Temples in Kerala to be Freed from Sangh-Sponsored Arms Training

Unlicensed arms training inside temples in Kerala conducted by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a vocal proponent on religion-based nationalism, will soon be banned by the newly elected Left Front government in the state. The order was vetted by the Law Department and will be issued this week after a final clearance by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Legally, RSS shakha on the premises of any temple is illegal as per the provisions of Kerala Police Act 2011 which provides for action against those conducting or facilitating self-defence training without valid licence.

This move comes within a week to a prominent minister of the Left Front government in Kerala, Kadakampally Surendran making public on his Facebook page that the Sangh outfit, the RSS was trying to turn temples into "storehouses of arms" in the state. In a Facebook post, the Devaswom Minister said the CPI(M)-led state government had been receiving a large number of complaints in this regard and warned of stern action.

"I have been receiving various complaints on the illegal activities conducted by the organisations, including RSS, in temples under the Devaswom Board. Under these circumstances, it is necessary to allay the apprehensions in society," he said. The minister also alleged that RSS was trying to keep devotees away from the shrines by turning them into "storehouses of arms" and indulging in "arms training". Stating that temples are the centres of rituals and beliefs, Surendran said the government would not allow anybody to turn places of worship into centres of anti-social activities.

The arms training brazenly conducted by the RSS and its affiliates like the Bajrang Dal. Not too long back, in fact in May 2016, a Convenor of the Bajrang Dal was arrested for arms training camp, spreading communal hatred in Ayodhya. The video of this training camp clearly exposes the agenda of these organizations which is to generate targeted hatred, even violence against sections of the Indian population, especially its minorities.

Giving details of the case to the media, the station house officer, Ayodhya police station, Rajeev Singh said: “As per the FIR, some volunteers in the training camp were depicted as Muslim terrorists while others were presented as Hindu youths of Bharti Sena. The investigating officer would approach media houses to obtain the video. We would start the process of identifying people at the event once we receive the video.”

The VHP, whose militant offspring the Bajrang Dal is, has sought to explain away the arms training camp as a "mock drill" which is an "annual affair". What the VHP will have difficulty explain the meaning of skull-caps and false beards at the mock drill.

Bajrang Dal, the fire-breathing youth wing of the VHP had planned similar weapons training camps at other places in UP – Sultanpur, Gorakhpur, Pilibhit, Noida and Fatehpur in the coming day. On May 14, Sabrangindia had carried this report of how hatred was openly being bartered before the polls in Uttar Pradesh. 

Image:  AM Faruqui

In this context the decision of the Left Front government in Kerala is welcome.

The order prepared by the Devaswom Department of the State, targets the RSS that conducts shakhas mostly on temple premises. Devaswom Minister’s office said the order would not name any organisation but will ban weapon training, drill and assembly for non-spiritual purposes on temple premises. Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran had told the media that the government had received complaints from the public against the RSS for storing weapons in temples. He had also claimed that arms training as part of shakhas were keeping people away from temples. "The government will intervene strongly to end this," he had also added.

The order will be applicable for temples under the Travancore Devaswom Board, Cochin Devaswom Board, Malabar Devaswom Board and the Guruvayur Devaswom Board. These boards together have nearly 3,000 shrines under their fold.

The order drafted by Devaswom Board has been issued on the basis of provisions of the Kerala Police Act 73 has been approved by the Law Department. The GO will be issued once the Chief Minister and the cabinet approve it, this week, it has been reported.

The Religious Institution (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1988 prevents political activities on premises of religious institutions. This is also evident in the Kerala Police Act. Based on these two Acts, the law department secretary had said that the weapons and physical training on temple premises can be banned.

The order virtually puts the onus on devaswom  board officials to prevent such illegal activities. The law department has submitted its recommendation to the chief secretary in response to a proposal from devaswom minister Kadakampally Surendran. "Any physical activity, which includes training, exercises or training for self-defence, is not allowed under Section 73 of the Kerala Police Act," law secretary B G Hareendranath said.

This move is likely to worsen the uneasy relationship between two cadre-based organisations, ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is set to worsen further with the state government’s plan to ban shakhas (Sangh’s physical training and learning sessions) in temples across the state.



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