“Shouldn’t Government Treat All Religious Institutions On Par?”: Madras High Court

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The Madras High Court has asked should not the government treat all religious institutions on par and whether temples should continue to remain under its “thumb.” Justice GR Swaminathan of the High Court bench has here noted that Tamil Nadu was a land of temples where the shrines have played a central role in our culture.

“However, their current condition leaves a lot to be desired. Lands endowed for their maintenance have been gobbled up by private interests. Antique idols have been stolen and smuggled overseas. The temple staff are paid a pittance. Thousands of temples are facing utter neglect. Even poojas are not being performed. Much needs to be done to revive their glory,” he said.

The judge made the observation on Thursday while quashing two FIRs filed against the petitioner, activist Rangarajan Narasimhan of Srirangam in Tiruchirappally, who was booked for defamation and promoting enmity between classes for certain social media posts vis-a-vis a temple administration board.

The respondents included industrialist Venu Srinivasan, ex-Chairman, Board of Trustees of Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple, Srirangam and the then Executive Officer of the shrine.

“There is also one fundamental issue concerning the administration of temples. Should they continue to be under the thumb of the government? Should not the government professing to be secular treat all religious institutions on par? Are not knowledgeable and committed activists like T R Ramesh justified in arguing that the government should exercise the same degree and level of control over temples as are exercised over churches and mosques,” the judge asked.

“Such questions and thoughts cross my mind because the petitioner before me is not only a passionate devotee but also an activist. His bonafides are beyond question. But the way he goes about at times can make one feel uncomfortable. He has been training his guns on Venu Srinivasan,” he said.

Srinivasan is a recipient of Padma Bhushan, one of the highest civilian honours and his philanthropic and charitable activities are well known, the judge said, adding the industrialist has spent his time, money and energy for the restoration of a number of temples.

“I feel like telling the petitioner that the level of discourse or debate must always conform to the highest standards of civility. There can be no place for force or violence even in the slightest degree. Of course, I am not here to dish out sermons to the petitioner. I am no Prashant Kishor,” he said in an apparent reference to the political strategist.

“The petitioner has not come to me for consultation. He has come seeking adjudication and I better confine my role to that,” the judge added.

Holding that allowing the prosecution to continue would only be an abuse of legal process, the judge quashed the FIRs against Narasimhan.

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