were a part of the temple ecosystem and economy. Eventually, as these activities got eaten away at and the temples became poorer because of the govt sucking away their funds, these jatis moved away from artisanry, cultivation and ritualistic activities that they were involved in.
Eventually, as landholding patterns changed and the numerically significant castes could exert their hegemony through the democratic process, the ever-present inter-jati competition assumed new proportions. What earlier was a more or less horizontal stratification with immense fluidity of movement of various castes depending on the changing power, society and economy of the times have now more or less coalesced around the control over material resources, we see its impact in the sugarcane lobbies of Marathwada and West UP. This has also been witnessed recently in the demand for reservations in govt jobs and colleges. This inter jati competition is not alien to the Indic civilisation nor it is the bane of it as claimed by left-wing historians.
Firstly, this inter jati competition has also been a very important positive contributor to the resurgence of Dharmic movement across the country, as witnessed in recent years these politically mobile cultivator castes have provided the cadre and electoral base for India’s political shift to right. The one umbrella under which these disparate jatis have united themselves is the umbrella of Dharma. This has been witnessed particularly in Ram Janmabhoomi movement where mobilisation occurred from all jatis from all parts of India.
This has also been a hallmark of ground-based temple movements wherein the local stakeholders belonging to castes directly associated with the temple and formed a large chunk of the temple devotee base were among the ones to most aggressively fight for deity’s rights (like in Sabarimala where the local vanavasi tribal communities and Nairs served as the guardians of the traditions of the temple after the controversial Supreme Court verdict). If anything, inter jati competition, has a major contribution to getting temples back into the hands of traditional stakeholders as these jatis are themselves going to benefit from such an outcome. On the contrary, govt control solely benefits a select section of elite class which has nothing to do with temples or their proper running and management.
Secondly, the people who work under the assumption that govt control will rid the temple administration of the inter jati conflicts are using a fatuous argument. They are basing their arguments on the logic that a pro-Hindu government with the best interest of deities and devotees will always remain in power, with the best interests of the stakeholders at heart. They not just foolishly underestimate the virulent theologies of Abrahamic religions but also the inroads the thought has already made into the minds of millions of Indians which will take decades to undo. Together this serves as a potent combination to threaten gains made even under an avowedly right-wing government.
Thirdly, the best way to undermine the surviving local stakeholders and their traditions is to suffocate them under govt control. While govt control might somehow (assuming best interests) control the inter jati conflict for the control of such temples (assuming such a conflict exists for temple control), it will ensure that even the temples under care and control of SC/ST/OBC communities will end up being run by appointees of the ruling governments.
Madurai veeran temples are almost entirely managed and run by the SC/ST/OBC communities, same is the case with Draupadi temples, control over which is mostly in the hands of Vanniyar community in Tamilnadu. The state governments are controlled by lobbies and interests which invariably are linked to the dominant castes of that region. Alienating local castes from organically developed traditional temple administration mechanisms will ensure that they are pushed further into the clutches of Abrahamic thought. This will be “legitimate” as it will be through “democratic institutions” but the steps will be as undemocratic as the process has become.
Fourthly, a lot of drama around the control of temples by these dominant castes did not exist in the first place and was fanned by political parties who wanted to both gain control of temples through their own functionaries and wished to whip jati pride for electoral gains. Chamundeshwari Temple in Karnataka is a prime example of this politicking by major players for control over temples.
Chamundeshwari was a private temple of the royal family that the govt had absolutely no right entering into but wanted to do so for its own benefit. Postulating that govt control is a solution to protect temples from such inter jati conflicts is like saying that these political parties will somehow become altruistic, ideal versions of themselves as soon as they come to power.
There must be a realisation that vouching for govt control is a slippery slope, rather a government with the best interest of Dharma at heart would ensure that the credible and long term mechanisms are built to ensure that the temples are returned to their traditional stakeholders under traditional management structures.
It might seem difficult for a cash strapped govt to refrain from utilising temple funds to bail itself out, or to generate revenues for itself through illegitimate means through the control of such temples and later use seemingly legitimate but ill-founded arguments to attempt so (like inter jati competition and such).
It is nevertheless important for a Dharmic resurgence to ensure that the diversity of temple management institutions and legitimate stakes of the local devotees are upheld. Shri Krishna Janmbhoomi Trust borne through the efforts of Shri Madan Mohan Malviya and a group of philanthropists provides a template as to how to establish such institutions where there is a gap of such, it would be beneficial for all if such relatively modern mechanisms are studied in conjunction with traditional means of ensuring the rights of all stakeholders.
(This article has been written by Anjali George. She is an activist, writer and a reformer and one of the pioneers behind the ‘Ready To Wait’ movement, that was launched to ascertain the rights of the indigenous women in opposition to a politically motivated attack on the tradition of Sabarimala temple. She serves on the Board of Frankfurt City’s Council of religions, Indic Collective, and Shaktitva foundation. She is also the chairperson of People for Dharma)