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The case against state control of Hindu temples

  • Published
    6th Jan, 2023

It's high time that we need to provide adequate community representation in the management of their places of worship. Regulation of secular activities associated with religious practice requires more attention.


Why the government control over temples needs to be replaced?

  • States' control over temples has become a more controversial issue due to:
    • Gross mismanagementof financial resources
    • Increasing Corruption
    • Disregarding temple maintenanceleads to the loss and destruction of temple antiquities.
    • Against the principle of Secularism

State interference in religion:

  • The most fundamental criticism against the release of Hindu temples from government control to society is:
    • To whom will the temples be handed over?
    • Will it not perpetuate class hierarchies?
  • Sovereign control of temples is justified on the grounds that Hindu temples were supervised and managed by kings.
  • On the contrary, there are inscriptions, cast in stone that attest that temples were managed wholly and entirely by local communities.

Hindu temples under state shackles:

  • The proponents of state management of temples argue that courts have accorded approval to this practice. Hence, it becomes pertinent to read the Shirur Mutt judgment (1954)of the Supreme Court.
  • Shirur Mutt judgment (1954):
    • The court held that the term “religion” will cover all rituals and practices “integral” to a religion, and took upon itself the responsibility of determining the essential and non-essential practices of a religion.
    • Supreme Court obliterated the Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Act, 1951.

Constitutional Provisions:

Article 25(2) grants power to the State to enact the law on two distinct aspects.

  • Article 25(2)(a)empowers the state to regulate “economic, financial, political or other secular activities which may be associated with religious practice”.
  • Article 25(2)(b)enables the state to enact a law to prohibit the exclusion of ‘classes and sections’ of Hindu society to enter into Hindu temples of a public character and also make laws for social welfare and reform.
  • Thus, the control of secular aspects associated with religion and the power to throw open Hindu temples to all classes and sections of society are distinct.
  • The Constitution does not permitthe state to assume ownership of properties belonging to religious institutions.

The effect of temple control legislation:

  • The state cannot mix with religion: A long line of judicial precedents, post the 42nd Amendment, emphasize that secularism means the state cannot mix with religion.
  • State official involvement is not desired: Nothing justifies a state official dictating to a religious function how worship is to be conducted.
    • The purpose of the legislation, if any must be to involve the community, which has been excluded by the state.

British legacy: When the British government realized that a secular government should take no part in the management of religious institutions, it enacted the Religious Endowments Act (Act XX of 1863) repealing the pre-existing Bengal and Madras Regulations.

    • Interestingly, in handing over the religious institutionsto the society, it created committees in every district to exercise control over temples (the British govt. follows negative secularism, whereas India practices a positive form of secularism)
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