Liberating Temples” Goes Against The Social Justice Ethos Of The Dravidian Movement

Calls to ‘liberate’ temples from the state goes against the social justice ethos of the Dravidian movement and the law

The constitutional wall that separates the state from religion has continuously shifted. Recently, in the landmark cases of Shayara Bano (2017) and Indian Young Lawyers Association (2018), which dealt with triple talaq and women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple, respectively, the Supreme Court looked at the balance between religious freedoms and fundamental rights. Through these cases, and others preceding them, the Supreme Court established itself as an arbiter of prickly religious issues.

Nevertheless, in recent times, social conservatives have not stopped demanding that the state stay away from any interference with the ‘temple’. Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court to quash all “State HR & CE [Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments] temple laws as unconstitutional” and BJP National Secretary H. Raja has endorsed the liberation of temples from “the clutches of government.”

The issue portends serious social repercussions in Tamil Nadu. State control and administration of Hindu temples is seen as an integral reform of the century-old Dravidian movement. It was under the Justice Party’s rule that the first set of temple reforms took shape. In 1925, the government constituted the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Board, which was vested with the power to control and supervise the administration of temples and appoint officials for proper administration. Around the same time, Periyar’s Vaikom movement sparked a revolution on temple entry and worship by the backward castes.

In 1970, the M. Karunanidhi-led Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government amended the HR&CE Act to allow appointments of priests. For the first time, this challenged hereditary priesthood. Though this law ran into legal hurdles, it provided the belief to men from all castes that they too could enter the sanctum sanctorum. Ultimately, the 2006 law passed by a subsequent DMK government completed the reform process. The first backward caste priest was appointed by the Tamil Nadu government in July 2018.

The support among Hindu conservatives towards “liberating temples” goes against the social justice ethos of the Dravidian movement as well as the law. In N. Adithayan (2002), the Supreme Court held that “the vision of the founding fathers of Constitution to liberate the society from blind and ritualistic adherence to mere traditional superstitious beliefs sans reason or rational basis has found expression in the form of Article 17.” The HR&CE Board only serves to reiterate the constitutional guarantee of equality before law of all citizens. Therefore, it is now up to the Court to reiterate the core constitutional principles and ensure that any right to “propagate and disseminate religious beliefs” can only be subject to “public order, health and morality and other provisions of Part-III”, as held in N. Adithayan.

MCR On Indian Constitutional Reforms And The Montagu Declaration – The Magna Carta Of Modern India.

Marking the 100th year of the Montagu-Chelmsford Report

This month marks the 100th year of the publication of the ‘Report on Indian constitutional reforms’, commonly known as the Montagu-Chelmsford Report (MCR). Edwin Montagu, then Secretary of State for India, had advocated for increased participation of Indians in the British Indian administration and had begun consultations nearly a year earlier. After many meetings with Indian representatives, Montagu and the then Governor-General, Lord Chelmsford, published the MCR on July 8, 1918.

The MCR stands out for proposing some of the most radical administrative changes and for giving provincial legislatures the mantle of self-governance. To this extent, the report advocated the need “to emancipate the local governments and legislatures from central control; and to advance, by successive stages, in the direction of conferring responsible government on the provinces.”

The Montagu-Chelmsford Committee visited Madras Presidency to gather the views of political leaders. T. Varadarajulu Naidu’s book, Justice Movement 1917, informs us that senior members of the Justice Party led by Sir Pitti Theagaraya met the Committee and made extensive demands, which included the “creation of municipalities and local body institutions with sufficient autonomy to handle their local issues… bereft of the intrusive control of the Government.” They further demanded that administration of the Presidency be eventually moved to the local legislature. To this end, they suggested that departments in administration be placed under the control of legislatures.

Ultimately, the MCR established the framework for devolution of powers and gave credence to the cry for self-governance. This cannot come as a surprise because the report recommended that “the Provinces are the domain in which the earlier steps towards the progressive realisation of responsible government should be taken”. Another one of the most far-reaching objectives of the report was to elucidate the principle of accountable governance by directing that the “Government of India must remain wholly responsible to Parliament.”

Thus was laid the platform for the development of a responsible government. However, in the 32nd session of the Indian National Congress, led by British theosophist Annie Besant, there was strong opposition to the Montagu declaration as something that “was unworthy of England to offer and India to accept.” However, Besant later accepted the reforms as essential for the progress of British India.

The MCR would go on to become the basis for the Government of India Act, 1935, and, ultimately, the Constitution. The key principles of responsible government, self-governance and federal structure grew out of these reforms. The MCR on Indian constitutional reforms along with the Montagu Declaration are, thus, worthy claimants of the title of the Magna Carta of modern India.