Unlike the generations I am hereby referring to, I would avoid shooting in the dark and be more focused in my approach. Millennials born in the 1970s and 1980s have had grandparents contributing their bit to the national population between 1930s-1950s. Those were the years when couples easily had 7-10 children on an average. And those were also the years when a major part of the adult population was poor, or lower middle class. Without trying to underline a classic ‘hen and egg’ case here, I would like to highlight the miseries these baby boomers welcomed with open arms.
Women kept bearing children till their 50s so men were the only bread earners. The amount of money earned and food procured was distributed between so many members that food consumed per person was insufficient. Irrespective of the difficulties, we never compromised on our traditions. Women fed the elders, the males and the children first and ate only at last, whatever little food was left for them. This, along with a high fertility rate (total number of births per woman) resulted in undernourished, overworked, weak women and society tagged them as ‘the weaker sex’. Some first wives died while giving birth and the men had a chance to bear more children with their second wives. While China is taking strict measures to control their population, we have some political babas lecturing Hindus to have at least 6 children per couple to outgrow the Muslim population in India. Ever wonder why? Because population obviously has nothing to do with other social/physical evils like poverty, hunger, pollution, crime, illiteracy, unemployment, global warming etc.
The children of these couples, our parents, are people obsessed with temples. The concept of tourism in India would have seen the dawn much later, had it not been for thousands of temples we have in every jungle of the country. Our government feels no need to develop an infrastructure for tourism, temples have given them enough monopolistic assurance! Raise your hand if you were denied a toy to avoid unnecessary expenditure, only to see a generous amount going to a God in the same family outing.
Our temples have been wealthy since the age of monarchs, i.e., before the birth of independent India. That was also the time when only the kings were rich and their people were poor; farmers, peasants, masons, artisans, soldiers. So it isn’t incorrect to conclude that the tax collected by kings (‘kar’) mostly went to their treasury and temples when it could have been utilised to provide basic education, nutrition and sanitation for the people. Not surprisingly, the wealth of our temples invited multiple invasions and that left India as a slave for centuries. Despite being the third largest economy, India is still struggling for foreign investment and currency appreciation.
The total amount of wealth our temples have can easily exceed the total amount of tax collected by the central and state governments. It has the potential to combat poverty, hunger, sanitation and make basic social reforms for the entire nation. The donation index is still soaring high with people either trying to hide their black money, fulfil wishes, empower their community or religion, or feel empowered themselves! Some corporate tycoons donate huge sums to their favourite places of worship; for example, Ambanis, Goenkas and Nira Radia regularly make donations at Badrinath temple in Uttarakhand. There are 10-15 kinds of aartis that pilgrims can book between 4k-21k every single day, with most days being houseful. This means that the poor do not have the privilege of witnessing these aartis, and the elderly, underprivileged will be pushed and hurt in the common, aggressive crowd. So much for religious justice!
Now, out of all the rich temples, there are very few with big kitchens/big hearts or the intentions to feed the starving, shelter the needy etc. So what happens to the wealth? The trustees, temple committee members and staff become rich, corrupt and insensitive. Insensitive to the basic duties they have towards visitors from all over the country; potable water, restrooms, comfortable spaces for long waiting queues, first aid or basic medical aid for senior citizens etc. Many will have no information counters or signages and the rudest staff possible. There are temples on narrow, hilly roads, tiny enough to restrict even an infant to enter. Built on blind curves, if you stop there for darshan, you will be hit by a vehicle and go down the valley for sure. I have always failed to understand how donations and gold crowns please Gods if there are any. Pardon my usage of plurals, there are too many Gods to be addressed as one!
This year, within 2 months, there were around 35 casualties during Char Dham Yatra in Uttarakhand alone. Vrindavan, the Krishna- Nagari of India, has the maximum number of widows living in destitute.
The onus is on us, to think and reason, to look around before closing our eyes in front of an idol. Being religious and visiting temples is fine, but the huge donations to temples doing nothing are so not justified! You can always use that money for a more sustainable purpose. It’s not a sin to reason with commercially or politically inclined religion, its the need of the hour, a dire one! Prayers over profitable propaganda, Amen!