The famous Thiruvambady Sree Krishna Temple at Trichur in Kerala, is in a debt trap, and the proposal put up by the Thirvambady Devaswom, to the Cochin Devaswom Board, is to sell the Temple assets, comprising of a convention center, a school and land assets. How can any Temple fall into a debt trap? Can a mosque, church, gurudwara, Buddhist Temple, or Jain Temple, fall into a debt trap? Is a Hindu Temple a company or commercial undertaking to make profit and loss? Temples are graded as ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and so on as if it is a commercial enterprise. But this unique misfortune is happening only to Hindu Temples! Why?
The Thiruvambady Sree Krishna Temple which is a major participant in the world famous Trichur Pooram festival, has been brought to this abject state of affairs, due to decades of shoddy administration by inept politicians and their cronies who have been layered into the the five Kerala Devaswoms—Guruvayur, Travancore, Malabar, Cochin, and Koodalmanikyam, which together manage nearly 3,000 Temples. Corruption, mismanagement, irregularities, malfeasance, and misfeasance, are regular complaints levelled against all the Devaswom Boards, on a regular basis, but of no avail.
This brings us to a fundamental issue, unresolved despite over 70 years of Independence, why are only Hindu Temples being illegally controlled by State governments across India , through organizations called Devaswoms, Devasthanams, Muzrai, and Shrine Boards? The aspirations of over 1000 million Hindus are being trampled upon by politicians of all political parties, by denying their right to administer their places of worship, like their co-religionists. Why only Hindus have been singled out for stark discrimination? There is no other community in the world, that is facing such a great iniquity, as being denied the right to administer their places of worship!
The Constitutional mandate of right to worship has been effectively scuttled, only for Hindus, ever since Independence. The legislature, bureaucracy and the judiciary, have done nothing to secure the rights of Hindus. While we keep boasting to the whole world about our vibrant democracy, the dark secret that our politicians have suppressed is that over one thousand million plus Hindus, have their right to worship, successfully thwarted, in the sense that they cannot manage their Temples at all. The State governments, control the Temple earnings, decides the tariff for various offerings, appoints priests or transfers them, appoints all Temple staff, imposes stiff tariff by way of ‘Special Darshan’, VIP Darshan, for entering to worship! Such nonsensical practices are unheard of in churches, mosques and gurudwaras. Why are Hindus being compelled to pay exorbitant charges for worshipping their Gods and Goddesses? Where do these funds go? There is no proper auditing by any authority. Auditing is purely an in-house affair, which does not question the appropriation of funds in the guise of administrative charges, auditing fees, inspection charges, and a host of other miscellaneous charges. Temple offerings are auctioned without proper price-fixation. Unfortunately, the Indian judiciary has no time to address this fundamental grievance of the right to proper and free worship of over 1000 million plus Hindus.
Another deplorable feature of the illegal control over Hindu Temples is that only Temples of select denominations are targeted for takeover. While in Kerala, Temples owned by Namboothiris and Nairs, have been taken over by the Kerala government, in neighbouring Tamilnadu, Brahmin Temples are targeted. The takeover itself is a high handed exercise, involving forcible entry of hundreds of State government officials, accompanied by a show of force by Police, including arbitrary arrests. Money and other offerings by devotees are seized, the Temple Trust is disbanded and party cadres are selected to manage the Temple. Offerings by devotees are utilized to purchase air-conditioners for offices, high priced SUVs for use of Devaswom officials, constructing lavish guest houses for use by politicians and bureaucrats, and depositing Temple funds in various co-operative banks, which are under scrutiny for many irregularities, and compelling donations to various schemes which other religions need not do.
A glaring example of religious discrimination practised by the Kerala government, can be seen at Sabarimala, where there is a massive inflow of pilgrims during the season from November to January, every year. At the Sabarimala shrine, there is a space allotted to the Erumely Mosque priests. Close to 30 million pilgrims visited Sabarimala in 2022. The revenue from pilgrims collected is estimated at 320 crores. These pilgrims deposit money at the Temple and in the space earmarked for the Mosque authorities. Every penny deposited in the Temple is subjected to full governmental control, whereas the State government has absolutely no idea even of the amount collected by the Mosque authorities. If not 320 crores, the Mosque authorities should be easily collecting between 50 crores to 100 crores, but the Kerala government, does not even dare to touch one rupee, or even muster courage to account for or disclose the money collections! What is this discrimination, that has no parallel anywhere else in the world?
The United Nations has a “Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief”, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, but this body feigns ignorance about the illegal control of lakhs of Hindu Temples across India, and illegal diversion of offerings to Temples made by Hindu devotees. The United States Department of State has an Office of International Religious Freedom, called United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), but it also turns a blind eye to the religious discrimination faced by Hindus in India. In fact, the Department of State submits an Annual Report to the Congress, on International Religious Freedom. Yet, the continued illegal control over lakhs of Hindu Temples, by different State governments in India, never finds mention. Another report compiled annually by the European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance, also ignores the fundamental question as to how and why State governments in India are controlling only Hindu Temples?
If Temple assets of the Thiruvambady Sree Krishna Temple, are not protected from sale, it will open a new trend for selling assets of many other Temples using the specious argument of ‘loss’. Nobody compelled the government to take over the Temple or any of the thousands of Temples in the State. If the Temple was running on loss, to the tune of crores of rupees, what sort of audit was being conducted during the previous years? Why no administrative lapses have been detected ? Losses can occur only due to inefficiency, mismanagement and outright corruption. Hindu organizations should demand immediate disbanding of the present Temple management and constitution of an interim special body comprising of representatives of recognized Hindu organizations, under judicial supervision. All proposals for sale of any assets should be judicially stayed , and a full-fledged enquiry ordered to probe the functioning of the Temple management, and fix responsibility for the losses.