Ashish C has written an essay on OpIndia laying out the economic benefits of the monetisation of Temple Gold. I see this decision as being wrong in two areas- dharmic and political-economic.
The temple has been and continues to remain first and foremost a place of worship for devout Hindus. With development of civilisation, temples played a pivotal role in the development of Hindu society. Given the close connection between music and bhakti, traditional classical culture of dance and music flourished and found patronage in the temples. They provided a home for devotion, spirituality and knowledge.
Temples were typically either built and run by the Kings or the locals and the temple management was such that a temple was not merely a place of worship but had its own economic model which built and sustained our traditions and were guardians of the wealth deposited as part of the offerings by the devotees.
Thus, the gold that has been offered by devotees for hundreds of years at any temple is a Daana that is truly symbolic of his bhakti and cannot be touched or rather should not be touched. The custodians of the temple are also in a way, custodians of that bhakti. It is morally wrong to alter or take it away. This is the Dharmic reason of why I oppose the Gold Monetisation scheme being applied to Temple Gold.
Temple Gold is not an avenue for achieving better financial yields. Just as Ayodhya holds a sacred place in the hearts and minds of devout Hindus Temple Gold too, is sacred, however large be its financial value. It should not be touched.
A devout Hindu who follows his traditions and celebrates various festivals or takes a pilgrimage to the various peethas and kumbhas generates huge amount of revenue for various agencies and companies involved in his joyous celebration. Even on the internet, the devout Hindu generates a booming business for online services being offered by various temples and priests.
Thus, a practicing Hindu is contributing to the economy and directly or indirectly increasing the revenue for the government. If we were to make comparisons of contributions to the economy based on religious spending, clearly Hindus would emerge on top.
Today, most of the cash rich temple trusts are directly under the government control. These have been brought under government control by deceit under the pretext of alleged mismanagement of funds by the trustees or the priests of the Temple.
Ashish in his essay rightly points out that wrestling temple control from government is an important priority but he is wrong in saying that it is a separate fight and should not be aligned with gold monetisation schemes. He says this mixing of the issues of who controls the temples and how to get better yield from temple assets irrespective of the control is plain fear-mongering. This is a very naïve statement and overlooks numerous past antecedents of the successive governments.
The very fact that the temples are being controlled by the government under false pretexts for many cases actually proves that over time, Temple Gold too could be appropriated by vested interests. The temples prior to being taken over were the centers of spiritual, cultural and economic growth for Hindus. They had goshalas, Vedic schools and were platforms for the nourishment and flourish of dance, music and critical thought.
Temples held festivals to nurture and help the surrounding ecology and environment. Today, all these activities have vanished after coming under government control. The vast temple lands that were provided to generations of families for agricultural purposes have been turned into commercial lands that are rent out or sold at extremely poor rates. In some cases, land has been usurped by other religious communities by deceit.
A community-based place of worship for any religion is its center of rejuvenation and growth of the community. For the Hindus “A temple in spirit wasn’t just a place for people to worship and return home: it was simultaneously the centre of education, the hub of the community and the city, the home of the performing and literary arts, and the platform for free and fair social and political discussions and debates.
Successive governments have taken away this fundamental right of the Hindus. Our traditional source for intellectual nourishment and dharmic growth has been taken away by the governmental control of Temples. This loss has not happened in one day but has been systematically done over the past several decades.
To believe that successive governments will return the money on the request of the Temple trust, also owned by the government, is short sightedness and being greedy for immediate returns at higher interest rates. Here is an example of how the government has entangled the temple trusts with laws which keep them away from funding for charitable causes.
Officials said the Prabhadevi shrine’s average annual cash collection came in at Rs 51.53 crore while it spent an average of Rs 6.75 crore every year from 2009 to 2012 on charity. The bulk of its funds are deposited with banks. The trusts say they are willing to spend more on charity but cite various restrictions on charity spending by the state government as hampering them. “The Income Tax law stipulates that 85% of the funds with a charitable trust should be spent on welfare work. However, the state government has imposed a restriction of 15% spending on us. We have adequate funds and the will to help needy persons and organizations but such restrictions are a big hurdle,” said NCP leader Subhash Mayekar who heads the Siddhivinayak trust.
This story is from 2013 when both the Central and the Maharashtra state government were under the Congress. If they really wanted to utilise the funds for good couldn’t they change the laws?
We can easily foresee that the current monetization scheme will supposedly give us higher financial yield which the Government laws will not allow the Hindus to use for the betterment of their community. So essentially Hindus will keep funding the government for its socialist schemes which will be used to build 100s more Jamia Milias and St. Xaviers, etc while the Hindus will never be able to even dream of say, a Swami Vivekananda or a Aurobindo College from their own temple funds.
Many op-eds have been published in the past few weeks favouring an opinion that Gold Monetisation Scheme will be good for Temple Funds. Slowly, an environment is being created that will push temple managements to take a decision to invest in the scheme while those who are against such a decision will be called out for supposed fear-mongering without data. Unlike the intolerance debate that has raged in the country in past few months, we don’t have an exact data point for this debate but I think there are enough instances in history to believe it will not end well.
Since the Mughal rule, systematic destruction and erosion of Hindu Temples and culture has been taking place. Savage destruction of Hindu Temples in many parts of Northern India is one of the main reasons why Indian classical music and dance has almost died in those parts of the country. Very few authentic knowledgeable schools of classical music and dance exist in North India.
With the death of the temple ecosystem the knowledge and culture has been dying a slow death in past two centuries. From the 18th century onwards the British systematically took over the Temples under the pretext of managing temple funds to avoid pilferage and have eventually killed the Temple culture completely. In today’s context many scenarios can come into existence that will ensure that the Gold put in the schemes will not be returned to the rightful owners—the Temple and thereby its devotees.
To believe that unlike Temple lands where ownership is 1000s of years old and hence ambiguous while Temple Gold ownership is clearly of the Temple and the government is law bound to return it is a naïve belief with little understanding of how the liberal and Leftist cabal works to disenfranchise Hindus of their ownership rights.
By asking Temple trusts, voluntary or otherwise to invest in Gold monetisation schemes you are essentially inviting the thief into your house. Past actions do not give much faith into how much of the money will be returned and if it will be ever returned.
Recently, atheist leader U Kalanathan argued in context with the Padmanabhaswamy temple gold that because the property was stored in the temple cellars by the erstwhile kings, it cannot be claimed as Hindu property. Would any leader, atheist or otherwise dare to question the ownership of any piece of tangible property discovered on Church or Mosque land?
When those who are in favour of the Gold Monetisation Scheme for Temple Gold claim that fear mongering is baseless, the point they miss is that there exist multiple possible scenarios to appropriate the gold and funds.
A typical modus operandi that can be envisioned: once the gold is with the government, there will be a slow movement questioning of the assignment of property rights. Does the gold belong to the temple or to the public who have given it to the temple for custody and safekeeping with the objective of social welfare? “It belongs to the people” is such a socially appealing popular argument and will change the entire property rights discourse.
Then liberal analysts will start building the narrative on who is best placed to execute that intended social welfare programme. Is it the government with infinite resources and well oiled execution machinery or the temples with scarce resources and limited reach etc? These narratives will run their own course for a period of time.
After that period of time, that narrative will gain prominence in the Overton window and the middle mass will gravitate to that. Then finally, it will culminate in government taking over the wealth of the temples for broader public welfare. And at that point it won’t be seen as confiscation at all. People would only see it as an act of social justice.
There are many Temple trusts where the government-appointed person is a Muslim or Christian. How long would it be before the religious fanaticism of this person pushes him/her to take decisions that are not in favor of the Temple trusts and the Hindu community. IndiaFacts has published the case of a Madras HC judge who has always favoured Christian evangelists in cases of Temple trust lands owned by the government.
Temple fund control has kept the Hindus away from promoting their values and their culture unlike other religions. The direct consequence of it is the shame most Hindus feel about their own culture and traditions.
In the last few days, mainstream media has been reporting the temple gold issue with language like “hoarding of gold,” “stash,” “gold rich temples,” and so on. Temples are not hoarders and are neither rich because of money nor are they a drug hold place to call it stash. By agreeing to give-in to this pressure, Hindus have again meekly accepted the negative tags that are applied to them.
The financial power and space conceded by adopting this scheme will be difficult to gain back. As Chanakya says, one whose knowledge is confined to books and whose wealth is in the possession of others, can use neither his knowledge nor wealth when the need for them arises.
Monetizing Temple gold might seem a brilliant idea for the immediate future but in the long term, it will prove deadly for Sanatana Dharma. The current government should think of 200+ years and not provide even a tiny sliver that any future government could use against Hindus without first removing temples from government control.
As an end note: I would request the reader to conduct a thought experiment. Why not ask the government to develop a scheme with above-the-market-rate returns for use/lease of religious lands held by any religious group?
Given the failure of passing LAB in the last Lok Sabha session use of such land will be beneficial to all Indians and people of every religious denomination will be proud to have contributed to the betterment of the Indian society. Do you think the idea will gain acceptance? As a conscientious citizen, do you think you will be able pressurise other religious boards to enter into such agreements?
(This piece is based on many writings of Sandeep Balakrishna and presentations on Temple Economics by Sandeep Singh and T R Ramesh. A special thanks to @gajamani for allowing me to use some points from a private email conversation)
The author is an academic, specialist in Civil Engineering, and entrepreneur and classical music aficionado.