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Thursday, January 14, 2021

attacks on Hindu temples in Andhra Pradesh .. .. 'Save Hindu Temples' !


Save Hindu Temples of Andhra Pradesh !! Sad plight !!!

Of the many districts of Andhra Pradesh, East Godavari is a serene one situate on the coast of Bay of Bengal.  Its district headquarters is at Kakinada. Rajahmundry and Kakinada are the major cities in the district in terms of population. In the Madras Presidency, the District of Rajahmundry was created in 1823. It was reorganised in 1859 and was bifurcated into Godavari and Krishna districts.  In November 1956 Andhra Pradesh was formed by merging Andhra State with the Telugu-speaking areas of the Hyderabad State .. .. it is no History or Geography but the sad plight of the temples of Andhra .. .. ! ~ there are so many of them there !

Antarvedi, or Antarvedipalem, is a village in the Sakhinetipalle mandal, located in the East Godavari district of the Andhra Pradesh state in India. The village is situated at the place where the Bay of Bengal and Vashista Godavari, a tributary of the Godavari River, meet. Antarvedi is  named in honour of the Lord as "Narasimhakshetra".

There is a beautiful temple in the temple town of Antarvedi dedicated to Lord Narasimha.  Devotees are in a shock after many   serious incidents of temple desecration since September last and hundreds of temple theft cases over the years. Attacks on temples, reminiscent of the Taliban’s vandalism in Afghanistan, have of late shaken Andhra Pradesh. The most shocking of these was the beheading of a 400-year-old murti at the Ramatheertham temple. It was the second such high-profile attack after the burning of the chariot at Antarvedi in September last.

These are not stray incidents. There is a pattern and a motive, for sure, which appear sinister. At this point, we can only speculate since the state police or the CBI, probing the Antarvedi incident, are yet to crack most of these cases. As per records, there have been 15-20 serious incidents of temple desecration since September last and hundreds of temple theft cases over the years. The police and the government have definitely failed to anticipate them, let alone act with the urgency needed, until the Ramatheertham episode. Now, communal harmony committees and a special investigation team have been constituted. Would these suffice?

Unlikely, even if the cases are solved, since a political battle is already on, with Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy pointing fingers at the TDP and the latter accusing him of encouraging conversions in an overt reference to his Christian faith. The BJP has been more than eager to capitalise on the issue, with one of its leaders claiming that the choice before the people is between a Bible party (YSRC) and a Bhagavad Gita one (BJP) in the upcoming Tirupati by-election. This could well be an inflection point in state politics, one that doesn’t bode well.

To prevent the state from turning into a communal cauldron and prove its sincerity, the government must explore long-term options including freeing temples from its control and ending induced conversions. Religious freedom is a fundamental right and it can’t be selective, no matter what one’s definition of secularism is.

After that ghastly incident, authorities in Andhra Pradesh  arranged for a new chariot for the Antarvedi Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple,  months after an existing 60-year-old chariot was gutted in a fire. The wooden chariot of the Antarvedi temple was 40-feet high and made of teak wood and was parked in a shed on the temple premises when the incident took place on September 6. The chariot was used during processions on special occasions and temple festivals.

With the incident drawing protests from Hindu organisations and political parties such as the BJP, actor-politician Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) alleging a conspiracy, the state government handed over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The BJP spearheaded the agitation in the backdrop of the temple chariot being gutted, alleging that ever since the YSRCP government came into power, Hindu places of worship were under threat.  Following a departmental probe into the issue, two staffers including the temple’s Executive Officer (EO) were suspended for their alleged "inefficiency". Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s government had announced that it would arrange a new chariot by December 31, with an amount of Rs 90 lakh.

Artisans were immediately roped into design and a new chariot was arranged before the due deadline. The seven-stair chariot was said to have been readied with an amount of Rs 1.10 crore. State Minister for BC Welfare, Chelloboina Venugopala Krishna, Razole MLA Varaprasad Rao and District Collector Muralidhar Reddy visited the temple and examined the newly constructed chariot.

Politics in Andhra Pradesh recently has been largely revolving around alleged targeted attacks on Hindu places of worship, since the mysterious burning of a 62-year-old chariot.  While the BJP was leading the campaign initially, all eyes have now turned to former Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) supremo N Chandrababu Naidu who has taken to aggressive ‘Hindutva’ politics. Political observers point to Naidu blatantly attacking Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s faith and alleging that there have been rampant Christian religious conversions under his watch. The TDP chief, who calls himself a ‘secular’ leader and invokes the instance of snapping ties with the BJP in the aftermath of the Gujarat communal riots under then Chief Minister Narendra Modi in 2002 to validate his credibility, made a significant turn late last year, mirroring the BJP. This, observers say, is evidence of how the political ground is shifting in Andhra Pradesh.

Addressing an executive party meeting in Mangalagiri last week, Chandrababu Naidu charged that Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy had lost the right to rule, citing a recent incident where the idol of Lord Rama was desecrated at Ramatheertham in Vizianagaram district. Pointing to Jagan’s faith, Naidu said that he is a Christian Chief Minister who will visit Jerusalem if he wins the election, while he is a Hindu by birth . "Venkateswara Swamy is my dear god, whereas your dear god is Jesus Christ. If you win the elections you will go to Jerusalem, but when I win, I will go to Venkateswara Swamy (Tirupati). You keep the Bible by your side. There’s nothing wrong in it, but if there are attacks on Hindu temples and Hindu deities, I dare you!” Naidu said. 

A blatant attack involving Jagan’s personal faith and religion, insinuating that the Chief Minister is deliberately not preventing attacks as he belongs to a different religion, has baffled political observers in the state, and has also worried religious minority groups.  A week earlier, at a public meeting after visiting Ramatheertham, Naidu alleged that Christian missionaries were indulging in religious conversions at all the temples in the state. He claimed that in one instance, a priest was harassed by 10 persons holding Bibles trying to convert him. Speaking about this attempt by the TDP to shift its political stance, political analyst K Nageshwar said, “Even BJP has not spoken the language which Chandrababu Naidu is using. It appears that BJP leaders have to take Hindutva lessons from Naidu.”

                            Before the Parliament elections, Rahul Gandhi tried a similar strategy by visiting temples and projecting himself as a Shiva devotee, but people ultimately elected the Ram devotees (the BJP). Even during the Telangana statehood movement, the TDP and Congress tried to appropriate it, but eventually people voted for the original proponents, the TRS. So, this strategy will only backfire,” says a political observer.  In Telangana, BJP launched a polarisation campaign attacking the friendly ties between the AIMIM and TRS.  

Addressing a public meeting after his visit to Ramatheertham, Naidu alleged that Christian missionaries were indulging in religious conversions near major temples in the state.

.. .. .. whatever it could be – fact remains that Hindu temples have been targetted, vandalized, desecrated – it is always the majority religion that has been under brutal attack culturally and physically.  Govts do nothing to prevent or protect.  AP Director General of Police (DGP) Gautam Sawang on Wednesday announced that the department has solved 29 of the total 44 attacks on temples in the state and has arrested 85 persons.  The DGP maintained that there have been attempts to undermine religious harmony in the state, but police department checked the same by taking all possible measures. He said AP police is first in the country to install CCTV cameras for round-the-clock surveillance at places of worship. 58,871 temples had been geo-tagged and 43,824 CCTV cameras installed.

Even this talk of Police DGP is a tacit admission of brutal attacks on temples in recent times.  Sad is the state of affairs and our hearts bleed reading all these.  

With tears – S. Sampathkumar



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