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Monday, June 5, 2023

Tourism allowed but Hindus barred from worshipping deity in reserved forest

Hindus of a community have been denied permission to worship their family deity in a reserved forest citing laws. They have gone to the court to let them worship the deity on special occasions and the court has directed concerned authorities to consider their petition and questioned when tourism is allowed why pilgrimage cannot be.

Hindus of Srivilliputhur in Rajapalayam, Tamil Nadu and elsewhere have filed a PIL in the Madurai bench of Madras HC seeking to grant permission for visiting the reserved forest area of the Western Ghats where their Kula Devata temple is located. Goddess Arulmigu Pemalaiyamman @ Rakkatchi Amman temple is located in the reserved forest area of Rajapalayam where a wildlife sanctuary for the Grizzled Squirrel is also located.

Citing the rules of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (the Act), the forest department had denied permission to visit the temple regularly. But the devotees have been worshipping the deity during the Tamil month of Puratasi that falls in September-October. They seek permission from the forest department and other concerned authorities every year to worship the deity on this special occasion.

In 2011 and 2019 they were denied permission and had to rap the doors of the court to gain access to the temple. In 2019 the devotees had requested to allow a group of 86 Hindus in the Tamil month of Aadi on the occasion of purnima. However the forest department contested it strongly saying that it could affect the wildlife and in any case of mishap there will be demands for compensation from the government.

Hindus made a compromise and requested that they’ll not demand any compensation incase of any mishap and would reduce their numbers to 21. Their counsel argued that as the devotees undertake fasting to worship the deity, it could hurt their sentiments. In the end the court directed the Forest Ranger to give permission and depute an officer to accompany the devotees on pilgrimage.

As there was a nationwide lockdown from March 2020 temples were closed and tourism was banned. However now tourism is allowed and tourists have been visiting the reserved forest. But devotees were again denied permission to worship the deity. In the 2019 ruling, the Madras HC had warned that “Worshippers of the deity shall not claim any right or future claim as to the right of their worship”. Fortunately the Madurai bench seems to have seen the hypocrisy for what it is and said “when permission for granting permit to visit the reserve forest area can be granted for tourism, then the plea for pilgrimage could definitely be considered”.

It is such a sad state of affairs that tourists who pollute the environment are allowed throughout the year while Hindus who revere the forest and every living being in it as the deity itself are made to run from pillar to post to worship the deity on very few occasions.

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