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#TheDailyToast: In the name of tolerance and the secular priest

Gayatri Jayaraman
Gayatri JayaramanDec 18, 2015 | 11:38

#TheDailyToast: In the name of tolerance and the secular priest

Sri Haji Narayan Mohammed Joseph Singh has been appointed our new neighbourhood priest by the State Panel for Affairs of a Secular Point-of-view (SPASM). He was required to legally change his name by taking out notifications in newspapers with secular leanings, like the Saamna. It will now be his job to administer to official rites in all local ward mosques, temples, gurudwaras and churches. When sought entry into the Parsi, Mr Panthaki, who also happens to be my landlord, called his wife to the door, and the lovely couple pointed and laughed wordlessly for a few minutes, before slamming the door shut again. I distinctly heard him double bolt it from the inside. It had to come to this.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday, in pronouncing that the Agama Shastras that govern the rituals in temples should be upheld, seems to have made the inexplicable decision that only those who know, should do. This understandably, is absolutely unacceptable in a country in which for years, we have upheld the diktats of those who know absolutely nothing about what they do.

The agama texts, outlined in over 200 samhitas, some passed on orally, are used in Shaivite and Vaishnavite temples, and right to perform them once accrued in a hereditary manner. Then, in 1971, Karunanidhi, who went from once being accused of being a rationalist to being called "Tirupati Ganesha", stepped in and ensured all rights to all performances of anything ever in Tamil Nadu must pass on to his children alone. Kanimozhi is still bearing the brunt of this legislation. Nevertheless, those who were not children of priests became eligible to perform priestly functions at temples.

In 2002, a Tamil Nadu High Court ruling had opened the functions to those of all castes with temples setting up schools of agama instruction. The Supreme Court has now struck down a 2006 ruling that allowed any qualified Hindu to conduct the rituals and reinstituted that the Agama Shastras should be followed as directive principles. It cited Article 16(5) the right to religious autonomy, saying this does not contradict Article 14 of the Constitution, which offers equality of opportunity. It also said that inclusion or exclusion as per the Agama Shastras is not contra-constitutional, not being founded on birth, caste or any constitutionally unacceptable parameters.

This is clearly discriminatory practice for those who are unable to protect the Hindu religion from itself. Because if Hindus were to continue to hold dominion over institutions of Hindu faith, such as temples, or temple funds, then that would clearly be a betrayal of all non-Hindu interests in said faith. Such as not furthering it. Problem is, the Agama Shastras being extremely rare and specialised texts, the only people who actually know what is in the shastras are those who have spent a lifetime studying them, and are therefore not only eligible to be priests, but have a biased view of how non-discriminatory the texts are.

The rest of us, not having read the source texts, must insist in one voice that all this must stop. (That sound you hear is the noise of school trophies clanking together as they are rustled up to be returned)

This is the same thing as obstructing madrasas from teaching Islamic studies. Because if they did, they would produce more mullahs, and that would further the faith. Which the government of Maharashtra or UP or any other state government that has gotten into the madrasa issue has fortunately not done, only introduced mainstream courses alongside to ensure induction into the mainstream job market. Those objecting to Hindu temples inducting as per Hindu studies are very sensible to also object to madarsas inducting as per Islamic studies and the church insisting that their priests have studied the Bible and actually follow what it says.

This is unacceptable, clearly. I mean how many times will the Indian liberal have to be forced to decide which side of the debate he is on, hunh?

In the name of tolerance then, there is only way forward. Those who know nothing about all religion must teach it and govern its ritualistic practice. Richard Dawkins has submitted his application to be chief priest of the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam. Several tweets have been attached.

A new temple of tolerance is being built in Delhi. Due to shortage of qualified staffers, it is currently locked up until a school can be set up for the irrational to train at.

Last updated: December 18, 2015 | 12:25
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