A version of this appeared in DNA on Jun 15th at:

http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_parlous-state-of-temples_1396426

and here’s the pdf for the full page:

http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/15062010/14main%20edition-pg12-0.pdf

The parlous state of Hindu temples in India

Rajeev Srinivasan believes government has no business running temples into the ground

There was shocking news recently about the collapse of the raja-gopuram of the Sri Kalahasti temple near Tirupati. This is no ordinary temple – it hosts one of the five important Saivite jyotir-lingas, each associated with one of the elements (earth, wind, fire, air and ether). The gopuram was built by Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagar in 1516 CE, although the shrine itself is a millennium or two older. Most nations would treat such ancient monuments as a treasured part of its cultural heritage, but not India.

The 150-foot tower, a typical Southern-style vimana with intricate carvings, was damaged by lightning some years ago, yet absolutely nothing was done by the authorities. After the collapse, to add insult to injury, a report by a commission said the tower had “outlived its life”. Would this same logic apply to, say, the Taj Mahal – has that outlived its life? It is the business of the State to maintain its cultural heritage and artifacts. There are reports of similar damage to other temple towers, eg. at Srirangapatna near Mysore.

Then there was the news that the Kerala High Court lambasted the Travancore Devaswom Board for being corrupt and inefficient. The Court observed that Hindu temples are struggling“orphanages”, poorly maintained and falling apart; Hindus are orphans.

Furthermore, a Cochin Devaswom Board official got drunk and vomited within the temple precincts at the Siva temple at Vaikom, necessitating elaborate purification ceremonies. This is also no ordinary temple – a major Saivite shrine, it is also historically important. It was the Vaikom Satyagraha in 1924 that led the way to the dramatic Temple Entry Proclamation in Travancore in 1936. And the official’s ‘punishment’? He was promoted to Vigilance Officer!

All these events point to an abomination in the allegedly secular Indian State – there is no separation of Church (meaning religion) and State, as is the norm in modern nations. The State must be indifferent to religion, and it should not allow religious sentiments to color its actions — the true definition of the term ‘secularism’.

A Devaswom Board is an oxymoron. There should be no involvement of the State in religion, which should be left to individuals and religious groups. In fact, that is so with non-Hindu religions in India – they can run their own affairs with no interference from the government, except for largesse – such as Haj subsidies for Muslims, and Andhra’s own subsidies for Christians to travel to Palestine/Israel on pilgrimage.

On the other hand, Hindu temples are under the control of an interfering State, with disastrous results: they are being destroyed systematically by the rapine and pillage of the malign State. On the one hand, temple offerings are expropriated by the State; yet, the State does not even perform basic maintenance. The offerings, amounting to crores, from large shrines such as Tirupati or Sabarimala, are simply treated as general government revenue, and are not recycled to small, poor temples.

Traditionally, temples were the centers of the community, running cultural events, acting as a focal point for efforts such as water conservation, drought relief, famine avoidance, and so forth. This is in the racial memory of Hindus – and so we contribute whatever we can afford to the temple. The State has found it convenient to appropriate these funds. The pittance that a poor believer donates is grabbed and diverted by the Government!

The malice is obvious in Kerala where the State controls most of the temples through the Devaswom Boards, which, it is said, are infiltrated by atheists and anti-Hindus. It can be seen in the difference between Board temples and others. The latter, private temples belonging often a joint family, are thriving, while the Board-controlled temples are impoverished, falling apart, and finding their lands stolen.

I found this to my chagrin at my own family’s centuries-old temple, which we had handed over to the Travancore Devaswom Board about a hundred years ago. On my previous visit, about five years ago, the temple, while old, was thriving. Today, it is on the verge of being abandoned, thanks to indifference and possibly even malice on the part of the Board: an alleged renovation has been totally botched.

This is, amazingly, a continuation of a colonial-era crime – a British Resident named Munro, a missionary bigot, forced the Maharani of Travancore circa 1819 CE to commingle temple lands with government lands, with the result that a lot of those lands, essential to the income and running of temples, were alienated. Consequently, the 10,000+ temples in Travancore then have now been reduced to a mere 2,000.

Governments have no business interfering in religion. It is a crime against the people of India for the government to ruin these cultural treasures, a common heritage of this nation.

815 words, June 12, 2010

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Who is killing Indians in Australia? An open letter to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

Rajeev Srinivasan on enough weasel-wording, some action needed now

Dear Prime Minister Rudd,

Allegations about systematic racist attacks on Indians in Australia have echoed in India for some time. But the gruesome murder of a 3-year old Indian boy is a game-changer. Gurshan Singh Channa, whose mother is a student, was abducted from his parents’ residence, murdered and dumped about 20 miles away. This goes beyond what civilized people can tolerate.

The incident is reminiscent of the infamous kidnapping and murder of the small son of Charles Lindbergh, American aviation hero of the 1930s. The murderer was sent to the electric chair. Indians have the right to expect nothing less than the arrest and conviction of the murderer of young Gurshan. The Australian government must act with the full force of its forensic powers to track down the killer(s) immediately. When an Australian named Graham Staines was killed in India some years ago, the Indian government worked overtime to solve the case; diligence on your part would be simple courtesy.

I understand that an India taxi-driver has been named the suspect in the case, but even if he is proved to be the murderer, what about all the other cases where your police have admitted they have no clue?

The ongoing attacks on Indian students in Australia, which has led so far to several deaths, have been downplayed by your government. The standard line has been that attacks on Indians are random acts of violence by anti-social elements. Occasionally, the Indians were also blamed for putting themselves in danger; some official even told the students to conceal their iPods and cellphones, suggesting that the motive was simple robbery, and implying that it was their own fault for flaunting their stuff.

Blaming the victim is, shall we say, unusual? There have been cases in Australia where defendants in rapes suggested that the women brought it upon themselves by wearing skimpy clothing. I don’t remember this line of thinking being considered acceptable by the courts.

The obvious question: how come nobody is robbing Chinese students, or African students, or Arab students, all of whom are visibly different from native (white) Australians, and who should, by the same logic, be equally subjected to harassment, beatings, murders?

Nobody has an answer, so the next logical hypothesis is that there exists a group of people with particular animosity towards Indians: that is to say, these are racist hate crimes. But nobody in Australia has had the guts to admit it; however, now with the brutalization of a small child, there is no more room for beating about the bush – someone is targeting Indians in Australia, and it is the moral and legal duty of the federal government to find out who it is and to stop them.

It is interesting to compare the general Indian experience in the US, which I am personally familiar with, to the Indian experience in Australia, which I have heard about from Indian students. In the US, barring some discrimination and an occasional casual epithet thrown one’s way, there has practically been no sustained violence against Indians since the 1960’s (if you forget certain incidents early in the last century when anti-Asian and anti-brown laws were in force).

In the past year or two, there was a disturbing series of murders of students from the state of Andhra Pradesh, which led some to speculate that there were contracts being put out back home, but nothing was proven. But it must be acknowledged that there were three singular, barbaric acts in the US in the last thirty years: Navroze Mody was beaten to death with baseball bats by teenagers in Hoboken, New Jersey; Charanjit Singh Aujla was shot to death by plain-clothes policemen in his own liquor store in Jackson, Mississippi; and Khem Singh, a 72-year-old Sikh priest, was starved to death in a prison in Fresno, California. Otherwise, Indians have felt welcome in the US, on average.

The experiences of Indians in Australia, according to long-term residents, have been good. Many say they have felt little overt discrimination or racism. A large number of Anglo-Indians, of mixed Indian and white ancestry, emigrated to Australia around the time the British left India – and because of the shared colonial experience, I assume there was a certain wry recognition of the damage the British did to both countries: a Gallipoli in one case, a Jallianwallah Bagh in the other.

Speaking from the Indian side, there is a appreciation for the well-marketed Australian image (exemplified in the US by ‘Crocodile’ Dundee and in India by witty Foster’s ads) of the place being full of blokes having a rollicking good time. Then there is, of course, cricket. Although I am personally indifferent to the game, many rabid Indian fans are great admirers of the Australian team, generally considered the best in the world in recent years.

Thus, Indians start off with residual goodwill towards Australia, although, sad to say, this has not been reciprocated at the official level. Australia has in the past acted as the ‘enforcer’ in nuclear-related matters, and your government has been forcefully arm-twisting India regarding the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (alas, that would be suicidal with bellicose nuclear powers China and Pakistan next door). Besides, you appear to have made a conscious decision to put all your Asia eggs in the China basket. Official relations with India have been chillier than they need to be.

On the face of it, still, it is baffling to Indians that students – who are spending billions in tuition fees – are being murdered by Australians. It simply doesn’t seem in keeping with the Australian character that has been marketed to us; or for that matter, with the Australians I have personally encountered – they seem too easy-going to plan mass-murder. Of course, appearances being deceptive, I am aware that the treatment of, say, Aborigines, wasn’t exactly pretty. I too have seen “The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith”, and incidentally I have enjoyed “Breaker Morant” and “Picnic at Hanging Rock”.

There is an emerging hypothesis in India that it is not hate-filled whites behind the attacks on Indians; rather that it is immigrants of certain ethnicities who may have a grudge against Indians or are picking on them because of the known tendency of Indians to be pacifist. I understand there are many ethnic gangs in your country, and that there are no-go areas where law-enforcement fears to tread. Well, that’s really no way to run a country. I submit that you simply have to do something about it.

Both from an ethical angle and from a trade angle, booming India (growing at 8% this year) is too big a market for Australia to lose. At the very least, you need a second buyer of your raw materials lest China gain too much buyer power and dictate terms, glimmerings of which we saw with the Rio Tinto affair.

No, Mr. Prime Minister, as America declines, and Asia rises, it would be strategically unwise to alienate one of your potential allies. India will be growing faster than China in a few years’ time as the demographic dividend kicks in. And India would be happy to have Australia as a supplier for various strategic goods. It would be a shame if all this is thrown away because you cannot offer Indians physical protection from a bunch of violent thugs. You need to, as Indians are surely an industrious and inoffensive ethnic group in your melting-pot.

Sincerely,

Rajeev Srinivasan, a concerned Indian

In defence of Satyam

January 3, 2009

Oops, I was a little slow in posting this, and Rediff put it up on their Business pages rather sooner than I expected.

http://www.rediff.com/money/2009/jan/02guest-in-defence-of-satyam.htm

I generally find hypocrisy quite entertaining. When everybody is dumping on poor Satyam — ignoring the business about “let he who hath not sinned cast the first stone” — I do believe it is only fair to provide an alternative perspective.

This column is at http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/nov/13rajeev.htm

There is no point in my reposting it here (unless rediff had edited something out, which they don’t seem to have done.)

I have been intrigued by some of the comments on both parts of this column. Let me say that I was merely celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the southern states. I wasn’t looking to put northern India down: if I were, I’d come straight out and say it, I wouldn’t beat about the bush and be coy. No, I was just observing that the southern states have managed to blunder along and now seem to have a teeny-weeny advantage in a globalized world.

As for language, I have mellowed a bit in my old age, but I have been quite um… shall we say, forceful, in the past on this topic. You can find four previous columns of mine here, and no, I am not going to rehash those arguments. You can believe whatever you want, and that’s fine with me, I am not trying to ‘convert’ anybody:

http://www.rediff.com/news/2000/sep/13rajeev.htm

http://www.rediff.com/news/2000/oct/05rajeev.htm

A small point of fact: there are nineteen or so national languages in India, every one that is printed on a rupee note. They are *all* defined as national languages in the Constitution.

Two languages get a special mention, as ‘official languages’. These are English and Hindi.

Anybody who is not convinced about the economic might of India should really read the voluminous tables in Angus Maddison’s book, which is available for free download on the Web.

Anyone who isn’t convinced of India’s tremendous contributions to intellectual property development should read an old column of mine and follow up on the links:

http://www.rediff.com/news/2004/aug/16rajeev.htm

The South, ascendant

November 2, 2006

The South, ascendant

http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/nov/08rajeev.htm  

Rajeev Srinivasan on the rise of Southern India

I recently landed in Trivandrum, in the midst of a light rain-shower: the northeast monsoon is active in Kerala. The plane described a wide circle out to sea and then made its descent and I was reminded once again that Trivandrum is, just as San Francisco is, a dramatically beautiful airport to land in, as you make your final approach over the water. The knife-edge-straight beach stretches as far as you can see, with just a cove here where fishing-boats shelter, and a breach there where a stream’s delta fans out.

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