An 80-year-old Brahmin Hindu man living in the temple town of Kumbakonam was recently murdered by a disgruntled squatter to exact revenge for being evicted after a long-drawn legal battle. Although encroaching temple and matha (monastery) properties has become a common phenomenon across the country, it is rampant in TN (Tamil Nadu) with the help of anti-Hindu politicians and the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments (HRCE) board.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that even Hindus have, owing to cultural degradation, resorted to squatting on temple properties nonchalantly without paying dues. This is one such case where the dharmika who tried to do the right thing was robbed of his life. Gopalan was the manager and authroized representative of the properties of Sri Sathya Abhinava Theertha Brindavana, Uttaradi matha, a Madhwa matha, in Nachiyar Kovil, Kumbakonam in the state of Tamil Nadu.
There are many aspects and several conflicting reports in this case which need to be reconciled. However, the fact remains that a poor Brahmin became a victim at the hands of a squatter.
25 year legal battle for ₹ 4/month rent
The matha owns a property on which 14 shops were built and let out for rent back in the 1990s. The rent was a measly amount of ₹ 4/month. But even that wasn’t paid by the tenants regularly. After enjoying the property for many years some are even alleged to have let them out to others for higher amounts of rent. As the tenants refused to pay heed to requests made by the matha authorities (it is unclear whether Gopalan was the manager from the outset) to either pay rent or vacate the property, they had to take the legal route. First, legal notices were issued to the encroachers to which they replied with a notice denying the title of the matha.
Then a civil suit was filed against one Swaminathan for not paying ₹ 4/month rent from 1996 onwards. He was using the property for tailoring business and enjoyed it for more than 15 years. The suit was dismissed in 2004. An appeal was filed the next year itself which was partly allowed in 2007. Against the judgement that partly allowed the matha‘s appeal, the aforementioned Swaminathan and his co-petitioner Ayyappan filed a second appeal in the Madurai bench of Madras High Court in 2009. It was dismissed and the 2007 judgement was upheld. So Gopalan filed an Execution Petition in 2009 and retrieved the property from Swaminathan and Ayyappan.
Meanwhile, many suits were filed by the encroachers to somehow retain the property. Some of them were ruled in favor of the matha against which many second appeals were also filed. These were heard in conjunction with the prayer filed in the Madurai bench of Madras High Court and decreed in favor of Sri Uthiradi matha.
The case details give an understanding of the dispute. The matha had filed Patta, Chitta, adangal, and tax receipts in the name of the matha to prove its ownership of the title. So the miscreants who first claimed that the land is Poramboke (unused government land) and belongs to the Highway department of TN changed their stance to say only the land belongs to matha and that the buildings on it were constructed by them. But they couldn’t produce any documents to prove that they constructed the buildings.
The Madras High Court’s (MHC) Madurai bench ruling reads “as the defendants admitted the tenancy relationship and claim that the rents were collected illegally, they cannot make a plea that the front portion belongs to the highways and is Poramboke”. Based on this observation the MHC bench dismissed all the second appeals and upheld the judgement and decree passed by the lower court that the property rightfully belongs to Sri Uthirathi matha.
There are many encroachers who wanted to win the case by hook or crook. But the name of the murderer, Saravanan, couldn’t be found in the judgements available online. However, it is widely reported that Saravanan, a local BJP functionary, challenged that even if Gopalan went to the courts the judgement will be favorable only to him. “We have been running this shop for 3 generations, my grandfather, father, and then me. Even if you go to the courts the judgement will be in my favor. I cannot pay the rent till this Corona crisis is over,” left-leaning magazine Nakheeran reports.
Before initiating the legal proceedings Gopalan tried to negotiate with the encroachers to settle an amount and vacate the property to which Saravanan appeared to have agreed as per local news reports. Even though other occupants vacated peacefully, Saravanan seems to have created trouble. His appeal also got dismissed and in March the court issued an eviction order to remove Saravanan’s shop from the property.
It is alleged that after the eviction when Gopalan inquired about the settlement, Saravanan said “it was before you went to court. Now you’ve got the judgment in your favor. I won’t pay” as per the reports of Nakheeran magazine. This ensued in a verbal spat during which Saravanan suddenly whipped out a knife and attacked Gopalan.
The incident has come as a shocker to Hindu temple activists as BJP is believed to be empathetic to such problems plaguing Hindu temples. While this may very well be a one-off incident, it shows that across parties, most politicians are the same when it comes to upholding Hindu rights.
More to it than meets the eye?
Even though the police have accused Saravanan of the murder, “the local residents suspect whether he was actually involved, as Saravanan was a student of Gopalan and both knew each other very well” reports the Organiser. Organiser‘s correspondent who talked to the local residents about the incident writes thus, “Saravanan who was in an inebriated condition that night could not have inflicted such deep injuries. They suspect it to be the handiwork of some professional killers”.
Organiser further reports that Gopalan and his son Vasudevan, who is the RSS Mandal secretary, organized a pro-CAA meeting in which BJP leader H.Raja was one of the speakers. They were also involved in keeping a check on illegal sand mining in the Thirumalairajan river that flows in the area and petitioned the district collector to take necessary action against it. Locals stated that Gopalan had also stopped the usage of the Srinivasa temple tank as a sewage outlet.
Vasudevan told Organiser that the former Panchayat President Kuppuswami was also one of the tenants who were evicted. However, he had let out the shop first to Congress and then to Tamil Manila Congress parties, but never paid rent. Kuppuswami had tried to pass a resolution in the Panchayat that the land owned by Uthirathi matha is a poramboke land. He is one among those who filed suits and appealed to the MHC Madurai bench claiming the land to be poramboke. He also picked up a fight with Gopalan, like Saravanan, when the court issued an eviction order.
It is said that Gopalan also filed a case against one Raja Mohammad, an editor in the Tamil and Malayalam cinema industry, when he threatened to severe the heads of a particular community in a meeting held 8 years ago.
Considering the history of Vasudevan and Gopalan’s activism, locals suspect that Saravanan could not have done this alone as he was in an inebriated state to inflict such deep wounds. It is alleged that he was murdered in a lurid manner peculiar to the radical followers of one religion. The Organiser has also reported the account of a family friend who saw Gopalan’s body at the morgue. “Saravanan alone could not have done this. He might have taken the help of some others”, he seems to have said.
Andhanar Munnetra Kazhagam, an organization working towards the welfare of Brahmins, has condemned the murder and demanded that the state government provide protection to Brahmins. Considering that the left-leaning Nakheeran, which supports DMK, has tried to rationalise the murder of Gopalan by projecting him as a landlord harassing tenants for rent during the economically difficult days of Wuhan Virus pandemic, this demand seems justified.
No doubt that the real culprits, if there are more, should be nabbed and justice be done. However, this case highlights how excruciatingly cases related to temple management drag through our judicial system, and how at times even Hindu politicians act in tandem with anti-social elements when it comes to exploiting temple and matha property. Nothing but the degradation of culture can explain such a lackadaisical approach towards divinity.
There is a saying in Tamil which says “Sivan sotthu Kula nasam”. It means the tribe of the one who robs/illegally enjoys the property of Eshwara will be wasted. This doesn’t seem to resonate with materialist Hindus nowadays. Instead, the lives of the ones who try to protect the properties of Eshwara are getting robbed. It is time to introspect on where we went wrong and set the path right for the future.
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