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Home > News > Interview

The Rediff Interview/G Sudhakaran, Kerala Dewaswom minister

'If I get a complaint I will take appropriate action'

June 11, 2007

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Kerala Dewaswom Minister G Sudhakaran is a hero or an inspired fisherman in troubled waters -- it depends on who you talk to.

In the immediate aftermath of the Vayalar Ravi controversy, Sudhakaran let fly with a string of statements each more controversial than the last; the crescendo came when he threatened to arrest the Guruvayur tantri, Chennas Raman Namboodiripad, for violating existing laws when he conducted the punyaham (temple purification) following the entry into Guruvayur of Union Minister Vayalar Ravi and his family.

Speaking on the telephone from Alleppey to rediff.com's Prem Panicker, the minister discusses the Guruvayur controversy:

Since the punyaham ceremony hit the headlines, you have taken an aggressive stand on the issue and threatened the priest...

The priest has been saying I threatened him. What threat is he talking about? I am a minister, and as such, my responsibility is to protect the existing laws. I said that if Ravikrishna files a complaint, and if it turns out, when investigating that complaint, that a crime has been committed against existing laws, then I will take action. Where is the threat in that? It is my duty, as Dewaswom minister.

So in your opinion, what crime has been committed?

Some years back, when Ravikrishna's marriage was celebrated at Guruvayur temple, they conducted a punyaham. Now it is the feeding ceremony of Ravikrishna's son, and they did it again. This denies Ravikrishna and his family the rights that are due to them as Hindus, under the provisions of the Temple Entry Proclamation of 1936.

The tantri has since clarified that the punyaham was conducted only because Ravikrishna, as the son of a Christian lady, is not a Hindu by birth.

By what right does anyone say he is not a Hindu? His school certificate proclaims him a Hindu, his passport says he is a Hindu -- what authority has the priest to overrule the Government of India, which issued the passport?

In any case, marumakkathayam, the matrilineal system, was cancelled some thirty years ago by an act passed by the Kerala state assembly.

Therefore, legally, you inherit from your father -- your name, your religion, your property, everything. Vayalar Ravi is a Hindu, there is no dispute about that. So how can anyone say that Ravikrishna is not a Hindu? That is in clear violation of existing law.

The existing law suggests that the tantri is the supreme authority when it comes to all manner of rights and rituals. It seems, therefore, to be within his purview to order a punyaham, if he believes such purification is necessary.

The tantri has been recognised as the grihapalakan, the keeper of the temple. He is the final authority within the srikovil, the sanctum sanctorum. He can and should decide on the pujas and rituals, and no one is asking for that to be changed.

However, the question of who should or should not enter a temple is a matter of public policy, and not up to one tantri to decide. Also, when a temple applies rules in idiosyncratic fashion, when it allows some people entry simply to make money but then keeps other people out, then it is time to intervene.

Could you clarify that? Who did the temple allow merely to make money?

Every year, hundreds of foreigners, whites, Christians by birth and belief, travel as tourists to India. They hear of Guruvayur and want to visit it, so they go to the Arya Samajam in Kozhikode, and for a few rupees they get a certificate.

They bring the certificate and get into the temple and the authorities happily allow them inside, take their dollars, the priest gets his dakshina and then they come out of the temple and tear up the certificate and go back to being Christians.

No one has problems with that but when a man who has lived his life as a Hindu, whose official documents proclaim him as a Hindu, comes to the temple they perform punyaham.

Where is the justice in that?

You have said that if Ravikrishna submits a complaint, you will take action. I understand that he has in fact submitted such a complaint. What action do you contemplate?

I am told that Ravikrishna has submitted a complaint to the Guruvayur Dewaswom Board. No complaint has been submitted to me. If the complaint had come to me, I would have asked for a full-fledged inquiry and if it was found that a crime had been committed, I would have taken action.

I still stand by that, I say that if I get a complaint, then I will take appropriate action.

However, Ravikrishna has chosen to complain to the Dewaswom Board. If he believes that he will find a solution through the Board, I have no problem with that. I am not spoiling for a fight, or looking for an excuse to take on the temple priest, as people are saying.

Now it is up to the Board to decide what to do, and if Ravikrishna gets satisfaction, then it is good.

So according to you, who should be allowed into the temple and who should not?

Anyone who is a Hindu, by birth or by religious belief, should be permitted entry -- that is the essence of the Temple Proclamation Act itself, so I don't have to say it, it is already there as existing law. They just have to follow it, that is all.

For instance, K J Yesudas sings of Guruvayurappan and those songs are broadcast even inside the temple; he has publicly said he is a devotee of Guruvayurappan. So why can he not enter the temple?

I don't understand the logic of the priests. The shastras say that belief is what makes you a Hindu; that God welcomes all who believe in him. So how can a priest deny a believer something that God himself does not deny?

That is my stance -- that any believer, irrespective of all other considerations, should have the right to enter a temple and to worship without being subjected to humiliation.

It is said in some quarters that you are attempting to undercut Hinduism, that you seek to take for the government powers that should be vested with the temples -- like this issue of who should enter a temple, for instance.

What can I do if people cannot or will not understand what I am saying? I have never said that the right to decide who should enter the temple should be given to the government. That is not our job, and we have no interest in making it our business.

What I have been saying is that this decision should be left to the temple authorities, to the Dewaswom Board. Why for instance should the Arya Samajam, in Kozhikode, decide who should enter the temple in Guruvayur?

As I see it, anyone who is a Hindu automatically gets entry. Anyone who is not Hindu by birth, but who wishes to worship, should be able to go to the Dewaswom Board, and if the Board is convinced, it can give the person a pass that permits entry. That is all it takes, it is a simple solution and I don't see why it cannot be implemented.

You have said you will bring about laws to change the existing structure, and to facilitate reform.

Yes, and I stand by it. I do not mean that I will unilaterally bring such laws -- that will not be right. What I have said is that the leaders of the Hindu community -- the priests, administrators, everyone else with a vested and rightful interest -- should examine the current situation, and come to a consensus on the need for change.

When that consensus is reached, I will then as Dewaswom minister work with them to bring into force any law that may be required to facilitate such change.

People have been taking my words out of context, and saying that I will on my own bring laws, change things. That is not true. Ever since I took office as Dewaswom minister, I have been occupied with the subject of corruption in temples, and I have been taking steps to ensure that such corruption is eradicated.

This was why, for instance, I brought the Dewaswom Act into being � the act serves as a regulatory mechanism, it provides for a legislative oversight into temple accounts and such matters, and thus works to end the corruption.

There are people who do not like this, and it is in their interest to paint me as a minister who is out to overrule Hindu customs and traditions. That is not my intention, but neither will I allow temple authorities to do whatever they like, to indulge in corruption and in practices that are contrary to law.


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