Kerala HC issues notice to RSS members over arms training in temple, seeks govt, Devaswom Board’s views

The petition by two elderly devotees complained that the RSS members vitiated the serene and peaceful atmosphere of the Sarkara Devi Temple.

BySreerag PS

Published Jun 20, 2023 | 5:11 PM Updated Jun 20, 2023 | 7:27 PM

The Travancore Devaswom Board issued two circulars, directing its officials to strictly prohibit the RSS from holding shakhas on temple premises. (Representational pic/Wikimedia Commons)

The High Court of Kerala has sought the responses of the state government, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) on a petition challenging the outfit holding drills and imparting arms training on the Sarkara Devi Temple premises at Chirayinkeezhu, some 30 km north of Thiruvananthapuram.

A bench comprising Justice Anil K Narendran and Justice PG Ajithkumar issued the notice and posted the case for Monday, 26 June, for further consideration.

The petitioners, two elderly devotees of Goddess Durga, the presiding deity, complained that the RSS activities, which also involves drills using wooden staves, were affecting their freedom to peacefully pray at the temple.

“Despite the Travancore Devaswom Board issuing two circulars against such activities, the issue persists,” Advocate Nikhil Sankar, who appeared for the petitioners, told South First.

“We filed a writ petition in the Kerala High Court stating that we need to have the freedom to pray peacefully at the temple and the ongoing issue is a violation of Article 21,” he added.

The petition said the temple administrator did not act on their complaint against RSS drills.

The TDB was forced to issue a second circular on 18 May after devotees complained against the RSS’s activities on temple premises under it. The TDB, a statutory and autonomous body, manages around 1,200 temples, including the Sabarimala Sree Dharma Sastha Temple, in Kerala.

The second circular warned its officials of strict action if they failed to prohibit the RSS from conducting its shakhas, or branches, in temple compounds.

Related: TDB warns of action if RSS shakhas continue on temple premises

RSS vitiating temple atmosphere

“Petitioners are aggrieved by the illegal encroachment and occupying of the temple premises at the behest of the 6th and 7th respondents (Vimal and Babu S) styling themselves to be members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for conducting mass drills and weaponry training between 5 pm and 12 midnight on all days,” the petition read.

Sarkara Devi Temple at Chirayankeezhu. (Kerala Tourism)

Sarkara Devi Temple at Chirayankeezhu. (Kerala Tourism)

The petitioners alleged that Vimal and Babu used tobacco products such as Hans and pan masala on the temple premises. It affected the “cleanliness, purity, and divinity of the sanctum sanctorum” of the temple, they said.

Kerala banned the manufacture, storage, distribution, and sale of gutkha and pan masala containing tobacco and nicotine about a decade ago.

“The unpleasant smell emanating by the usage of above products by the 6th and 7th respondents along with their henchmen within temple premises is causing great discomfort to the devotees visiting the temple, especially senior citizens, women and children,” the petition said.

Vimal, Babu, and their supporters raised loud slogans as part of their mass drill and weaponry training, which disrupted the “peaceful and serene” atmosphere of the temple.

Also Read: Hindutva outfit forces temple to change colour: Green to yellow

TDB circular against RSS shakhas

Incidentally, the TDB, in March 2021, had asked its officials to prohibit the RSS from holding drills at temples under the board. The board directed its officials to ensure that armed or unarmed drills did not take place on temple premises.

It also advised the officials against providing temple resources to third-party groups.

“A few temples have been facing issues due to the functioning of the RSS shakhas,” TDB president K Ananthagopan earlier told South First. “Temples are a pure and divine space and they should remain that way,” he further said.

“When you conduct such activities on temple premises, people with opposing views and beliefs would naturally object to it. There have been complaints against RSS activities at temples. We are objecting only to its activities in temple premises,” he added.

The TDB issued the second order in May this year after its officials reportedly ignored the 2021 directive.

Also Read: CM Pinarayi Vijayan calls out ‘population lie’ spread by RSS

The RSS in Kerala

Despite the BJP’s inability to make an impact on electoral politics in Kerala, the RSS, the party’s ideological parent, has made significant inroads in the state.

According to RSS Joint General Secretary Krishna Gopal, in 2020, the RSS had 4,500 shakhas spread across the state, the highest for any state in the country.

The RSS started its operations in Kerala in Kozhikode in 1942. The saffron outfit’s initial focus remained the Malabar region of the state.

In 1951, it launched its mouthpiece, Kesari Malayalam Weekly, in Kozhikode.

In 2018-2019, the RSS spearheaded a movement against the Supreme Court order allowing the entry of women into Sabarimala temple in Kerala.

The RSS fiercely criticised the “hasty implementation” of the Supreme Court order by the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government.

Since its inception, the Left parties, especially the CPI(M), have been the biggest rival of the RSS.

Also Read: Ammini, woman who entered Sabarimala, leaves Kerala for good