GEORGE TOWN: A Penang official has cautioned that establishing a central authority to manage Hindu temples in the country might not work in the long run due to the “pluralistic” nature of the religion.
P Ramasamy, who is chairman of the Penang Hindu Endowments Board (HEB), said while the idea had been floated with good intentions, a major study on Hindu temples should be done before any central authority is set up.
“We must be cautious about having a national HEB or a central authority on temples, as Hindu temples are diverse and plural in nature.
“History has shown that they are very defiant towards central authorities and prefer to run their affairs on their own, so it is going to be difficult.”
The Penang deputy chief minister compared this to the management of other religions such as Christianity, where each denomination takes care of its own places of worship.
“We do not have this kind of system in Hindu temples.”
He said putting a national HEB in place without conducting any major studies would be akin to putting the cart before the horse.
He recommended that a special team of researchers be commissioned to research all temples, shrines and any other Hindu-related places of worship in the country.
From there, he said, the team could determine if the temple was located on private or government land.
Next would be the temple management, he added, which would have to note whether it was categorised as a “persatuan pengurusan” (management society) or “persatuan penganut” (devotees’ society).
He said while temples in general could not be run by devotees’ societies, this was widely the case now.
He said researchers should subsequently size up the nature of the building, the deities worshipped, and whether the buildings need repair.
“All this data should be put in a database and later deliberated by members forming the national HEB.
“Fears of a takeover by the HEB must be allayed, as the role of the board is only to oversee the management of the temple, in a check and balance role to ensure good governance,” he added.
Ramasamy suggested that the research team begin work immediately, and be allocated funds through the Prime Minister’s Department.
He said the Seafield temple incident was a blessing in disguise, as Hindu temples or places of worship for other minorities had been given no attention for the past 60 years.
He added that the prime minister’s suggestion on Wednesday to ensure that temples get planning permission from local authorities to reduce illegal temples was too simplistic and would not solve the problem.
The bottom line, according to him, was that minority religions were not given proper land to establish their places of worship. This had led to many temples squatting illegally on private land.
“In other words, these minority religions were never given a chance to erect places of worship simply because they were discriminated against.
“You cannot correct something without looking at the past. Let us not make any hasty decisions but let’s embark on a major study.”
The suggestion for a national-level board to oversee Hindu temples was made by Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran in response to several scuffles at the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in USJ 25 which escalated into violence earlier this week.
Penang is presently the only state with an active HEB. It was formed under the Mohamedan and Hindu Endowments Ordinance 1906, under the former British colonial government of the Straits Settlements of Penang, Melaka and Singapore.
The Penang HEB manages about 12 temples, burial grounds and Hindu-related properties. It has assets of over RM70 million, based on past audit reports.