There is a very real problem in India and is the reason for much of the corruption and the deficiencies that plague Indian society today. I am, of course, referring to the tendency of authorities of being more interested in being Bollywood heroes and social reformers than performing their actual job. It was most evident in the case of IAS officer Ritika Jindal, currently working at Himachal Pradesh.
An account on Twitter dedicated to celebrating the work of District Collectors across the country heaped praises on Ritika Jindal for breaking an “age old parochial tradition”. She also “taught lessons of equality to priests” apparently. As was only to be expected, she was slammed on social media for her shameful and disgusting conduct.
Salute to young #IAS officer #RitikaJindal for breaking age old parochial tradition by performing ‘havan’ at Shalooni temple, Solan HP. She also taught lessons of equality to priests, others. This gutsy officer shows us true spirit of #Dussehra.@jairamthakurbjp@IASassociation pic.twitter.com/o3xSBjjAnK— District Collectors (IAS) (@DCsofIndia) October 25, 2020
An interview appeared on Facebook on the 24th of October on the page of what appears to be a local news outlet where the worldview that motivated Ritika Jindal to desecrate the Temple became clear. In the interview, she tells people through the media that we must change the “patriarchal” mindset and the “orthodoxy” that permeates our society. She also offers a lecture on constitution and the values enshrined in it and pretends that rights are violated if women are not allowed to engage in a particular ritual at a particular Temple.
It was interesting how the media covered it as well. Solan Today claimed that Ritika Jindal assumed the form of Maa Kali to show the correct path to ‘Dharm ke Thekedar’. Apart from being complete and utter nonsense, it is also extremely cringe-worthy. It was another occasion when the media that claims to speak truth to power was found massaging the egos of those in authority.
The interesting thing to note here is that Ritika Jindal is an officer in the management of the Temple on account of her position as District Collector. Thus, we see yet another occasion where government control of Hindu Temples has directly led to desecration and malfeasance. But it is not just that issue here, the larger issue is the tendency of an overwhelmingly large section of government officials and those working in public life to be more interested in ‘civilising’ the unwashed masses than what their job entails.
Politicians, Judges, the Police and obviously the bureaucrats have demonstrated amply time and again that they are generally awful at their jobs but find enough time to lecture everyone else on how they ought to conduct themselves. Politicians will not solve any problem if it risks losing their vote-bank, judges have a backlog of tons of thousands of cases in their courts, the less said about the Police the better and then we have the bureaucracy.
All of them, in order to compensate for their remarkable inadequacy and to distract attention from their general incompetence, exhaust an inordinate amount of their resources in trying to convince others of their moral inadequacy so that they are too busy to inspect their dubious record. Such individuals call themselves ‘public servants’ but make sure through their behaviour that everyone knows who the ‘boss’ is.
When such an attitude is combined with a genuine sense of moral superiority, Ritika Jindal is what we get. Is reforming social traditions and rituals part of an IAS officer’s job? Maybe, who knows, the laws are whatever those in authority make of them. Should destroying the ‘patriarchal orthodoxy’ of Temples be a topmost concern for an IAS officer? Definitely not.
There is good reason why people on social media were so disturbed by what happened at the Shoolini Devi Mandir at Solan. All of us instinctively recognised for what it was. It was bullying; bullying of the highest order. And as is typical of bullies, they pick on the weakest kid on the block to prove their might. And the target was chosen specifically because the concerned IAS officer was fully aware she could unleash the full might of the state on the priests and suffer no consequences for it; unlike other situations.
Let us illustrate this with an example. Everyone is well aware by now that the primary reason for the insane levels of pollution at the national capital is due to stubble burning in Punjab and other neighbouring states. It is a recurring problem year after year and what has any authority done to solve this health hazard for good?
Some state governments have indeed done a stellar job but then there is Punjab which refuses to do anything about it. The Judiciary, instead of imposing costs on anyone, bans firecrackers instead to maintain the pretence that they are doing something to solve the issue. Conspicuous by their absence are IAS officers who are nowhere to be found attempting to ‘reform’ the conduct of farmers. Pollution is bad, yes, and could kill people but it is surely not as bad as priests in Temples upholding the traditions of their ancestors without interfering in the lives of anyone else.
No ‘public servant’, which is a remarkably Orwellian term, finds the courage to attempt to coerce farmers into abandoning the practice of stubble burning. They could not be bothered to provide them with incentives either to abandon it themselves. Because obviously, it requires actual strength of character and convincing farmers would be a bit more difficult than bullying priests in Temples. It just goes on to show that our ‘public servants’ engage in ‘social reform’ only after performing a cost-benefit analysis of their actions.
The motivation for leaving Muslim and Christian religious institutions to manage their affairs themselves also lies in the skewed vision of secularism that we have in our country. Actual secularism would imply a total separation of religious institutions and the state and here we have government officials looking after the management of Temples.
Such an arrangement provides bullies with a great opportunity to lord over people they perceive to be weaker than them. And that is precisely what happens so often. Towards that end, a constructive mechanism needs to be established to free Temples of government influence so that bullies have far fewer opportunities to mess with the traditions and rituals of Temples.
Simultaneously, however, a drastic change in mindset is of utmost importance so that our ‘public servants’ realise that they are actually servants of the public and not just in name. The Ritika Jindal Syndrome plagues much of our administration and until it is gotten rid of, we will continue to suffer officers who treat Hindu Temples as battlegrounds for their favoured ideology.