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Temples under attack in Andhra Pradesh: Hindus must be granted autonomy and the chance to defend themselves from external attacks

A lot of “religious” discussions that the irreligious in our country love to avoid wouldn’t need to take place if Hindus were simply granted the same rights as the other religions for managing their own places of worship.

The recent series of temple vandalism incidents across Andhra Pradesh have left Hindus all over the country horrified and shaken. The unprovoked, systematic attacks on Hindu temples across the state, whose numbers have increased both in magnitude and seriousness over the past year, are troubling, to say the least.

The outrage over the incidents came to a zenith upon the decapitation of a 400-year old mūrti of Sri Rāma at Ramathirtha, Vizianagaram District, AP on the 29th of December 2020, when the head of Sri Rāma was found after being thrown in the temple tank. The images of the pujari carrying the stone head if Sri Rāma were stirring and poignant, and have since come to represent the gravity of the situation in Andhra Pradesh. 

Prior to this incident, a 12th century Nandi was found broken to pieces at a Śiva temple in Chittur district; two old Hindu temples in Suryaraopeta, East Godavari district was illegally demolished by neighbouring Church’s Pastor, who also stole the antique idols housed within, and 23 idols of small shrines in Pithapuram, East Godavari district was brutally vandalized. There were countless other similar incursions across the state. Shockingly, a few more idol destruction episodes took place in AP even after protests had begun at Ramathirtha.

The Andhra Pradesh DGP, in a press conference, went over the available statistics regarding temple vandalism incidents in AP for the past few years. In 2020, about 228 cases of attacks on temples were registered in Andhra Pradesh, 305 cases in 2019, 267 in 2018, 318 in 2017, 332 in 2016 and 290 in 2015. 

While the incidents seem to have no connection with the political party in power – as the numbers have been consistently high for the past years, the magnitude and scale of destruction have certainly increased this past year – with two priceless temple chariots being burnt to ash within a few months of each other:

The first was the chariot belonging to the Prasanna Venkateśwara Temple at Kondabitragunta Village, Nellore, was burnt to ash in the middle of the night in mid-February 2020.

The second was the priceless teak wood chariot belonging to the famous Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple at Antarvedi in Andhra Pradesh’s East Godavari district in September of 2020. The CCTV installed near the chariot apparently “malfunctioned”. Hindu activists alleged a deep-rooted anti-Hindu conspiracy behind the burning of the chariot, and demanded the apprehension of those involved in this heinous act – but four months have passed and no arrests have been made. 

The third attack on a temple chariot came soon after in September, at the famous Kanakadurga temple in Vijayawada, when three silver lions affixed to the chariot, each weighing 3kg, went missing, while the fourth was found damaged. No arrests have been made as yet in this case either. 

Responding to the multitude of attacks on mūrtis in Hindu temples across the state, YSRCP MP Raghu Ramakrishna Raju asked CM Jaganmohan Reddy why the govt has not responded to the continued atrocities against Hindu temples in the state and questioned if there was an insidious involvement of influential people or groups, due to which no action was being taken. 

The frequency of these incidents is alarming, and precedes the Christian CM taking office, although attacks have, ostensibly, intensified since then. 

In February 2019, when ancient Gupta era idols in the Venugopāla Swamy temple at Rompicharla, AP, were destroyed, and a Ganapathi idol was stolen, a local Sadhu Sangham expressed concern about a series of such incidents with no action being taken against perpetrators, and demanded action from the govt – yet there has been no resolution to the case to date. 

One could argue that the blame for the situation in AP need not necessarily be placed with the current party in power, but the rampant, often state-aided missionary activity and demographic change that has been breeding intolerance and hatred for Hindus – after being allowed to fester with impunity for the past few decades – certainly seems to be a factor.

Although the endowments department has promised to fortify security in temples across the state, there is no reassurance regarding bringing the perpetrators to justice and uncovering the possibly sinister theological motive to the incidents, if any. All the priceless heritage, once destroyed, is lost to us forever.

A video recently surfaced of a Christian group conducting prayers inside the premises of the Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Temple at Kondavidu, AP. The AP Police, instead of registering a complaint against the Christian prayer group, initiated a case against those that shared the video of the temple staff confronting the Christian trespassers, alleging “promotion of enmity between religions “. This act in itself shows the anti-Hindu attitude and disinterest of the government and the police in upholding the sanctity of Hindu places of worship, and the collusion between them.

Putting the temple vandalism aside for a moment, AP Government, led by CM Jaganmohan Reddy has been at the forefront of a massive financial assault on temple revenue and property. In May 2020, Endowments Dept attempted to auction (against the parameters of the Endowments Act, 1987) properties belonging to the TTD (Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams) – those that were kindly donated to the temple by devotees – citing an inability to manage said properties. There are many more alarming statistics. A whopping one lakh acres of temple land is under encroachment in AP according to Endowments Commissioner Arjuna Rao

In September 2020, YS Jagan government also unethically dissolved 2500 temple trusts across the state, which goes against the provisions of the Endowments Act wherein hereditary trustees are given a place on the trust or temple board.

Recently, the TTD, headed by CM YS Jagan’s uncle, Y Subba Reddy, has sanctioned the construction of 500 new temples in AP and Telangana. This seems to be a bid, as are most large-scale construction projects in our country, to hand out shady contracts to friends and family and misappropriate TTD revenue – while simultaneously appeasing their Hindu vote bank in the process. Currently, there are hundreds of smaller shrines, including ones of considerable antiquity and importance across Andhra, that come under TTD administration but are lying in a state of neglect and disrepair.

The TTD’s contribution to the Common Good Fund, created under Section 70(1) (a) of Endowments Act, is kept aside for their maintenance and preservation but the funds (which essentially devotee donations) are appropriated, and these heritage structures are lying in a derelict state. Renovation and repair are often carried out with no regard for the historical and aesthetic value of the monument, which results in irreparable damage instead of rehabilitation of these age-old structures.

A few weeks ago, Andhra Pradesh High Court dismissed a petition against Chief Minister YS Jagan’s visit to Tirumala temple, alleging that he belongs to the Christian religion and should not have been allowed to visit the temple without furnishing sufficient declaration. The court also made a statement saying that merely attending Christian Gospel conventions and prayers in Churches, having a crucifix and a bible at home is insufficient to be considered Christian – another clear sign of the putrid collusion of the High Court and Government to undermine the sanctity of Hindu temples, especially one of such immense importance to the Hindu community such as the Sri Venkateśwara Temple at Tirupathi. 

It is clear that no government, political party, or court cares about Hindu Temples, and the protection of the Dharma that they enshrine. The only solution to safeguard the little revenue, heritage, and property temples have left after decades of unchecked looting, is to free them from government control and revert administration to the hands of hereditary trustees, the local Hindu community, and devotees. It is time the Hindus are given the right and responsibility to protect their own heritage in the manner in which they see fit. As long as the government has its greedy hands digging deeper and deeper into temple coffers, and corrupt govt officials, politicians, and bureaucrats have a say in temple affairs with no answerability to the public whatsoever, the daylight robbery of temple revenue and lands will continue unabated.

The politicization of Hindu issues that we’re seeing across the country is a result of the “secular” government being entrenched in the temple, and therefore in Hindu, affairs. If the state were to be true to our Constitution and abide by the term “secular”, it would truly separate state and religion, and stay at an arm’s length from Hindu places of worship, with the Endowments Act of 1987 (rightfully) declared unconstitutional. This would mean that Hindu temples would not be subject to the whims and fancies of the changing governments along with the political tide, with Hindus ever at their mercy. A demand for transparency and efficient administration wouldn’t be so futile.

Whether it be related to this particular series of iconoclastic attacks or otherwise, the Hindu community must be granted autonomy without state interference, and the chance to uplift and defend itself from external attacks. We wouldn’t see this unethical politicization of Hindu issues and in my opinion, no political party – ruling or opposition – should be given such an opportunity to use Hindu temple attacks as cheap political mileage. 

More pressing issues such as corruption, infrastructure, growth and development are sidelined because religious and ideological issues are always at the forefront, to the frustration and constant annoyance of Hindus. If there’s an answer as to why our country is always so focused on religious matters, its because Hindus currently do not have the same rights with respect to their places of worship as other communities do, and therefore, they are constantly required to assert themselves to bring these issues to the limelight. A lot of “religious” discussions that the irreligious in our country love to avoid wouldn’t need to take place if Hindus were simply granted the same rights as the other religions for managing their own places of worship.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Sai Priya Chodavarapu
Sai Priya Chodavarapu
doctor, writes about Indian history and polity in her spare time

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