[GHHF] Priests Go On Strike, Some Temples Closed; Devotees disappointed; Salaries for Priests not Fixed even after Supreme Court directive 13 years ago
“If everyone howled at every injustice, every act of barbarism, every act of unkindness, then we would be taking the first step towards a real humanity.” Nelson DeMille
Hindus go to their Temples to have a personal darshan of their beloved Gods and Goddesses, to request the solutions for their troubles and tribulations, to get the blessings for their family members, to conduct various shodashopachara pujas, to enquire about auspicious date and time for personal and professional use, to attend religious and spiritual discourses, to attend a number of other cultural program, and for a host of other reasons. It is for their peace of mind, to reduce the stress and strain, and to feel the vibrations of the Temple; many Hindus go to these sacred places. They expect the priests to play a vital role in fulfilling their responsibilities to conduct various pujas, homas, etc and also to meet the religious and spiritual needs of the people who come to the Temple. The Priest, who are called Pujaris, archakas, bhattacharyas, acharyas etc, are expected to be knowledgeable in the Vedas, Pujas, homas, abhishekas, alankaras, vrathas, various mantras, astrology, panchangas, ithihasas, mythology, etc. They area considered as servants of God and expect them to be purist and upholders of traditions. If the servants do not look good, the masters would look worse. These masters are none other than the government officials and governing departments.
When the society expects the Priests to serve the needs of the Gods needs and the needs of the people who attend the Temples, it is the responsibility of the Temple founders and managers to make sure that their needs are also met. It is the utmost duty of the Hindu community to provide adequate salaries for the maintenance and sustenance of their families.
In India, the liberty and freedom of all Hindus are denied. No other country dare usurp the rights of 80 percent of their citizens. Different state governments have taken over all the Hindu Temples that make huge sums of money and are managing them without any input from Hindu community. With their authority and power, they have been mismanaging the Temple funds, Temple lands, Temple structures, Temple rituals, Temple jewelry, and Temple traditions.
Do these governments take over Christian Churches and Muslim mosques? Can they deny the freedom and liberty of Christians and Muslims to manage their institutions? Can they sell their lands, loot their funds, steal their jewelry, destroy their institutions, allow their lands to be encroached, give their money to the construction of Hindus Temples, and use their money to send Hindus to Tirupati, Rameshwaram, Dwarak, Amarnath, Badrinath etc. The Indian government and state governments dare not do it. No body has to imagine what happens to all these politicians if they do any of these things.
Endowments Departments in different states take as much as 75 percent of Temple funds and use them at their will. No accountability, no transparency and no verification. They have the authority to suppress and subdue Hindus who question their authority. Many politicians who happened to be Hindus have become so selfish they can mortgage their culture and their country for fame, name, power and money. They can deny any thing and get away with it. Even the Courts cannot be effective. Secular government would not enforce any law that would ameliorate the Temples and the salaries for the Priests. It is shame and a disgrace on the human race itself, especially to Hindu community for it’s benign neglect.
Supreme Court and Priest Salaries
Most of the employees, who are classified as secular staff, of the Endowment Department are paid regular salaries. Unfortunately, majority of the priest who are classified as religious staff, are not paid commensurate with their responsibilities. Many of them are paid meager salaries. They are not able to support their families. In some cases the salaries are not even paid on time. It is the duty of the government, Hindus and the society to treat the Priests happy and contented.
The case of salary issue to the priest went all the way to Supreme Court. The Supreme Court had directed the state government in 1997 to pay salaries to temple staff on par with those of the government employees. However even after 13 years of Supreme Court directive State government failed to take appropriate steps develop pay scales and pay the equitable salaries to the priests.
Sri Kamal Kumar Swami
Addressing the regional AP Archaka Samakhya in Warangal October 31, 2010, Sri Kamalkumar Swami, President of Hindu Devalaya Parirakshana Samithi, said that Archakas have been accorded a very prestigious position in the society; however they are living in a desperate and poor conditions due to the meager salaries paid to them. If their salaries are not improved soon, they may have no choice but take the matter to the streets and stage dharanas across the state. He said that went to a number of Temples across the state and observed pitiable conditions the Archakas are facing. Giving as an example he said that a more than a 70 year old priest at Sri Venugopala Swamy Temple of Kondaparthi in Hanumakonda Mandal is doing pujas even though he is no paid regular salary. The Archaka said that how can I not offer Naivedyam to my Lord. As long as I am living and however old I am, I will attend to the needs of the Lord. The state is failing miserably in meeting the needs of the Temples and the priests, especially small and local Temples. Sri Kamalkumar Swami said many Ammavari (Goddesses) Temples in villages are very powerful and attracting more people. He also observed that Temples managed by local people and some of the Ashrams are being run very efficiently.
In AP, there are more than 37,000 temples in the state, employing nearly 70,000 priests. There is a staggering disparity in their salaries. Depending on the annual income of the temple, through “hundi” collections and paid rituals, the priests are paid a consolidated monthly remuneration, ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 4000.
While empathizing with the plight of priests, Endowments Minister of AP, G Venkat Reddy assured that a decision on pay hike would be taken after receiving the report of the Justice Venkatrami Reddy Commission, set up to examine their demands. “We have no objection to hiking salaries if the temples have sufficient revenues,” Reddy said.
Protests and Closure of Temples in AP and Tamil Nadu
The last week of October witnessed a number of demonstrations by the priests as well as Temple employees resulting in a closure of Arjita Seva Ticket Counters and/ or a number of Major Temples. Although Regional AP Archaka Samakhya discussed at length to on a strike, they decided to postpone for two months based on the assurances from the government.
Some of the highlights of the events as reported in newspaprers:
I Andhra Pradesh
1) “There are 19 major temples which make an annual income of more than Rs 10 crore, while 1,130 temples get an income of up to Rs 25 lakh. The pay commission scales are made partially applicable to the priests of these temples, while their counterparts who manage smaller shrines are paid consolidated salaries.
“It is the staff of the small temples who suffer the most. As over 32,000 temples in the state earn less than Rs 2 lakh per year, the “archakas” of these shrines get a paltry sum from the government,” secretary of AP Archaka Samakhya KVSRN Acharyulu told The Tribune.
Though the endowments department had promised to pay a fixed monthly remuneration of Rs 5,000 for priests in rural temples and Rs 6,000 for their urban counterparts, there had been no action so far, he said.”
2) The strike paralysed rituals and services at eight major temples in the state, whose annual revenue is more than Rs2.5 million. At present, the priests are paid a measly sum of Rs400 to Rs500 for their service at several temples. They are demanding salaries as per the recommendations of Pay Revision Commission.
II Tamil Nadu
On Tuesday (October 26), staff in all temples that are under the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment department (HR&CE) went on strike demanding better salaries. As a result, there was no puja at the 36,000 temples in the state. Nor were the deities served food.
Thousands of devotees who came to offer puja and partake of prasad at some of the more famous pilgrimages — Madurai Meenakshi temple, Rameshwaram Ramanathaswamy temple, Kabileshwar temple (Chennai), Srirangam Ranganathaswamy temple, Palani temple and Thirutani temple, had to return home disappointed.
Recommendations to the State Government and All Hindus
1) Salaries of the Priest should be fixed and paid similar to any other employees with all the privileges accorded to regular secular staff in the Endowment Departments.
2) Supreme Court directive should be implemented forthwith. It is a travesty of justice to wait 13 years and still not be able to implement the court decision.
3) Supreme Court should enforce Contempt of Court policy and charge the State authorities with fines, imprisonment or both. If the Supreme Court judgment is not implemented by the state, it should take appropriate punitive action against those governments who fail to enforce it. Supreme Court cannot remain a blind spectator if it has to regain the trust and faith in the justice system.
4) Dakshina is a very sensitive issue to all the priests, devotees and the administration. The priests should not be pestering the pilgrims and should not take advantage of the vulnerable Hindus who visit the Temples.
5) Government should come up with a policy regarding Dakshina where the priests would not be asking the defenseless Hindu pilgrims.
6) All the priests have to make up their mind to accept adequate salaries in par with other employees based on the qualifications.
7) It should be a pleasant experience for all Temple going Hindus who go there to have a peace of mind, to have feast for their eyes to behold the God/ Goddess in the Temples, to seek the blessings of the presiding deity, and to have concentrated mind with no distractions.
8) With dwindling number of priests in the Temples and in the villages, non-Brahmins must be encouraged to go the Veda Pattasalas to get the training in Priesthood.
9) The government, the Priests and all the Hindus should work together to preserve, promote and protect Hindu religion; should have a global vision; should understand the true meaning of Vasudhaika kutumbam; should stop creating boundaries among Hindus based on caste; should treat others with respect and deference; and should abide by the essence of all the scriptures regarding the conduct as the definition of a Caste rather than a birth of an individual.
10) All Hindus should realize that Abrahamic religions are taking advantage of the caste system and converting some of the frustrated Hindus who were insulted at different levels; and should realize that these other religions may increase their numbers in such a way they could impose their faith on Hindus to their dismay.
11) All the Hindus should work together to repeal the Endowment Act from all the States to make sure the Hindus would have the opportunity to mange their Temples the way other religions are able to do.
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