J. Sai Deepak delivered a talk at the Press Club of India. The talk was organized by the Srijan Foundation on the topic: Freeing Hindu temples from government control. Here is the Part -1 of the full transcript of speech.

First of all I would like to thank Srijan Foundation and therefore I will have to thank Abhinav Prakash Singh and Rahul Deewan, Alok Govil and Piyush Jain for actually giving me this opportunity. He has already given a bit of my introduction and lawyers tend to speak a lot about themselves so I will try not to do that, I will try and get on the topic straight.

I would like to build from where he has actually left the introduction just to say that its ironic that the majority is actually discriminated against, I don’t think its ironic in this country at all. I don’t find it surprising nor I don’t see a bit of irony in it at all and I don’t think that I am alone in sharing the sentiment. Fortunately a good number of people in this country, they have woken up, they have started paying attention to the things around them. I think the average middle class person who has being paying attention to his livelihood has also woken up but if he focuses exclusively on livelihood, survival will become an issue after some point of time.

There is something that I would like to start with before I get into the meat of the topic. There are any number of articles that are available if one we have to just google with respect to the number of temples that have been encroached upon, the number of temple properties that have been alienated, the number of jewels that have been stolen and the kind of meagre amounts that temples make with respect to the properties that they have leased out on, there is so much of information.

It’s not as if  I need to say something new but  it does exist already in the public domain then why is it that there is a lack of action with respect to these issues? Why is it that there is a certain lack of activism with respect to these issues? Why is it that people are not as troubled as  they are supposed to be with respect to what is happening around them?

I think it goes back to central issues which I think more or less in most situations. Attitude, knowledge and initiative these are the only three things. I don’t see anything else being responsible for the current state of affairs. Apathy, I think it’s central for whatever is happening and I think the consequences of apathy become very very clear if one we have to just take a look at the legislations that control some of these temples in some of the states. Even for a person who is not legally trained who has absolutely no skills when it comes to interpretation of the law or statures or so on so forth. These legislations are crying to be toned down. These legislations are crying to be struck down.

It’s just surprising, in fact I started writing on these issues only, around I think December 2015 onwards and before that I was doing a bit of reading and when I read these legislations, the first question that I asked myself is, why has it taken so many years for these legislations to be challenged before the court? Some of these legislations date back to 1927 then 1951 and 1954. The 1954 legislation that currently applies to Tamil Nadu goes back to the 1927 legislation which was repealed and then came out in the 1951 legislation.

The supreme court struck it down for the first time in the Shirur Mutt case of 1954 and if somebody were to see the legislation that was struck down in 1954 and compare it to the legislation that came subsequently, they will ask themselves what is the difference? No difference at all. Nobody has bothered to undertake even a textual comparison of what was struck out? What was struck down and what is enforced today to ask themselves how did the state legislature have the guts, the gall, the gumption and the audacity to bring something back into force which the supreme court of the country has struck down as fundamentally unconstitutional and this goes back to specific I think perhaps socio-political reasons before I get into what is it that we can do about it? Why is it that we need to do something about it?

Pardon me for saying this but the cause of the temple has unfortunately become the cause of a single caste. It has become associated with a certain community, a certain group or a certain caste which I think is fundamentally wrong perception , it needs to go, it needs to be thrown out of the window. A temple belongs to every caste, every sector, every community within the Hindu fold, let there be no two ways about it. Let there be no allusions about it. Therefore, when a temple is affected, it doesn’t matter whether it is run by a certain group or a certain subset or a certain set of followers. What happens to them and what affects them is bound to affect you because the very same actions will be extrapolated and extended to your institutions, there is no escaping this. There is absolutely no escaping this.

Therefore, the first thing that we need to do is to shake off a bit of inertia and ask ourselves why is it that this inertia has lasted for so long and I think it’s simply because we have a very philosophical approach to most of these world issues. (sanatan dharm hai to sanatan hi rahega) it will continue, it has continued. It has withstood the ravages of time and history and therefore it will continue to withstand the ravages of time and history and it will not be lost in the mists and sand of time, that’s more or less our justification. I think perhaps our own cowardice, inertia, weakness, lack of collective action, lack of cohesive action, lack of concerted action.  And I think this is the first step, this is the first thing that needs to be addressed.

Now, let me just read out something which I have been dying to read out to an audience because this more or less is symptomatic of what’s happening. I think this more or less tells us why we are where we are today. So, I am just quoting from a decision of the supreme court of 1966 with respect to the AP legislation that was challenged and the supreme court was given a certain argument as to why is it that these legislations are exclusively applicable to Hindus?

Why is it that these legislations are exclusively applicable to Hindu institutions? What was so peculiar about it? So, let’s put it this way , lets say that Rahul is the Principal or lets say the teacher in the classroom. He has the power to slap everyone equally or he has the power to show everyone (inaudible) but Rahul chooses to do this eclusively with respect to one student or  respect to one student which means there is a power that has been given to him institutionally in order for him to exercise this equally across classes, across communities, across groups.

But Rahul chooses to focus his energy exclusively on one community and this gives rise to two or three conclusions. One, he believes that is the only community or that is the only section of students who deserve special attention either because they are weak or they are fundamentally flawed in their character and therefore, their character needs some kind of intervention. That is the assumption and that is the message that Rahul sends out. Secondly, treating different people or equall people differently is inequality, I would say unequal application of power is also inequality.

If you choose not to apply the power or enforce your power or exercise your power with respect to x number of communities and you choose to make one community the target of your power to exercise your power. This for me is the textbook definition of    what discrimination is, there’s no two ways about it. You don’t need to be an expert in law, you don’t need to be an expert in constitution law, you don’t need to be an expert in jurisprudence for this simple point to be understood and convinced.

Let’s see what supreme court has said :

Now, I will just read this out and this is the classic argument that’s been given with respect to a lot interventions in the Hindu society. Bear with me for a few minutes while I will just read this out because this more or less will tell you what is the attitude of not just the executive or the government arm of the state but equally of the judiciary with respect to Hindu institutions. Now, it’s up to us to see if this sentiment or this attitude of 1966 has carried on to 2016 these years down the line. Let’s just pay attention to this and this is very very important.

So, this is the argument that is presented on behalf of the petitioners who are challenging the legislation, the Andhra Pradesh legislation with respect to it’s constitutionality. It says ‘The main thrust of the arguments of the learned council for the petitioners is that Articles 25 and 26 guarantee freedom to manage religious affairs and right to freely profess practice and propagate the religion to all citizens alike. Hindus constitute majority population. Hindu religion is the major religion in the country, equally Muslim, Christian and Parsi citizens are entitled to the same constitution rights under Articles 25 and 26 without touching the administration and governance of charitable or religious institutions or endowments founded or maintained by Muslims, Christians or Parsi’s making law, regulating the administration of Hindu religious institutions and above endowments offends articles 14 and 15 which deal with equality’ , this is the argument that was made.

It is also contended that when a denomination which is a part of the major religion is protected by article 26. The major religions themselves as genus are equally entitled to protection under article 26 which is to say, if Vaishnavites are entitled to protection  under a certain provision of the constitution,  Hindus as a whole are equally entitled to same protection because Vaishnavites form part of Hindus.  Institutions belonging to them cannot therefore be regulated under the law offending their right to religious practice. This is the argument that was , in essence , made.

Lets see what the Supreme Court says and this will remind you of certain arguments that have been made with respect to other aspects of the Constitution. The first question is whether it is necessary that the legislature should make law uniformally applicable to all religious or charitable or public institutions and endowments established or maintained by people professing all religions, now here comes the secular narrative. In a pluralist society like India in which people have faith in their respective religions, beliefs or tenets propounded by different religions or their offshoots ,  the founding fathers while making the constitution were confronted with problems to unify and integrate people of India, professing different faiths, different caste, so on and so forth. The directive principles of the constitution themselves visualise diversity and attempted to foster uniformity among people of different faith. A uniform law though is highly desirable, enactment there off in one go perhaps may be counter productive to unity and integrity of the nation.

In a democracy governed by rule of law, gradual progressive change in order should be brought about, you see some sentiments are more important than others. Making law or amendment to a law is a slow process and the legislature attempts to remedy where the need is felt most acute , so , the judiciary feels that remedy is most imperative when it comes to Hindu institutions, you see , that is the logic, that is how we interpret pluralism, that is how we interpret Secularism, that’s how we enforce constitutional mandates and values in this country.

The point that we have to understand is this, this question which was addressed in 1966 continues to be relevant in 2016 and the one question that we are entitled to ask, is that are you saying that in the last 50 years other societies and other communities have not become amenable to application of similar legislations, it’s been 50 years this was in 1966, we are in 2016. Understood that in 1966 after 19 years of independence you are saying that I think Hindu institutions need most interventions, are you saying post 50 years of the judgement that the situation still says it’s only Hindus who need this.

People must read the report of the Justice Chalakondaya Commission which is the parent document which forms the basis of the 1987 legislation which applies to Hindu religious institutions. That document, I am sorry to say , offends all sense of fairness, all sense of reasonableness and takes for granted the patience of the majority community and takes for granted the dignity of the majority community , because that document categorically says , that Hindu institutions and Hindu temples and Hindu religious endowments are where the one where corruption abounds or there are instances of corruption and since it relates to 80% of the population, if you remedy 80% of population in a society the rest 20% will fall in the place, this is the beautiful logic that is given.

I don’t see how this is different from the logic that was applied by West Pakistan with respect to East Pakistan. Wipe out 3 million people the rest of them will listen to you, that’s more or less the logic that they gave , those with the instructions of the General Khan. So, the point I am trying to make is this attitude needs to be questioned. Now, how do you question it? What do you do? And first of all before why do you do it? How do you do it? Let’s ask one question.

Why is it , the topic is Freeing Hindu institutions from State Control , let me just qualify it a bit , as a Lawyer I need to refine it a bit more , because as a lawyer we re-visit Drafts over and over again so , let me do this. You are not asking for the state to do anything that is unconstitutional, lets be clear. Second, what we are asking for is not something that needs a constitutional amendment as well it can be done well within the four corners of the constitution as it exists today.

There is no need for a random revolutionary upheavel as far as the constitution is concerned. Lets be very clear about that. Two, we are saying this , either interfere with everyone equally or don’t interfere with anyone at all. And should you choose to interfere with us, start with everyone and after that you are only entitled to do that which the constitution permits , therefore you need to know what the constitution permits , but again before I go to my comfort zone which is the law, I need to go to something else.

We need to understand the reason why Hindu institutions are in dire need of this kind of intervention. Look at the status of our temples, look at the state of affairs of our temples, look at the state of affairs of all the communities that are dependent on temples, its not just about the priest. Let’s be very clear about that , it goes much beyond that. Is there anyone here who is from Kerala? So, there is a group of castes called the Ambalavasis. Ambalavasis are basically the warriors and the, I think you have totally `        18 castes which fall under this. Each of these castes have been designated based on the profession or their vocation within the temple. Ambalam means the temple, pardon me if I am wrong , I think that’s the case and people whose profession or vocation relates to the temple, this is Ambalavasis. At least 8 castes derive their livelihoods from the temple. What does this tell you? Temple, as far as the Hindu society is concerned has not just been a centre of religious importance  it plays a social function, it plays a religious function, it plays a economic function, that’s very very important. You see all the beautiful architecture of the Dravidian Temples, I am sorry the South Indian Temples (inaudible).

There is a specific way for the Architecture ,  there are principles to be observed and the people who do this they are not (inaudible), they actually come from a different community altogether, Vishwakarmas, Sthapatis. These are the people who are responsible for this. This is a dying breed today. We don’t have people who understand how do you play around with that piece of Stone, they have genders for Stones. This is a female stone, this is a male stone, they identify stones down to that level. They know what they do. That is the dying breed in this country because a good number of vocations and professions (inaudible) because the temple institution as an institution itself is on the verge of extinction because it’s being uprooted from it’s traditional roots, systematically this has happened over the years.

When the Britishers did it at least they had no reason to feel any sense of attachment as far as Indian institutions are concerned. They don’t belong to this country and they never belonged to this country but if the same policy has continued post 1947. Either we believe that the britishers were right or we have always remained colonial slaves mentally. This needs to change and the reason that this also needs to change is this , for the average Hindu regardless of which part of the country he resides in the temple is the place that he still goes for spiritual solace. He doesn’t go to ashrams, all these babas and ashrams, they come secondary as far as he is concerned. In fact for the average Hindu in any part of the country he is intimated by million dollar ashrams.

He will not step into that place for simple reason , that the grandeur of the place , the scale of the place would perhaps scare him. He doesn’t feel at home as far as those institutions are concerned. Therefore, he looks towards the temple as far as spiritual solace is concerned. Therefore, if you want Hinduism to survive , then the astha has to survive in the average Hindu and for that those institutions to which he can relate to they must be resuscitated , they must be revived.

We also in most of our debates, discussions post  dinner katha kalakshepams as I call it, we are want to say these things Philanthrophy as a concept is fundamentally alien to you see  Hindu institutions and Hindu society, that’s a very fashionable statement to make. They make these points. ( hum sirf kamana jante hai hum daan karna nahi janate hain) The word “Daan” has such a significance as far as Hindu tradition and Hindu literature is concerned. Gyaan Daan or any kind of Daan has immense importance. We worship Heroes for being Daanveers, that is the tradition of this country. Now, why is it that Hindu institutions are not in a position to involve themselves in charitable activities. If the Church next to you, or the mosque next to you, or the Gurudwara next to you is in a position to spend x number of rupees or x number of dollars for whatever they think is important and for the causes they relate to. Why are Hindu institutions unable to do so? Most of us arrive at the simplistic and ignorant conclusion that because (dene ki neeyat hi nahi hai) or that we are not interested in giving, that is wrong, unfortunately our hands are tight, this is something that we need to understand.

Hindu institutions are under state control, therefore they do not have the kind of Freedom that other institutions have or other communities have in dealing with their own property, in dealing with their own traditions, in spending on their own traditions, in spending on their own community. A Padre Or a Pastor can at least speak with someone who is immediately higher up in the hierarchy and invest in what he calls congregation, his sheep, his flock, whoever it is, that’s what he can do.

Can a priest, you ask yourself, have you asked yourself in any temple that you have been to, can a priest do anything for the devotees or the followers? He can’t. The temple administration is entirely in the hands of the state. If we do not recognise the fact that administration of Hindu institutions have been completely eviscerated , emasculated , disembowelled , devotees or Hindu’s have no role to play in their own institutions. I think we are hurtling towards the extinction of our own traditions and our own way of life. Let us see how this happens without getting too much into the legalies, let me try and give you a broad framework as to how these legislations functions.

Whenever possible, thanks to google and thanks to open databases these days, anybody can read any judgement relating to any aspect of the law. It’s not difficult at all. You don’t need a lawyer to do this at all. I just need to give you some details and you will be able to pull it out yourself. So, there is a decision of 1954 Supreme Court which goes by the name Shirur Mutt decision. This relates to a Mutt that was located in Udupi in South Kannada and this institution was put through such excruciating litigation that if I were to be the Mathadipadi of the particular institution at the end of the litigation I would ask myself, I think it is time that we should proclaim that being born as a Hindu is a sin.

For the simple reason that the legislation functions on this premise, let me tell you how it works. So, this is the state, the state draws his power from articles 25 and 26 in so far as religious freedoms are concerned. 25 broadly relates to individual religious freedoms and 26 relates to religious freedoms of religious denominations and therefore it speaks of institutions and there is an inter-play between 25 and 26. There is an inter-play between the two. Under 25 there is a beautiful provision. 25 2(a) of the constitution which specifically says that in so far as secular, economic, political or such activities concerned the state shall have the power to make laws and all of these activities are meant to have some kind of access with a religious practice. What is the purpose behind this legislation in first place, let’s understand this, which means Ashish is a good friend. Let’s say he chooses to write away his property in the name of a temple and he calls that this is my endowment to this particular temple. I have decide to donate this. Ashish has always wanted that the property be used only for the benefit of that particular temple and only in the interest of the particular temple , for the purposes of the temple, in relation to the temple, with respect to the temple, in reference to the temple, nothing else. This is what he has always wanted. Should somebody within the temple administration choose to divert the resource and put it for a different use altogether and diverts the very purpose of the endowment. 25 2(A) is the provision that can be exercised by the law and say, I want a legislation in place which ensures that the temple administrators do not have the power or the wherewithal to divert resources from the actual  purpose for which was endowned to the institution, that is the actual purpose. Meaning thereby, the money and the resources are meant for investment in the community, they are meant for investment in the institution, they are meant for the furtherance of   the cause of the particular institution and the community. So, any attempt to deviate from that particular path is what 25 2(A) basically is meant to stop and prevent.

Let’s see how we have actually interpreted it, this is where the lawyers, it’s a bag of tricks, they come into play. What the judiciary has effectively done is to basically say, so , previously I said it relates to secular activities connected to religious practice meaning thereby financing for a religious practice that nexus must never be broken. The umbilical cord is sacrosanct. The judiciary has said that you know what let’s break this altogether and put secular activities in one basket, religious activities in another basket and create this distinction, why? You see I respect your right to religion because I will not touch this basket, that’s entirely your prerogative but in so far as this basket is concerned, it is secular and therefore the state has the right and the power under the constitution to interfere with it.

Why this distinction is fundamentally flawed ? I will tell you why. Can you perform a pooja without having the resources for the pooja ? Can you conduct an event within the premises of the temple without having the necessary resources for it? Ann daan karna hai paisa kahan se aayega. Pooja karna hai kaise aayega? Akhand bhajan karna hai paisa kahan se aayega? Naam sankeertan karna hai paisa kahan se aayega? Where will the money come for the performance of the religious activities? From the secular box , but who controls the secular box? The state. Meaning thereby, if the religious activity were to be the puppet, all the secular strings are to be in the hands of the master puppeteer, which is the state.

So, who is going to dance according to whose tunes? The religious practice and the religious traditions and the customs and the rituals now dance to the whims and fancies of the state, which is the master, which is the puppeteer, which is the superpower in this case. This distinction was evolved to protect religious rights and to assert control over secular rights whether intentionally or unintentionally this has worked to the determinant of the Hindu community and there is no running away from this conclusion.

Every activity however religious it will have a secular angle to it. because paisa kahin na kahin hoga. There will be a non-religious aspect for the particular activity and if every non-religious aspect is entirely within the domain of the state control, you have encircled the religious activity with state control. Consequently, what you are left with is an academic paper right called as religious right, which can give you nothing.

What does this result in? How many people are aware of this famous instance where Ram Krishna Mission rushed to the state saying I want to be the minority institution, this is what, this is the reason. majority banne ka agar koi fayda nahi hai to minority ban jao, aur majority banne ke liye agar aapko ye sab jhelna padta hai then you have to try and jump into the other bandwagon where the Sun is rising. Human tendency what  else do you do ? Why do you think conversion happen? This is the basic reason, this is the basic psychological reason and we have to understand, today we talk of whenever we say conversions bura hai aur conversions may not be wrong forced conversions are wrong, we have to do something about it. This fashionable elitist , wine tasting section of the society will tell you , you Hindus have never bothered, you                  have never bothered to invest in the other classes of the society and today when they are converting you have a problem with it? Their church does something for them, their mosque does something for them, is your temple doing something for them? Are bhai karne do to karenge ,  humare haath to puri tarah se bandhe huye hain.

My fundamental belief is that, if anybody is interested in a cohesive Hindu identity and I don’t mean this in a confrontational sense at all, not because we need to face someone else or not because we have to create the other or face the other. Simply, so that all of us can feel a sense of bonding with each other, without caste, gander, religion, language anything coming between us. It starts only with the reform of the temple. It starts only with the democratization of the temple.

Read part – 2 of the speech Here.