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Friday, June 9, 2023

“Should temples continue to be under government control?”, Judge questions observing the utter neglect of temples

While quashing an FIR against temple activist Rangarajan Narasimhan, the Madras High Court has asked “Should the temples continue to remain under government control?”. The court observed that many temples remain in abject poverty as temple properties have been gobbled up and due to government neglect.

HRCE Executive Officer of Srirangam Ranganatha Swamy temple had lodged complaints against Rangarajan Narasimhan, a resident of Srirangam and a temple activist, for his social media posts alleging that murtis were smuggled out of Srirangam temple. He had also questioned the part of Venu Srinivasan of TVS family, who is the chairman of the board of trustees of the temple in damaging parts of the temple and the moola vigraha.

Venu Srinivasan is a well-known philanthropist whose trust has repaired and maintained temples in TN. Despite this public image he is out on anticipatory bail in an idol theft case. However Rangarajan Narasimhan is a severe critic of Venu Srinivasan and accused him of defiling the Moola vigraha of Srirangam temple.

He has brought out corruption in temple management by HRCE officials as well. As a result the EO of Srirangam temple had filed complaints against him. Based on this, FIRs were registered on Rangarajan for “spreading defamatory allegations” against Srirangam temple management. He was arrested in 2019 based on these complaints. He had petitioned against it in the Madras High Court which had quashed the FIRs saying that an FIR cannot be registered for offences under section 500 of IPC.

While hearing the petition justice GR Swaminathan noted that thousands of temples are neglected by the government which controls them. Observing that the lands endowed on temples for their upkeep have been gobbled up by individuals, murtis of deities have been smuggled to foreign countries and the temple staff are being paid a pittance, the judge questioned whether temples should continue to be under the thumb of the government.

He also observed, “Should not the government professing to be secular treat all religious institutions equally? Are not knowledgeable and committed activists like TR Ramesh justified in arguing that the government should exercise the same degree and level of control over temples as are exercised over churches and mosques?”. Temple activists like TR Ramesh and Rangarajan have been targeted by the TN government for exposing corruption and mismanagement in the HRCE department.

Earlier TR Ramesh’s call to free temples citing the mismanagement of HRCE was termed as fear mongering by DMK ministers. Narasimhan had rightfully stopped Zakir Hussain, a DMK sympathiser and classical dancer, from entering the inner parts of Srirangam temple which are barred for non-Hindus. The temple EO had filed a complaint on him for stopping Hussain from entering the banned parts of the temple. In his complaint he had mentioned that “Narasimhan had a habit of spreading falsehood against the temple administration and the government to create trouble and bring disrepute”.

This is what temple activists who have been trying to recover temple properties and stop corruption and mismanagement in the HRCE department face from the governments. Finally a judge has acknowledged it and brought the temple freedom topic to mainstream.

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