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Monday, March 27, 2023

TN YouTuber arrested for collecting funds to restore vandalized murtis

In Tamil Nadu, a YouTuber has been arrested for collecting funds to restore murtis vandalized in a HRCE controlled temple. TN HRCE official has filed a complaint against him for not getting permission from the department to collect money. Murtis of sub temples of an HRCE controlled temple were vandalized in 2021 in a series of incidents following which the YouTuber sought funds to restore them. While it is only a case of HRCE flexing its muscles, media reports it as a case of cheating even before any solid evidence is found to prove such charges.

Karthik Gopinath is a Tamil YouTuber who runs a channel Ilaya Bharatham and presents a nationalistic and dharmik perspective of things happening in TN and elsewhere. He has been arrested by the Central Crime Branch reportedly for swindling money collected for the restoration of temple murtis. An HRCE official and Piyush Manush, an Urban Naxal have filed complaints against him for collecting money without the HRCE department’s permission and using it for his personal benefits respectively.

The slew of attacks on a set of sub temples of the famous Madura Kaliamman temple started in the first week of October 2021 and continued till November in four consecutive incidents of vandalism. Devotees were helpless as neither the police nor the HRCE department took any measures to protect the temples. After the second incident of vandalism of terracotta murtis on October 7, 2021, police nabbed a man named Nathan @ Natarajan the next day. He was caught by the pujari of another temple when he tried to vandalize it too.

But he was let off later and police now say that he started vandalizing murtis again. There were 3 more incidents on October 27 and November 8. One of the temples had been only recently renovated at that time. Villagers had pooled in Rs.10 lakh to renovate the temple. Devastated by this news, Karthik Gopinath who visited the temples had assured help and sought donations through his social media accounts. He collected around Rs.33 lakhs through Milaap.

He allegedly received a little more money from individuals in his personal bank account. It is unclear how much he received in his personal account as media reports give a varied figure of Rs 6- 10 lakhs. TNIE reported that in February, he updated the status of the funds collected through a video saying, “We have sent a formal letter to the Commissioner of HR&CE. But since it is a time-consuming process, we have moved the fund through other sources to the Padma Shri famed sculptor V K Munusamy who would build the broken statues”.

Sculptor Munusamy has confirmed the same to TNM and said that some Brahmin organizations had arranged for money and paid him an advance to make new murtis. A press note released by the police said that the Executive Officer of the concerned temples had filed a complaint against Karthik Gopinath accusing him of “raising funds without getting permission from HRCE and using it for his personal purposes”.

As per the details mentioned in the FIR, Karthik sought permission from the temple’s then EO, to restore the murtis “with his own money” in December 2021. TNM reports that he had sent a letter of consent on December 29, 2021. However, the current EO claims that Karthik’s letter was forwarded to the Commissioner, but permission hasn’t been granted to date. The question is why would Karthik tell HRCE that he will spend his own money when in public forums he has laid out details of how the funds are being spent.

Apart from this Karthik has been accused of giving communal color to the vandalism incidents. However in his tweets, videos and even the Milaap description he only mentioned that miscreants had vandalized the murtis. On the other hand, it is the DMK and DK elements inside the police departments that are giving communal color to the issue. When Nathan @ Natarajan was arrested for vandalizing the murtis, police said that he confessed that he did it to steal the yantras placed below the murtis, as he believed keeping them in his house will bring fortune.

But now they say that Nathan is a Telugu Brahmin and the brother of a temple priest and that he vandalized the murtis because he was angry with the gods. Their statements give an impression that all four incidents were the doing of Nathan. Most of the vandalized murtis are of a larger than life size which would make it difficult for a man to smash them singlehandedly. Moreover, there were many social media posts claiming that it was the doing of missionaries who wanted to prevent Hindus from going to the temples. Why target Karthik alone?

It appears that it is more about frightening those who are expressing nationalistic views and criticising the DMK government’s and Dravidar Kazhagam’s anti-Hindu moves. Since DMK came to power many anti-hindu decisions targeting the temple ecosystem have been made beginning with melting temple gold and appointing crash course archakas in the place of hereditary Brahmin archakas. Many temple activists have been continuously voicing their opposition through media and filing PILs to expose corruption in HRCE and to protect the temple ecosystem which appears to have irked the DMK government.

Karthik Gopinath though not a temple activist, dared to touch the issue of HRCE’s negligence of temples and took a step forward to do what HRCE should have done in the first place. The EO has cited Rule 5A of The Collection of Income and Incurring of Expenditure Rules of the HRCE Act, 1959 to term collecting funds for temples as illegal. The rule says, “No person, who is not, in any way, connected with the affairs of the religious institution, shall collect any money, subscription, donation or other property for religious purpose connected with the religious institution.

If it is brought to the notice of the competent authority having jurisdiction and administrative control over the religious institution, that a person or group of persons, indulged in making such collection, such authority shall direct such person or group of persons, to stop making such collection forthwith, and require such person or group of persons to deposit such collection with the religious institution concerned and to render an account of the collection made by such person or group of persons. Any person or group of persons, who fail to comply with the direction of such competent authority will be liable for prosecution under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code.

It should be noted that the rule doesn’t necessarily ban anyone from collecting funds for temples, rather says that directions should be given to deposit that money with the department. Only failing to deposit the money would need criminal proceedings. But earlier the EO himself had “refused to accept it, citing that Gopinath wasn’t supposed to collect it in his own account when the government is the temple’s custodian” when Karthik had written to him offering him the money. A part of TNHRCE department’s policy noote posted by shared by temple activist TR Ramesh says that what Karthik did is not out of ordinary.

To a keen eye it would appear that the DMK government is hell-bent on destroying Hindu Dharma and harassing Karthik appears to be a warning to discourage activists from getting involved in exposing corruption in HRCE and preserving temples abandoned by the department. TN BJP state president K Annamalai and other leaders like H Raja have extended their support to Karthik Gopinath. Annamalai went as far as to tweet “come straight for me instead of targeting innocents”. karthik has bee remanded in judicial custody for 15 days and failed to secure a bail. BJP has assured legal help and is hopeful that the frivolous charges framed against him will fall flat.

However, Hindus should learn from this episode to never collect funds through their personal accounts and ensure that the contributions for dharmik causes come through proper channels to avoid giving an opportunity to the anti-Hindu elements to scuttle our efforts to protect and revive dharma.

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