Religions preach us that the whole universe and all living and non-living things in it are created by God, the almighty. Atheists oppose this belief and in their terms it is humans who made God. Whether it is God-who-made-humans or vice-versa, it is true that all places related to God now have abundance of wealth. Mere stone and wooden structures have given way to Gold. Whether it is Vatican or Jerusalem, Medina or Tibet, Puri or Amritsar there is no difference; God places are gold places now. Still there is no peace of mind and humans are splurging more and more money seeking blessings of their Gods. Here comes one question – who is greedy, God or Human?
As said by Pope Francis II, money is now considered as God. In his words “We don’t want this globalized economic system which does us so much harm. Men and women have to be at the centre (of an economic system) as God wanted, not money. The world has become an idolater of this God called money.” In capitalistic economic conditions it is very true; it is the capital which decides the fate of every one. It is ruthless and will even use the name of God to bolster profit.
Recently Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has sent letters to the authorities of some of the major temples in India seeking the details of the stock of gold in their possession. As India is in deep economic turmoil it is quite natural for an agency like RBI to think about the utilization of dormant assets like gold and silver. Needless to say their are objections from all quarters and primarily under the banner of – ‘hurting religious sentiments’. All Hindu religious leaders and saffron organizations opposed this move of the RBI and pressurized the temple authorities not to disclose anything related to the assets of the temples. Their question was why has RBI asked only Hindu religious institutions and why didn’t they consider the minorities including Muslims and Christians who often get big sums of money as foreign aid.
As a secular and a democratic country every Indian has the right to question governmental decisions. Hindu leaders also had done the same thing. But at the same time those leaders and Sangh Parivar Organizations are not considering the alternatives like how to use the idle wealth for the prosperity of all Hindus. Hindus in number are the third largest religion in the world out of which more than 95% are living in India and Nepal. Unlike Semitic religions that have a centralized system to control and distribute their assets, Hindu temples are mostly managed by a group of local people, families or trusts and the remaining by quasi-government agencies like Devaswom Boards. Like all other Government board/corporations, Devaswom Boards have no clarity in their work and are addicted to corruption. Other religions have certain stipulations like the percentage of money they should offer to the church/mosque which the devotees are practicing voluntarily or forcefully because they are either bonded or bound to their religions. From birth to death they need the assistance of priests and their places of worship.
India is only a developing country and more than 50% of the population is still dwelling in deprived conditions. As Hindus are the major population we can infer that the major portions of them are leading their lives in adverse circumstances. An interesting aspect to note is that almost all religious minorities in India have a mechanism to circulate their money effectively for the prosperity of their followers. Islam stipulates its followers to give 2.5% of their wealth to poor people every year. Christians are supposed to bestow 10% of their assets for charity. They use their funds to build educational institutions, hospitals, orphanages and commercial buildings. They are getting huge returns from some of these places which further strengthen their financial position. Muslims have their own way of living in which money is circulated to the underprivileged in the form of mandatory donations (sakkath). Waqf Board, like Devaswom Board, is controlling the wealth and assets of Muslim religious places. They run orphanages (Yatimkhana) and other social institutions. All these are helping them to alleviate poverty among its followers. But how effective are these systems is an altogether different topic which needs more research. Nevertheless they have a system unlike the Hindus. A religion which is considered as a way of life, Hinduism has only a few voluntary organizations like ashrams or private trusts which are not enough in numbers to serve the needy. The temples which are getting huge funds in the form of donations and offerings are presently keeping their assets redundant. This is blocking the social and economic development of Hindus.
Sree PadmanabhaSwamy temple, a temple located in the capital of Kerala, recently was in the news because of its enormous wealth in the form of gold, silver, diamond and other precious items, stored inside its vaults. Calculating the present value of the assets, it will be not less than Rupees 10 Lakhs crores. The value will be augmented if we include the antique value of these items. Instead of thinking about utilizing the assets for the social development of Hindus, the temple authorities asked the help of the government for securely keeping the precious assets in the temple itself. Now government is spending crores of rupees per month for providing the security. Consider the situation if we use the said assets to build:
- Hospitals and Medical Colleges (with free medicine and consultation fees for the poor, free and high class education for the meritorious)
- Research Institutions with modern facilities (which will avoid brain drain to other developed countries due to the lack of proper facilities)
- World class universities and colleges (foreigners can also come here for studying which will strengthen our currency as well as economy, which in turn help us to retain some intelligent minds)
- Houses for the poor people living in slums, villages and hill areas, sanitation facilities for all, etc. A part of the wealth can be utilized for farming in lands which are un-utilized, for social forestry, for environmental protection, etc.
If all those big temples in India use such assets and wealth for the prosperity of its followers, India will become a developed country within a few years. Minorities will also get the benefit from the circulation of money which will reduce their poverty too. Can you imagine the assets of Saibaba ashram at Putaparthi which allegedly used 150 trucks to shift it to another location after the demise of Sai Baba? Asaram Bapu, Mata Amritanandamayi, Swamy Nithyananda, Baba Ramdev, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and other innumerable small and big prophets of Hindus have earned assets of thousands of crores of rupees within a short span. So Hindus are not poor but most of the wealth is concentrated in less than 5% of its people. They are ready to offer anything to temples/Gods. Sometimes they pay money for the modification of the temple, its structures, etc. Covering the temple roof and front pillar with gold (Sabarimala temple roof is covered with gold which was donated by Vijay Malya, UB Group), giving free food to all devotees in certain days, etc. are also practised by them. All these are fine, but our ultimate aim as a religion should be the economic and social development of the down-trodden people. Will our religious leaders initiate any actions to utilize the wealth for the use of its poor followers? Even if they are deciding to act in that manner will they get support from Sangh Parivar, who under the leadership of Modi is aiming something big for developing India like western countries? In my opinion it is their duty to support the move. They should instigate actions in this direction for which they can call for an assembly of Hindus to form democratically elected groups to represent the religion to utilize these funds. Constituting a Regulatory Authority or a Tribunal by the Government will be helpful to control such groups to ensure transparency which in turn reduce corruption and other malpractices. It will provide means to end the menace of poverty and a meaning to the life of many.
A discussion is in the air which has started by leaders like Jairam Ramesh and Narendra Modi regarding – toilets first, temples later. Hope these types of productive discussions will lead to arrive at logical conclusions over how much to be given to God and how much to humans.
Circulation of money is the basic principle of economics. Accumulation of wealth in few persons/places will disrupt the growth and development of the whole world. An unused land may have value in papers but in economic terms it can be considered as an asset once we utilize it or sell it. The same principle is applicable everywhere.