Appoint priests from all castes, follow Ambedkar

Monopolistic and exclusivist reservation of the posts of priests (archakas) and assignments for collateral duties in temples for members of the upper castes is unlawfuland violates all cannons of equity and justice. It is also unconstitutional, being blatantly contrary to Article 14 (equality before law), Article 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) and Article 16 (equality of opportunities in matters of public employment).

The status of a caste among Hindus is generally proportionate to the physical contiguity of its members to idols (murti) in temples. Persons religiously entitled and scripturally eligible to conduct devotional and sacramental rites, and theological ceremonies in the sanctum sanctorum (garbhagriha)—for instance, people from the Agnihotri, Tantri, Vajpayee, Namboothiriclans—are at the top of the pecking order of Hindu castes.They are the priests.  Those engaged in miscellaneous and auxiliary temple duties like preparing items for worship (pooja) and the deity’s ceremonial food (prasad) occupy the next grade. The security providers stand next in the line.  Unfortunately, in temples administered by governments, this illegal, unethical, unjust and anachronistic system that violates two basic foundational ideals of the Constitution—equality and fraternity—are prevalent throughout India

Nearly 2000 temples in Kerala are administered by semi-governmental bodies—Devaswam Boards—constituted under the Travancore Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950.  It must be remembered that the administrative bureaucracy of these bodies are appointed by the state government, and therefore  have to adhere to the Constitution, especially the principals enshrined in the Preamble, Part-III (Fundamental Rights) and Article 51(a) on Fundamental Duties.
Article 13 of the Constitution has declared that all laws which are inconsistent with the provisions of the Fundamental Rights be declared void;such laws include ordinance, order, bylaw, rule, regulation, notification, as well as any custom and usage in force in India. Recently, information about rules and regulations governing the appointment of chief and junior priests in temples under the administrative control of Travancore Devaswam Board was obtained through the RTI Act, 2005 by the author of this article. The data indicated that the posts of priests are exclusively reserved for Malayalee Brahmins. The post of the chief priest of Sabarimala temple is exclusively reserved for a Brahmin family from Chengannoor.  No foolproof, transparent or systematic selection procedure is reportedly followed for the selection of priests in temples. The same for promotions and other professional aspects of the cadre of priests performing poojas.
Similar unjust and illegal procedures and practices are followed throughout India in practically all temples and shrines governed by state and central governments or trusts constituted by them. To name a few:Somnath Shiva, Dakor Krishna, Ambaji Devi, and Shymlaji Krishna temples in Gujarat; Kamakhya temple in Assam; NathDwaratemple in Rajasthan; Vaishnav Devi temple in Jammu and Kashmir; Kali/Durgatemples in West Bengal; Jagannathtemple in Puri, Orissa; Meenaxi Devi temple in Tamil Nadu; TirupatiBalajitemple in Andhra Pradesh, Siddhi Vinayakatemple in Mumbai.
This discriminatory system also goes against specific stipulations in the core scriptures of the Rigveda, the Upanishads, and the Bhagvad Gita. 
A few relevant extracts from the holy texts are:
“May you move together, speak together in one voice.  Let your minds be of one accord; and like the ancient sages, may you enjoy assigned share of fortune”.
“May our counsel or the public prayers be common, and common be our assembly.  May our minds move in accord; May our thinking be in harmony, – common the purpose, and common the desire.    May our prayers and worship be alike, and may our devotional offerings be one and the same.
“May your resolves be one; May your hearts feel alike; May your thinking be one; and thus may all of you live happily with thorough union.” (Rigveda, Mandala, 10, Sukta, 191(2 to 4)
“Men of self-knowledge are same-sighted on a Brahmana, imbued with learning and humility, a cow, an elephant, a dog and an outcaste”. (Bhagvad Gita, Adyaya -5, Sloka 18)
“He, who sees Me (universal soul/God) everywhere and sees all in Me, He never becomes lost to me, nor do I become lost to him” (Bhagvad Gita, Adyaya -6, Sloka 30)

 The metaphysical definition of a Brahmin does not validate the present system of fixing a person’s caste according to his parent’s caste.  The popular definition of Brahmin in scriptures is:
 “JanmanaJayate Shudra,
           Veda padhethiBhavetvipraha,
                        Brahma gnanamiBrahmanaha”
“At the time of birth, everybody is Shudra (a person kept away from knowledge according to the the Sanskrit etymologistYaskan);  by acquiring education/culture, he becomes twice born; by mastering Veda (means any set of knowledge), one becomes vipra(a man of specialized knowledgeVisheshapragna) and by acquiring knowledge of Brahma (brahmagnanam—spiritual awareness), one becomes a Brahmin”

The superiority of an individual solely based on his birth (the basis for jati or caste) is unscientific, illogical and unreasonable.  The Sanskrit etymology of the word ‘jati’ is in ‘janmanajati’ that is, caste is based on birth. Since 300 CE (Common Era), the caste system has blocked socioeconomic, educational and cultural mobility in Indian society, thus keeping India backward in most fields.
One way to bring about change as envisaged by Ambedkar would be for the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to introduce suitable legislation for the constitution of a state-wise temple service cadre (for instance, a Gujarat State Temple Service, a Kerala State Temple Service, a Central Temple Service) on the pattern of existing state and all-India services.  Those currently serving as priests could suitably be absorbed in the proposed service structure.
Allowing all qualified Hindus to enter the priestly order in temples will be in line with the direction in the Rigveda which recommends sticking to the path of justice. The Vedic Sukta exhorts, “Oh men! Just as the sun and the moon move on the prescribed path with regularity, similarly men also should go on the path of justice”. (Rigveda, Mandala-5, Sukta-51-Sloka-15).The Bhagvad Gita (Adyaya -16, Sloka-24) says, “Let the Shastras (laws) be your authority in deciding what you should do and what you should desist from doing.  Having understood what is ordained by the laws, you should act accordingly.”
Ambedkar had spoken against exactly the sort of inequality that is prevalent in the country’s temples in his concluding speech in the Constituent Assembly after the adoption of the Constitution on November 25, 1949. He said, “Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it, social democracy, that is, a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as principles of life.  They form a union or trinity.  Without equality, liberty would produce supremacy of the few over the many.  Equality without liberty would kill individual initiative.  Without fraternity, liberty and equality could not become a natural course of things…
The Sanskrit etymology of the word ‘Jati’ is “JanmanaJati”, that is, caste is based on birth only.  This social construction is devoid of any appraisal of physical, psychological, emotional, mental, intellectual and spiritual dimensions of an individual personality.

“We have a society based on the principle of graded inequality, means elevation of some and degradation of others.  We are entering into a life of contradictions.   We have political equality; but in social and economic life, we will have inequality.  In politics, we follow one man, one vote and one vote one value.  In society and economics, we deny principle of one man, one value…
“Those who suffer from inequality, will blow up the structure of democracy…Fraternity envisages a common brotherhood of all Indians—being one people—giving unity and solidarity to social life.  (Casteism is) anti-national, (castes) bring about separation in life, generate jealousy and antipathy between caste and caste.  Without fraternity, equality and liberty will be no deeper than coats of paint…
“Many in India are beasts of burden, but also beasts of prey.  The downtrodden classes are tired of being governed.  People are tired of government by the people.  They are prepared to have government for the people and are indifferent whether it is government of the people and by the people.  If we wish to preserve the Constitution in which we have sought to enshrine the principles of government of the people, for the people and by the people, let us resolve not to be tardy in the recognition of evils that lie across our path and which induce people to prefer government for the people, to government by the people, nor to be weak in our initiative to remove them.  That is the only way to serve the country, I know of no better.”
It would be more productive to pursue this line of thinking rather than retrogressive and counterproductive programmes like ‘GharVapasi’ ( reconversion of Christians and Muslims)  and the controls being exercised on food preferences of citizens by  banning the consumption of beef. These are a distraction from the effort to remedy discriminative practices in the social, religious and cultural lives of Hindus. 
By absorbing the ideas of Ambedkarin public life, the country’s elite can liberate itself, as envisaged in the Vedic prayer, “Oh Lord! We have fallen in a dark cave.  In this severe darkness, many demons are harassing us.  We pray to you to destroy this darkness and bless us with donation of brightness, so that we can be liberated from these enemies”. (Rigveda, Mandala-1, Sukta-86, Sloka-10)
(The author, a retired IPS officer, is a former DGP of Gujarat)





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