Hindu Temples in a truly Dharmic State

In response to an innocuous question from a gentleman, yrs truly tweet stormed him

The gentleman being the patient @by2kaafi , he bore with me. I decided to just leave it here in the form of a short post.

How should Hindu enterprises operate in a truly Dharmic state?

we define Hindu enterprises as – Family/clan temples, dhArmika pAThashAlas for advanced study in Indic topics that are financed by specific communities. They would operate independently with oversight by independent body composed of people across all Hindu castes. Almost 80% of temples and maThas will come under this category.

Temples and maThas should be allowed independence and only restricted from indulging in fraud, money laundering or other illegal activities. Oversight should also be provided to confirm if office bearers are being rotated across all parts of the temple’s worshipper community and if selection is based on free and fair means, elections to be held where no tradition exists.

Money from endowments should be spent ONLY for activities related to purpose of endowment. Transparency in accounts, employee welfare, cultural and philanthropic engagement will all be monitored by this oversight body. Most importantly, wealth and income of the temple vests with the temple and temple management authority is to be allowed leeway in expenditure, subject to the condition that all sections of devotees are represented on temple board.

Various arts – classical, folk music and dance painting, puppetry should be associated with temples. The tradition of AstAna vidwAn, vidushi, is to be re-introduced in all temples with income > 1Cr pa, with honorarium and obligation to perform in important festivals. Such artists to be drawn from local population or trained experts to be provided employment. thEvAra oduvArs, prabandham singers, aRaiyars, gotipuas, gomantaks will come under this category and competitions held among temples. Grand prize giving ceremonies to be held by the State on the special occasions in each region, like Pongal, Bihu etc. Each temple having income > 5 crores pa should necessarily have a gaushAla If income > 10 crores pa, a pAThashAla with periodic shrauta and Agamic yajna performances. All orphans will become wards of the State and be placed under the protection of maThs/temples. Destitute and derelicts to be provided occupation, irrespective of caste in temple kitchens, in flower garland preparation, maintenance, security duties, forestry of sacred groves. Temples to be grouped into clusters, for protection of IP relating to preparation of food, cosmetics, worship practices, cultural artefacts, ayurvedic treatments. In all these, the State shall have an organizing role and oversight. Individual temples shall pick their own areas of interest.

By the very nature of practice, worship and rituals are to be managed through oversight and consultation with vaidika, shAstra and Agama experts, but eventually individual practice shall prevail, as determined by chief priests appointed to the temple.

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Sabarimala – Questions And Answers

Question 1: What is the background on Sabarimala?

People already know that it is a temple in Kerala to which a lot of people make a pilgrimage. The vast majority are Indians resident in the 4 large Southern States.

The Sabarimala temple is actually a small Keralan ambalam in the middle of the forest. The ‘proper’ method of darshan is to keep the vratam for 41 days, walk up the hill, ascend the 18 steps with the irumuDi on your head. It is a hill in the middle of reserved forest. From 1940s until late 70s, there were only about 10-20,000 people who made the annual yAtra, and that too mainly during the mandalam season. The tantri leaves the temple when no pujas are conducted. Only the melsAnthi and a few helpers remain through the year. The temple is opened a few days a month for minor puja. Up until the late 70s, it involved a trek through forests, with no running water, toilets, electricty. Hence, no women made the pilgrimage. The main restriction is on the sannidhAnam, where Ayyappan resides. To ascend the 18 steps, one must have kept the vratam for a manDalam, and vratams are not imposed/necessary or are of no efficacy when carried out during a woman’s periods Hence there is no question of being able to ascend the 18 steps to the sannidhAnam. also, Ayyappa maintains his brahmacharya by avoiding company of young women. Now, all these fine restrictions are of no use when the crowds are huge. You have to see the crowd at the sannidhAnam to realize that it is almost impossible to monitor who does what and which restrictions are being followed or broken. Easier to restrict entry at the foot of the hill itself. And if someone is truly inclined to worship dharma shAsta, almost every single shAsta temple except sabarimala is free for entry to all pilgrims.

Question 2: What is the legal history behind the restriction on women’s entry to Sabarimala?

The definitive judgement was arrived at by means of a petition moved against Travancore Devaswom Board and disposed of in the Kerala High Court. Detailed judgement copy here – https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1915943/

Petition was moved by a devotee asking leave to conduct a function for her grandchild with her DIL present. Grounds were that puja during 5 days/month of non-Mandalam period had women devotees visiting. Also, the petitioner wished to know if this had been the practice since time immemorial.

Respondents were – Thanthri of Sreekovil, representatives of all Thanthri association and representative of Pandalam royal family. Sreekovil Thanthri deposed that no precedent existed of women devotees between ages of 10 and 50 climbing 18 steps or undertaking vratham or participating in worship. Representative of other Thanthris confirmed that form of Sastha in pratiShTa is a NaiShTika Brahmachari, i. e, someone who continues studies life long. (Side note: the restrictions placed on a Brahmachari are listed here – ) Representative of  Pandalam family confirmed that all activities are to be carried out as per wishes of Ayyappa, which includes explicit instructions on Brahmacharyam. If disobeyed, the family was to be cursed. Having taken these facts into consideration, the bench opined that

  1. Ayyappa worshippers constituted a denomination of their own, with primary responsibility of determining worship to be vested with the hereditary Thanthri of the Thazhamon family.
  2. Also, it opined that since restriction was placed on only women of a certain age not all women as a class. Hence, it may not seen to be discriminatory and the restriction, under freedom of religion, must be continued

Question 3 – Why would a God be disturbed by women, who are his own devotees?

To understand this, One should understand the nature of murti puja. To transcend the murti and achieve para brahma anubhava the method is to undergo sAdhana of murti puja. To get there, the sAdhaka must first engage in puja with full shraddha. This is the spirit in which our people live their faith. Your grandparents knew fully well that the murti was of stone or wood. But in their engaging with the murti they would perform their rituals in complete belief that the murti was indeed the devata being worshipped. Without the belief that it is indeed Srinivasa and Padmavathi who are getting married the kalyaNotsava becomes irrelevant. Watch the Swamiji put Sri Krishna to bed at Udupi. He knows fully well that it is a idol, but he performs the ritual with the complete faith that it is the baby Krishna being sung & cajoled to sleep.

The people who took artis of the TV screen while watching Ramayan were fully convinced that Ram had come to give them darshan in the form of flickering images of actors on BW TV screen. when a 5 yr old has the irumudi on his/her head, you will find aged guruswamis touching their feet. That is plain shraddha – the belief that Ayyappan is in the form of the young pilgrim. It is that shraddha that concinces one that Ayyappan at Sabarimala is a NaiShTika Brahmachari who has to follow all the shastric regulations for a Brahmachari.

Question 4: How do we know it’s not man made restrictions? How can we be sure it is the God’s will?

These have specifically mandated by means of daiva prashnams – methods of augury used to determine the deity’s wishes – and by dreams to the members of the Pandalam family.

Question 5: How do we get to this daiva prashnam method? What is the background?

Hindu religious practices are defined in shastra manuals called smriti – grihya (household) and shrauta (public Vedic) rituals are determined by shrauta and grihya shastras – manuals composed for the purpose. They are predominantly vaidika in scope and have limited direct application in construction and operations of temples. For that one refers to various Agama manuals – vaikhanasa, saiva and so on. However when it comes to conduct of worship in a specific temple lot of considerations come in to play – the community, the presiding deity, the location, the parivara devas, the specific form of the deity installed. The prana pratiShTa of the deity implies that the specific deva is avahita or infused into the form – idol or picture. This implies that the deity is actually present in physical form at that place. Thus, a lot of specific practices are actually as per the deity’s instructions. Each temple has its own tradition given as per instructions. This could take the form of a devotee’s dream, a specific instance of possession by the deity (Avesha) or through different forms of augury – daiva prasnams are only one form. There are others such as udukku pujai, a veriattam or even a simple drawing of lots. This is extremely common and almost every temple has an instance of the deity making its preferences known. Thus, if for legal purposes, the deity can be considered a respondent, all aspects of the temple premises and conduct of worship are to be with the deity’s agreement. Thus any restrictions are said to be placed on the deity’s explicit or implicit order. If you are willing to offer worship at a shrine, it is assumed you accept the idea of the deity being present in a physical form there. If you accept this then why would you not be ready to accept the deity’s preferences made known through a daiva prasnam or an instruction delivered in a Kings dream 1500 years ago? You cannot adopt a ardha kukkuta nyaya – of being willing to accept only that half of the hen that lays eggs but not the half you are obliged to feed!

Question 6: What is the issue with menstruation? Why would the monthly period interfere with the vratam?

For this, we must go back to the traditional Hindu view of blood and other bodily fluids. There are two aspects to how bodily fluids are looked upon, once they leave the body

  • As impurity
  • As loss of energy/vital life force

This is common across cultures. Now, with respect to vaidika procedure, bodily fluids/emissions must be restrained to avoid impurity as well as conserve vitality. During the simplest of performances, such as the fortnightly darsa-purna rite, the performer is required to avoid shaving and clipping of nails, to not shed blood. The ceremonial bath is for the purpose of removing sweat, traces of semen etc. In the most complex of rites, such as the agniShToma, the yajamana is required to avoid bathing, shaving, cleaning teeth, speak as less as possible, restrict to light, mostly liquid food, to avoid even defecation and urination to the bare minimum. This principle is present in all Hindu ritualism, across time and place. Now to agamic forms of worship, the entire focus is on energies, positive and negative.

In common temples and all agamic rites, pujas etc, the focus is to maximize positive energies and minimize negative. The form/idol being worshipped, premises, officiating priest, worshipper all must be taken into account. The positive energy is looked upon as something of a mutually-reinforcing cycle. Thus, the worshipper must also try to maximize positive energies in himself/herself to derive benefit. How exactly this is achieved depends upon the deity being worshipped and form in which the deity is worshipped. Overall, fluids such as blood and semen must not be shed, due to their vitality. Menstrual blood especially is known as a store of energy, being the female equivalent of semen. Thus, men are required to bathe after sex and before visiting a temple, to remove sweat/semen and vaginal fluids. However, bathing is not sufficient to remove menstrual blood and hence, women are generally restricted from visiting temples during periods. This is the same reason for restriction on letting clipped nails or hair be strewn in temples. Hence the restriction to tie up hair for both men and women in temples, to avoid strewing hair and nails, and thus giving room for negative energies. It may be noted that abhichara rites, for bringing harm upon others, use blood, pus, hair, nails, semen and menstrual blood as sacrifices/puja items.

Thus, the reason is not misogyny, but a complex system of energies. Now, if all this sounds like mumbo-jumbo to you, you might want to consider why a worshiper visits a temple in the first place. Is it not to increase your serenity/positive mental energy? If visiting temples is not superstition, why would the rituals and disciplines be superstition? Where does the line start and end?

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Mr Cherian And Facts

We went through this interview with Mr Mathew Cherian on rediff.com and thought of responding to some of his statements with the facts as we see it.

Mr Mathew Cherian is the Chief Executive of Helpage India and is also Chairperson of VANI –  Voluntary Association Network of India.

Let us go through the issues Mr Cherian has raised one by one:

 

Statement No 1: “What they did first was cancel the licenses of 10,700 NGOs en masse on some flimsy reasons like somebody submitted a report a day late. All this was done without any show cause notice.”

Our Response: On examination of facts, we find that notice was served to NGOs that had not filed FCRA returns, after giving them a year

http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-10-01/news/54516703_1_annual-returns-home-ministry-ngos

Licenses were cancelled in 2015, for organizations that had received notices in 2014 and had failed to comply

http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2016-03-15/news/71543159_1_fcra-foreign-contribution-regulation-act-associations

Further, 4138 NGOs had had their FCRA license cancelled in 2012, under UPA, for the same reason.

It may be noted that many of the notices had been returned since the NGOs were not functioning at address provided. Thus, this amounts to either furnishing  false information to the Government or failing to provide statutory information to the Government in case of change of address.

Statement No 2: “In the Lawyers Collective case the reason given was quite flimsy; that Anand Grover from the NGO spent $50 on an ISD call when he was in the US.”

Our Response: Contrary to Mr Cherian’s statement, the allegations against the lawyer husband-wife duo of Ms Jaising and Mr Grover are quite serious.

Let us go over the charges against Ms Jaising:

  1. Ms Jaising was involved with FCRA-funded Lawyers’ Collective at the same time that she was the Additional Soliciter General of India. FCRA clearly says that ‘Judge, Government servant or employee of any corporation or any other body controlled or owned by the Government;’ is not allowed to accept funds from abroad under FCRA – ref. Sec 3(1) of the FCRA Act, 2010 here.
  2. Further, Law Officer Service Rules clearly state that it is an appointment made by the Central Govt for a period of 3 yrs and with mutual notice of 3 months. Hence, all Law Officers can be taken as employees of Central Govt, and so FCRA restrictions applied to Ms Jaising.
  3. The next restriction is on her holding office of profit with Lawyer’s Collective. Again, service rules are very clear. Section 8(1) of service rules states that Law Officers can only represent accused persons with permission of Government. It may be noted that Ms Jaising was paid nearly Rs 1 crore as fees by Lawyer’s Collective, of which she and her husband are Secretary and President, respectively. By this appearance she has flouted service rules of the post of ASG.
  4. Next, her utilization of foreign funds for dharnas and lobbying MPs for legislation is clearly in contravention of Section 5 of FCRA Act, which states no organization of a political nature can accept funds. Also, a MHA notification from 2006 states clearly the list of activities that are permitted. Check page 38 here 

As we can see, these charges are serious in nature and not as trivial as Mr Cherian seeks to portray.

Statement No 3:“NGOs used to get Rs 13,500 crore (Rs 135 billion) as FCRA which has come down to Rs 7,600 crore (Rs 76 billion).”

Our Response: While this is a true statement, this is not the full picture. FCRA contributions had risen drastically during the UPA years as this graph shows. It is only the sudden drying of cash flow that is of concern to Mr Cherian.

FCRAfundflows

Graph reproduced from here – FCRA Analyses. Thanks to the good @sighbaboo

Statement No 4:“If a company has a right to receive FDI, an NGO also has a right to receive money from foreign sources.”

Our Response: This is a false equivalence. FDI is governed by strict laws and a list of uses the money can be put to. Until 2010, there were no restrictions on foreign contributions to non-profit activity. The FCRA Act, 2010, merely places a few restrictions on the uses to which this money can be put to, to safeguard national interest.

Statement No 5:“You have to look at Sections 12 and 13 of the law. Freedom of Association is a fundamental right. NGOs are fighting for legal remedies like we were associated with the RTI, right to education law, HIV/AIDS bill and the LGBT bill. When you prevent NGOs from doing so, you are preventing the marginalised from getting into association and fighting for their rights and justice.”

Our Response: There is no law in place to ban/restrict formation of NGOs or registration. There is indeed no ban on NGOs obtaining money for helping the marginalized get a level playing field. However, it may be noted that Mr Cherian focuses on legal activism and remedies, i.e., legislative lobbying and judicial activism, as the solution rather than field work and action.

This merely strengthens the influence of the few hundred people in key positions at NGOs, such as Mr Cherian himself, in setting the direction for this country, rather than effecting positive change on the ground. As to be expected, when an influential elite loses it’s privilege, it is bound to protest.

Mr Cherian’s interview and position may be seen as no more that such an elitist attempt to protect their position.

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A bar chart does not make it data-driven analysis

Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor of the The Hindu, is concerned that the incidence of farmer suicides has been wrongly calculated

He says that cultivators comprise only 8% of the population, i.e., close to 100 million people.

Fair enough. What he fails to say is whether the 184, 169 suicides he cites in the period between 2001-2011 all fall into this category of 8% cultivators

 

So, when State Governments and the Police classify a suicide as a farm suicide –

  1. do they count individuals that fall into this 8% of the population that are cultivators 
  2. do they count individuals that fall into the 53% of the population that are dependent upon farming

Without fixing the numerator and denominator, any discussion or comparison of suicide rates is meaningless

 

The rest of his article is polemic that I’d rather do without.

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Public sector pensions in India – a primer

This post grew out of a discussion on Twitter

Here are the basics:

  • The pension paid out to an retirees of Government bodies is a fixed amount – to be paid until the retirees lifetime
  • Employees who cross 20 years of service are eligible for pension, at 50% of last drawn pay.
  • Voluntary retirees are paid out a certain lifetime pension based on last pay drawn + years of service
  • Additionally, there is the family pension benefit
  • Family pension is is typically paid out to the the unemployed spouse of an employee who dies in service, regardless of the cause of death, until lifetime of spouse. Family pension
  • After the death of a retiree, an unemployed spouse, who does not receive any pension, is eligible to receive a lifetime family pension.
  • The pension is calculated on the basis of last pay drawn + years of service
  • Pensions have also had a Dearness Allowance component added on to them, which is liable to upward adjustment based on future Pay commission recommendations
  • The pension is not a fixed amount to be paid monthly either. This pension amount is usually adjusted upward based on Pay Commission recommendations.
  • Also, with increased age of retirees, the Sixth Pay Commissions has recommended increasing pension upwards with advancing age.
  • Usually, upon adoption of Pay Commission recommendations, the payment is disbursed effective from the date of recommendation and not effective from date of adoption. Therefore, pensioners also receive a lump-sum arrears also.

The Fifth Pay Commission has recommended adoption of its recommendations by the State Governments also.

From the Sixth Pay commission onwards, various quasi-Government bodies, PSUs have had their unions negotiate for adoption of Pay Commission recommendations.

Besides the pension, Central Government retirees are entitled to avail of Central Government Health Scheme – a comprehensive scheme of reimbursement for healthcare expenses.

We can safely note that the various arms of the Government have together taken up responsibility for more than 10 million people, to be compensated until lifetime.

Having laid out the basic facts, I would argue that my primary problem with this arrangement is that the various parts of the Public Sector have taken on these long-lasting liabilities without adequate discussion of the means of funding this liability in a sustainable way.

The New Pension Scheme has been adopted widely by the public sector and created as a defined contribution scheme. However the Sixth Pay commission does not really take this fully into account. Its recommendations towards pensions are still geared towards a defined benefit structure.

One assumes that this dichotomy will be resolved, like everything else in this country, on a one-on-one negotiation basis.

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RTE in TN – Some analysis

I have gone through the recent GO passed by the Government of Tamil Nadu with regards to RTE act with some interest.

I will not spend much time in going through the whys, whereforea and what-nots of the parent RTE act. The reader is assumed to have some basic information regarding this.

We can observe, however, that the RTE act has a few implicit assumptions:

  1. The Private schools are significantly superior to public schools in providing academic results to students
  2. Currently, the level fo regulation of private schools is such that the schooling system excludes children belonging to socially and economically disadvantaged groups

The RTE act is presented as a solution that will redress this exclusion by mandating at least 25% reservation for disadvantaged children in private schools.

In this brief article, I will attempt to analyze and present

  1. The impact of RTE act upon the overall schoolgoing population of Tamil nadu State
  2. Loopholes inherent in the act and the Tamil Nadu GO in its present form.

Impact of RTE

First, let us quantify the impact of the RTE Act and GO:

  •  The total school age population of the state is 1.69 crores, of which children between 6 and 11 enrolled in schools is 89 lakhs – page 197 here
  • We can safely assume that , given drop-out rates, 30% of this figure would be the number of children aged 6 that start in schools next, or roughly 27 lakh children
  • The GO applies only to “Private Non-minority Un-Aided Schools”
  • There are a total of 54914 schools in the state
  • Private unaided schools are 8542 in 2005-2006 – page 6 here – we will asume growth of 10% – roughly 9500 private unaided schools
  • Of these, roughly 5000 are private minority schools, which are not covered in GO
  • Thus, we have about 4500 schools that are affected by GO

Assuming an average student enrollment of 50 per year, we arrive at a figure of – totally 2.25 lakh children
Of these, 25% are to be enrolled under RTE, i.e., 56,250 children by our assumption

Thus, the GO for RTE only affects the fates of 56,250 children out of 27 lakh children, i.e., 2% of enrollments in the academic year 2013-2014!

Now, let us look at another facet – the disadvantaged group is a somewhat wide net, which includes SC, ST, BC, MBC, Orphans, HIV/Transgender,BPL families, differently abled and children of conservancy workers

(Aside – I think the word used in the GO ‘scavenger’ is particularly offensive and derogatory, when applied to a human being.)

Now, of these numbers, I believe a good percentage would be children from economic backgrounds that would enter these schools anyway.
To explain, children from SC/ST/BC/MBC households that have the spending power to put their children in the same schools, will now be a offered a waiver on fee. We cannot expect a significant result in end-outcomes for them, in term of academic achievement.
So, I believe, the real impact, i.e., getting children into a school where they would not have been able to enrol but for the RTE act at a lower number, probably 1% of this coming years primary enrolments.

Major loopholes

Entry Age

The first and most glaring loophole is the definition of entry at Age 6. Now, anybody who has a child that goes to school knows that children very often start schooling as early as 3.

So, by the time the enrolment under RTE act kicks in, at age 6, children admitted under this Act could face a significant disadvantage in terms of being able to catch up with the children who have already been in the system form the age of 3/4.

Fee Re-imbursement

There is the question of reimbursement of fee revenue foregone by the schools by admitting students under RTE. It is not clear whether 100% of fees foregone, as per Govindarajan committee, will be refunded.

If not, the loss will have to be picked up by someoneeither illegaly, by under-the-table payments or by starting a new ‘management’ quota.

The management quota would involve giving seats at higher fees so that a certain portion of the foregone fee can be compensated.

Drop-outs/Transfers

The policy for drop-outs/transfers is not clear.

Let us take the case of a child transferring from school A to school B
Once a child transfers from one school to the other, would his/her status as a entrant under RTE continue? So, what happens to the existing 25% already admitted under RTE in school B? Does the school have to keep adding more and more RTE students, above and beyond quota?
What about the seat now vacant in school A? Does it have to be filled only by a child from within RTE quota alone?

Footnotes:

  • Note that I am not going into the other, more commonly discussed areas – exclusion of minority schools, exclusion of schooling for differently abled children
  • New RTE regulations for schools, which could imply quite a good number of schools actually shutting down. I am not going to discuss that, as it has been very well analyzed elsewhere

 

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Dhumavati and Shitala

In the Dasha-Mahavidya tradition, one comes across Dhumavati, one of the Dasha-Mahavidyas.

The moola-mantra of this deity is said to be the blessing of Pippalada, a rishi after whom a Atharva Shakha – the Pippalada is named.

Dhumavati is said to be traditionally represented as a widow, carrying a broom and/or a winnow.
While reading about Dhumavati, I was reminded of the stotra of Sitala – a deity associated with smallpox, and my own clan’s kula devata

VANDEHAM SEETHALAAM DEVIM RAASABHASTHAAM DIGAMBARAAM
MAARJANEEKALASOPETHAM SOORPAALANKRITHA MASTHAKAAM

This refers to Sheetala carrying a broom on the hand and a winnow on her forehead.

Our clan has a specific annual puja performed at home for the kula devata. The use of red rice flour, red flowers and neem leaves is one of the peculiar aspects of the puja.

Among the other specific practices of the puja are that the main gift after the puja is made to 2 women – a widow and the household help.
Both indicate some kind of relationship between the Dhumavati of Dasha Mahavidyas and the ‘folk’ deity – Seethala/Maariamman.

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