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Saturday, June 10, 2023

Temple priests suffering in silence, need financial help: Gujarat BJP MLAs

Temple priests in Gujarat, like everywhere else, have been especially hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic as temples have been closed for an extended period due to lockdown.

Now, four BJP MLAs in Gujarat have written to Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, seeking a financial assistance package for temple priests. The letter by Shailesh Mehta of Dabhoi Assembly constituency; Shashikant Pandya of Deesa; Mahesh Raval of Khambhat and Jignesh Sevak of Lunawada states that the lockdown enforced from March onwards meant that several priests who relied on religious rituals to earn a living were left without any source of income.

“Although ration kits were distributed to priests by relief organisations, their livelihood has been hard hit….the condition of temple priests is such that one would not notice it as they are suffering in silence. It is essential that the government reaches out to them with financial assistance, as it has done by announcing Rs 10,000 relief for unorganised vendors or through subsidy loans for small businesses. But the Karamkand priests (those who rely on income from conducting yagnas) as well as Brahmins have not benefited from these packages.”

The letter further urged the CM to announce a package for all temple priests who are in dire straits across Gujarat.

Earlier too, HinduPost has reported the plight of temple priests in AP and Tamil Nadu due to the Covid-19 lockdown, and similar accounts have been heard from across the country. Due to lack of an effective voice, and the impression created by films-media about ‘exploitative’ pujaris, the common man too remains generally apathetic towards Hindu priests, many of whom are Brahmins and thus demonised in the name of social justice by casteist forces.

In July, Maharashtra govt. decided to release Rs. 1.8 crore as ‘salary’ to madrasa teachers at a time when the state was reeling from Covid-19, did not even have money to pay frontline workers and where Hindu priests were committing suicide. And while Hindu priests and the community are not organized enough to demand their rights, Muslim clerics in Maharashtra have been issuing threats to the state to not ‘bother’ them during Ramzan even if they are found breaking lockdown rules.

All governments’ hostile attitude towards Hindu temples and religious activity is also seen in the double standards states have shown by allowing public celebration of minority festivals like Eid while clamping down in a draconian manner on Hindu festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi, Rath Yatra etc., and in the manners in which most economic activities have now been permitted but temples are still restricted despite devotees committing to follow all social distancing norms.

Last month, CJI Bobde had remarked during a hearing over opening of Jain temples in Mumbai for Paryushan festival, “We find it strange that they (Maharashtra government) are willing to allow activities involving economic interests, but if it involves religion, they cite COVID to say they cannot open.”

While minority clerics (maulvis and pastors) are paid a stipend by Government in most states, despite minority religious institutions being controlled by those communities, Hindu priests are left orphaned and large govt-controlled Hindu temples are treated as cash cows for funding secular works – states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, AP tried to impose special levy or dispose off temple assets during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, and their plans were thwarted only after Hindus protested!

Take West Bengal as an example – CM Mamata announced a stipend of Rs 2500 pm (per month) for imams and maulvis soon after coming to power in 2011. Now, facing stiff opposition from BJP in the upcoming state elections, she has made a belated gesture towards poor Hindu priests by offering a stipend of Rs. 1000 (still less than half what is paid to Muslim clerics).

Look at Delhi – last year, before elections, CM Kejriwal increased salaries of imams from Rs 10,000 pm to Rs 18,000 pm, and salary of helpers from Rs 9,000 pm to Rs 16,000 pm in 185 mosques that come under the Delhi Waqf Board (semi-govt. body where govt. officer has to be Muslim). Apart from this, for the first time ever Kejriwal also announced salaries for mosques outside the domain of Delhi Waqf Board – Rs 14,000 pm for imams and Rs 12,000 pm of helpers!

These salaries will sound astronomical to you when you compare to what Tamil Nadu’s HRCE (Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments) pays to temple priests – some priests get a shockingly paltry Rs 19 pm, and most get a three-figure salary per month.

If this doesn’t prove to you that Hindus are treated as second class citizens in Bharat, nothing will. Just because Hindus constitute a numerical majority in Bharat, or because a BJP government is in power at the centre at the moment, does not mean the Republic of India is pro-Hindu: on the contrary, Hindus face severe, institutionalised discrimination, both in law and spirit.

(Featured Image: Representative only, Credit: Partha Paul/Indian Express)

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