Thursday, May 19, 2022

What hopes Hindus have of justice from the State and Judiciary?

(J Sai Deepak, a blazing mind, is a lawyer but as an activist he presents the case of Hindus like few do. Here, in a lecture of his, he reacts to a recent development about Supreme Court allowing non-Hindus to apply for tenders for shops surrounding a certain temple. A brilliant talk which has been transcribed by Bhumika Arora for readers’ benefit.)

I have chosen the theme of today’s talk the treatment of Hindu Dharma by the Supreme Court. Its either respect or fear which prevents one from examining and scrutinising the conduct of the judiciary—I hope I do so today without violating the Contempt of Courts Act. 

One thing people should be aware of is that no court is a monolithic organization. Different judges could have different opinions. So judiciary’s position can’t be said to be uniform. 

Now assume for a moment that the government does something which is unconstitutional. You go to court, right. But what if you don’t agree with a decision of the court? You obviously don’t have the door of the President open—always. 

Democracy functions on the assumption that our government is elected by the will of the people, at least a significant majority of the people. Judiciary on the other hand is not an elected body. Then why do you need an unelected body to preside over the decisions of an elected body?

And that’s because sometimes, a politician’s decision might not be consistent with the Constitution. Unlike politicians, it is believed, judiciary doesn’t have to make compromises for votes. 

Since the politician’s is always the middle ground, a position to bargain, it means any decision relating to your religion, he is not going to start from an ideal position. He is going to begin from a compromised position. The hope is that the judiciary is relatively uninfluenced. 

So I begin from the position that a society should never lose confidence in the judiciary because that is your option of last resort. And if you lose that confidence, unfortunately your options are unconstitutional. No community wants to be pushed in that direction, certainly not the Hindu community. 

Therefore it is very important to pay attention to every judicial verdict that concerns your faith. People give up because of technical, legal language. You therefore need people who are in a position to break down the understanding to common public. Sadly, Hindus have had fantastic lawyers but not enough to act as mediators between the system and the community. Other communities do because they understand the disincentive of not participating in a judicial process. If Hindus do not produce more Hindu-minded lawyers, you have alienated yourself from an extremely critical arm of the state.

Hindu Dharma and Sampradaya

So when you look at the Supreme Court’s treatment of Hindu Dharma, it would classify it under different baskets. 

One, what’s the Supreme Court’s understanding of the Hindu Dharma?

Two, whether it sees Hindu Dharma through a dharmi lens or through an anglicised Abrahamic lens? 

This is important for English as a language is poor to accommodate your concepts. Therefore you are forced to use religion as an equivalent of Dharma.

Is the judiciary aware of this critical distinction?

If Dharma is not religion, and therefore is not an Abrahamic concept, it means Dharma can not be approached with the black and white lens of Abrahamic religions. Because the one thing that is critical to Hindu dharma is Sampradayik diversity. For the followers of a certain sampradaya, their definition of Hindu dharma starts and ends with their sampradaya. Why? For otherwise given the options you have, in the form of a vast ocean called Sanatan Dharma, you’re bound to be lost in that ocean. 

Therefore you need a sampradaya, which has a guru at the fountainhead and a deity, and you have a very specific path to follow. The deity may be the same in certain sampradayas but the tradition, in respect to same deity, might be different. 

I will give you an example. There is this popular Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram where everybody is interested in the treasure. So one particular gentleman, who had some authority, came to the temple and asked why is Venkateswara Suprabhatham not being chanted in the temple? And why is Hanuman Chalisa not being chanted? The Padmanabhaswamy Temple has a significant tantra and therefore what it follows will be different. When the Sabarimala Ayyappa case was going on, I was regularly asked: Anjaneya Swamy is also a brahmachari, Ayyappa is also brahmachari, if women are allowed inside Anjaneya Swamy temple, why they are not allowed in Ayyappa temple?

This is the failure of even educated Hindus to understand the distinction between deity and sampradaya. So before judiciary, we must understand this is the reflection of current state. And these people occupy the position of power and responsibility. It’s not judiciary, even we the people subconsciously have become anti-Hindu. 

So this is important. Unless and until you don’t understand this critical concept of sampradaya, you would believe that Hindu institutions are traditional in nature, they are conservative, they don’t open their doors to everyone, and that it’s a fundamental weakness in Hinduism. When somebody says why can’t I enter the Garbhagriha, you should ask what’s the authority? It’s important these layers of ignorance are removed from our heads. For the people who celebrated the judicial verdict in the Sabarimala, mostly were Hindus, not others. 

So it’s a two-way street. The institution does something without understanding Dharma. But the community also welcomes it without understanding the Dharma. Again, you have to ask yourself if (a) the institution understands the concept of Dharma and its distinction from religion; (b) does it understand the concept of sampradaya and its centrality to Hindus; (c) then you question what’s the institution’s position with respect to control of nerve centres of Dharma, and therefore temples; (d) And then you must say: I cannot focus on how a Hindu is being treated in this country—I want to know whether you are treating me at least at par with others. 

Suppose you were a student in a classroom. You realize that the teacher has the power to give corporeal, physical punishment to every student. But the teacher is constantly singling you out and slapping on a regular basis. You ask yourself, why me?

These questions have arisen in the Hindu mind with respect to the judicial treatment and the State’s treatment of Hindus as a community, and to our institutions. 

Now whenever you speak of State control of temples your mind immediately says: I need the State for security; I need the State for maintenance, I need the State for crowd management; I need the State to handle administrative issue. Therefore, I am happy to tolerate the presence of State in the temple as long as they don’t touch my religion and my religious affairs. 

According to me, there can’t be a more self-defeating distinction. The institution’s management and administration is in the hands of a different entity altogether which is dying to call itself a secular entity that doesn’t want to call itself a Hindu entity and a fundamentally secular entity is holding the reins of the administration of your religious institutions. And are operating under the naive belief that they will control only secular aspects, which won’t have an impact on religious aspects. How is that even possible? 

If the money is in their hands, the ability and the power to appoint people to different positions is in their hands, your security is in their hands, how do you hope to have freedom only with respect to religious affairs? How’s that even possible? NOT POSSIBLE!

So to assume that as long as the state gives me the commitment that it will not interfere with religious aspects of an institution, I am happy and therefore, my religion is secure. Its impossible because what you believe are the secular aspects are the ones that give you the power to invest in your society. Money gives you the ability to invest in your community. How could that essential asset be in the hands of the government? 

The Jagannath Temple in Puri is effectively run by 36 mathas. It’s called the Chhatisa Nijog. It has participation from all the four varnas, especially during the rath yatra. Who we call the Adivasis are the ones who have the first right to see the deity as well as pull the ratha. Now each of the mathashree is in control of the state government bureaucrats. And they say we have no money. 

Big vs Small Temples

Now if this is the fate of big temples, imagine what’s happening to small temples: That I don’t have money, don’t have resources to renovate, to maintain the library, to digitize this particular manuscript. I don’t have money to ensure security, employees, CCTVs etc. Now this goes against the Dharmic principle which says Dharma and Artha go hand-in-hand. If Artha is in the hands of the State, how on earth could you have the freedom to fulfil your Dharma? Not possible. 

So let’s break this wall completely which says religion and secular are two different things. NO. This is the Christian mentality. This is Christian philosophy. It’s is not Hindu philosophy. Hindu philosophy effectively says Dharma and Artha go hand-in-hand. You need Laxmi to run an institution that is dedicated to Saraswati. We ought to be very clear about it. We don’t need to be embarrassed about the fact that you need money to run a religious institution. Hinduism doesn’t celebrate poverty. 

If anyone says why do you need money since money corrupts, well, thank you. Let the State also not collect taxes. Besides, why do you think Hindus contribute land to matha or temple? Because it acts as a source of revenue for the temple; land translates to real estates translates to Hindu presence. 

So the land adjoining a temple, or a Matha, must be owned by the people who are followers of the Sampradaya so they respect the tradition of that matha or temple. Otherwise you will have slaughterhouse open right outside the temple. The administration and the assets of that particular matha or temple must be with the followers of that philosophy. 

Please understand that. Think of Hinduism like a telescope. The largest lens of the bigger lens is the Hindu lens. But it keeps opening into small lenses and into smaller lens which is sub sects. So if the institution belongs to the subset, then the institution must be run by people of that particular sub sect. 

Two days ago the Supreme Court. Has come out with the verdict, saying non-Hindus could apply for tenders for shops surrounding a certain temple. Because it’s a secular activity. But why do I need to prove my secular conditions because I am using the resources of my community only, for my community’s good and nobody else’ good. I’m entitled to make a particular statement. If I can’t be religious with respect to my religious institutions, how would I be religious? I don’t understand. 

Look at the stupidity of the position. This is one place where I am allowed to wear my religion when I’m entitled to say, yes, I am a Hindu. Nobody else who doesn’t subscribe to this particular sampraday has no business entering this particular place. Whether he is a Hindu or not doesn’t make a difference. What’s so wrong about this?

A Baptist cannot enter the the Church of our Seventh-day Adventist. These denomination rivalry is going on so much that if one person from one particular denomination marries another person from another particular denomination, they will be denied even access to burial grounds. Do we do that in our communities? 

It’s important for judiciary to understand a thing or two. One, when it strikes a distinction between religious aspects of a religious institutions and secular aspects of a secular institution, it is effectively pushing the Hindu Dharmic institution into a Christian setup. Now what is the word in English for samradaya? Religious denomination is the word the Constitution uses for sampradaya. 

Now religious denominations as a word, in the 1950s, could have meant only Christian denominations. So when this word was being interpreted by the Supreme Court in 1954, in a Shiroor matha judgement, which is one of the Asthamatha— please read the judgement because it has huge consequences and that is also presently the subject of the Sabarimala judgement, as well as petitions relating to freeing temples from State control. 

Now assume for a moment that you’re trying to find the meaning of a term that is used in the Quran. Will you refer to the Oxford dictionary to understand its meaning? You will not. Then why do you use the Oxford dictionary to understand the meaning of the world sampradaya? What is the logic? So in that judgement, which is treated as a landmark judgement, there is not one reference to one Hindu community on what is the meaning of sampradaya. What is the role of the matha? What is the role of mathadhipati in matha?

The question was whether a matha and its followers constitute a religious denomination within the meaning of Article 26 so that they could protect their independence in matters of running their institutions. This was the question the Court was answering. 

During the entire analysis, not one whisper on what is the meaning of the matter. Whether a matha or a sampradaya, as understood in Dharma, is the same as the manner in which a religious denomination is understood in Christianity. No such question has ever been asked. 

Why? Because the Constitution is written in English and therefore you understand the meaning of a word with reference to English dictionary. So understand the connection between Bhasha and thinking and how they influence each other—and what kind of outcomes it could lead to. 

So in that judgement, here’s what the Supreme Court does. It says Mathadhipati is someone who is custodian of a particular institution. But if an executive officer is appointed by the State to supersede the powers of the Mathadhipati, it is taking away his power to run the particular institution. It effectively translates a government takeover of matha which is not permissible. To this extent, the Court was right. 

Now since the judgement was delivered in the context of a matha, and in context of the Hindu religious and charitable trust, and intimate legislation of then Madras presidency which included today’s Karnataka and certain parts of Andhra Pradesh, and the present day Tamil Nadu, the dominant government said since the judgement was delivered in the context of a matha, I can’t take it over but I can take over a temple which is not connected to a matha. 

So the logic of the state government is that it was a matha which was subject to the judgement. Not a temple. And therefore the freedom and independence which is available to a matha is not available to those institutions connected to a matha. 

So today as it stands, the law stands, these legislations strike a distinction between temples which are standalone and temples which are connected to a matha. In the process, some have become second-grade institutions. 

Now ask yourself a simple quesiton: if the issue is of the autonomy of a religious institution, why should the logic be different between a matha and a temple? What is the logic? 

If you believe that the State is a secular entity under the present Constitution, whether it is a matha or a temple which is not connected to a matha, a secular state has no business being inside that particular institution. That logic is uniformly applicable. 

This particular logic has not occurred to the Indian state in the last 60 years. Despite the Shiroor Matha judgement clearly saying that the State does not have the power to take over a religious institution permanently, all it can do is to rectify mismanagement and get out of the particular institution and give it back to the community. 

For the last 60 years, at least since 1959, despite a Supreme Court judgement, State governments have taken the position that the judgement doesn’t apply to standalone temples. Therefore you have executive officers who have been appointed across the board with, or without reasons, in temples across the board in all the southern states, at least in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Telangana. And the situation is not that different in, let’s say, Uttar Pradesh. Uttarakhand has just withdrawn its own control over temples after massive public pressure. But the point I am trying to make is that even the Supreme Court’s verdict has no value when it comes to the rights of the Hindu community. 

So what is the option for a Hindu community if even the word of the highest Constitutional Court of the land has no value in the eyes of the State governments? Let me give a mischievous suggestion. 

How Hindus Could Counter

Make sure that any government appointee in a religious institution, especially in a Hindu institution, is pushed to the limits of compliance. It is to say he must constantly fear questions from the public. It must not be an easy ride for him under any circumstances. Make sure whatever he does is legal. And if he has the slightest of intention of making a departure, he must fear public’s vocal reaction. He must believe it is his punishment posting. 

Unless and until you could make an example out of state appointees in institutions, which are in your vicinity, don’t sit and talk about Tirupati. Tirupati is money-dipped for State coffers for building of flyovers, for building of institutions which have nothing to do with Tirupati. It’s almost if the temple is running the city and certain parts of the State. If that’s the case, you might as well call it Hindu Rashtra. 

If it becomes public property, it is ripe and open to illegal encroachment. When you think of a temple, think of it as an ecosystem. You must immediately then think if temples have lands associated with them. What is the status of land associated with a particular temple? You would find most of them are under illegal occupation and not in many cases by the members of the community. If you raise the bogey, secularism will immediately come in your way. 

Secondly, it should become a mass movement. Then its an incentive for State to look into the particular issue, or there is a disincentive to not pay attention to it. Either you get votes or lose votes—then the State would listen. The only effective way you could stop conversions is if you have the ability to use the resources of your own community, to protect people, to give them livelihoods. The state government is using your money to give benefits to others. I am saying, use your money to protect your people and stop them from leaving the fold. It has become as critical as that. Otherwise, you will struggle to take out a Ratha Yatra in 10 or 15 years time. You will not be able to, Given what’s happening across the country, you will not be in a position to celebrate a festival with the same kind of freedom.

Second, Legal outcomes and the process is definitely slow. The judicial process would move at the same pace. But it is important to invest in it. Or the Court or State would have the excuse to say there was no representation from members of the community. There is no doubting it in India. Everything is slow. So why do you expect the judicial process to be fast? It will move with the same pace but it is important to invest in it because you don’t want a decision to be taken behind your backs or while you’re a mute spectator on the sidelines. 

Because then, the court has the excuse or even at least the state has the excuse to say, why was there no representation from members of the community If they wanted to protect something, which they hold dear. If you believe that something is important, you show it in action by participating in the political process, not by staying on the sidelines. 

Don’t lose heart in a judicial process. There are any number of examples in Indian judicial history where persistence has paid off. And even a negative decision has been reserved at some point of time. You’re not investing in the next 5-10-15 years. You are effectively investing in the next 35-40 years. Because you are racing against the anti-Dharmic investment of at least the last 150 years. At the very least, the last 70 years. So you should be looking at a decades of significant investment. 

Freeing temples from the State control is not a destination. It’s means to another destination. It is the beginning of a journey. There are many other issues. 

Today, Hindu fertility rate is significantly going down. If every Sampradaya was to take the responsibility of say one child for yourself, one for the community and we would take care of that one child. If institutions have the freedom to the resources to take those decisions to a significant extent, you will be in a position to replace yourself. Every civilization has a duty to replace itself. Presently one is fighting the battle with both hands tied to the back. If every matha operates from a position that the community is behind them, if mathas support each other…

According to me, the template for Hindu unity is right in front of you. You don’t have to destroy sampradayic diversity to create the unity. 

In the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, nobody participated as a brahmin, khastriya, Vaisya or any other community. They took part for a Hindu cause. Create a specific goal. You need to break it down and say this is what you’re fighting for. A cause is the face of the movement. Ally the community around the causes, be it cow slaughter or conversion or anything. The key to unlock the solution is to unlock the potential of your own civilizational nerve centres, namely the mandir and the matha. Period. 

I dare say the Hindu community will be in a much better position to negotiate with the State with respect to its interests, protect its interests. You will not surrender your destiny in the hands of any particular organization or certainly not with any political organization. You happily surrender your destiny to your religious sampradaya. It’s a far more reliable organization because their only allegiance is to you and to the sampradaya. 

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