God Access Inequity


The other day an acquaintance told me that he paid something like INR 5,000 (USD 110 at current exchange rates) to gain immediate access to God.

Well, he was referring to the special entrance fee at a famous temple for “rich” devotees who do not wish to wait in long serpentine queues in this very hot summer (at any time for that matter), and instead wish to pay for quick access to see the deity.

From the temple administration perspective, there is nothing wrong in this mechanism as it generates big revenues for them. This is normal practice in most big temples with special deities who are considered to be “powerful” in granting wishes or solving problems of people. Further, such revenues help the temple administration to improve the facilities for devotees and invest in schools and hospitals associated with the temple.

However, look at it from the devotees’ perspective. The poor, and middle income devotees wait in queues for a long time in order to reach the sanctum sanctorum and pay their obeisance to the deity, braving poor conditions of waiting areas and dealing with their children in bad weather. Their wait is unrecognized by temple authorities as they are driven out of the innermost sanctum as soon as they get in, whereas the rich devotees are allowed to spend some time inside and may be allowed to sit down for a longer darshan (view) of the deity. Is this fair ?

Now, look at it from God’s point of view. Does He differentiate ? No, absolutely not. He looks at all devotees with the same eyes – whether rich or poor. Simply because someone has paid big money, or he is spending more time praying in front of the deity, does he deserve to be treated with kid gloves ? No, absolutely not.

Recently, I read that in a temple in North India that the “untouchables” helped build, they have not been allowed to enter by the upper class of people. We are in the 21st Century, and India is racing towards becoming one of the top three economies of the world, and we hear this kind of stuff.

So, we have problems in access to God, if one is poor or if one belongs to the “untouchable” class in India. In my personal opinion, it is hard to designate India as an advanced country with an incorruptible, civilized society. We still have vestiges of old colonial, religiously fractured, and caste driven society which is also divided between the haves and poor have-nots in a hugely divisive way.

Is it fashionable to say that I saw a deity by paying big money ? Looks like it is – otherwise why would people always say that they are taking off to go to a famous temple : that would imply that suitable arrangements have been made to access God. Why will they want to wait in a queue to see their favourite God ?

Well, welcome to India – one needs to be prepared for anything and everything. All kinds of arguments, and all kinds of folks. Accessible Gods and Least-Accessible Gods.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
16th May 2010
Mumbai

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