ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Secularisation and the Establishment of Dharmika Parishats in Karnataka

The debate on the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments (Amendment) Act, 2011 foregrounds two aspects - one, the centrality of the legal institution of the state in directing and shaping the process of secularisation in modern societies and the legitimacy and limits of such constraints in modern democracies and two, the assertion of religious beliefs in lawmaking and governance by politically mobilised religious/secular groups.

On 19 April 2012, the Karnataka Forum of Temple Archakas and Agamakaras submitted a memo­randum to the Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda, demanding that there should be no “reservation” in the selection of the archakas (priests) in temples and that the retirement age for the priests should be done away with. They were expressing their displeasure with certain amend­ments in the Karnataka ­Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments (Amendment) Act, 2011 (henceforth ­Endowments Act) that was passed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government last year.1 The discussions on the amendments in Karnataka swing between two extremes that are often regarded as opposites: ­religious fundamentalism and liberal secularism. On the one hand, organisations like the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti that believe in building a Hindu nation were of the opinion that the amendment was introduced “just to ensure that the Hindus lose their interest in temples and in religious places. Thus, it is the utmost bounden duty of every Hindu to oppose this Bill.”2

The secularist organisations like the Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike3 (Forum for Communal Harm­ony) also opposed the amendment but for a different reason: the provisions could pose a problem in dealing with syncretic places and practices that are often regarded as antidotes to communalism. Even so, the two opposed positions converge against the establishment of the dharmika parishat, a quasi-judicial body with powers to administer temples and settle disputes, at the state and district level, initiated through the amendment. What binds these groups against the state, albeit from differing perspectives, is the question of what constitutes the legitimate domain of “religion” and therefore the limits of its authority and that which is non-religious/secular and therefore open for the intervention of the state. In other words, the debate is about how the boundary between ­religion and the state is to be established and managed and counterbalanced with concerns for maintaining the right to practise one’s religion freely without ­coercion and state intervention. What unites the archakas (Hindu) and the secularists (for minorities) is the prote­ction they seek of the laws of the secular state in maintaining their freedoms and identities.

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