The importance of Hindus’ support to the Pakatan Rakyat is undeniable. It would be hard to imagine how Pakatan could be as successful as it was on March 8 without overwhelming support from the Hindus and the Indians in general. When the Sri Maha Kaliamman shrine in Ampang, Selangor was demolished, many began to wonder if Pakatan were really any different from Barisan. Hindraf was clearly unhappy and a revolt was underway. Popularity of Pakatan among the Hindus was going south until the Pakatan-led Selangor government clarified that the local council had gone against state directive and suspended the person whom allegedly ordered the demolition.

I am less sympathetic to the shrine issue than the Pakatan state government. The fact that the shrine was built in a forest reserve only pushes me away from those who share Hindraf’s position. Why, when and how a shrine found itself in a forest reserve has yet to be clearly explained to the public. Without the questions answered, my default position would be demolition.

I could not care less whether the structure was a mosque, a temple, a church or more secular structures like a luxurious bungalow, a forest reserve — or any forest — is a sacred cathedral to me. Any other structures built that has nothing to do with wildlife protection violates the sanctity of the cathedral.

That particular piece of land is a public property appropriated as a nature reserve. To me, converting any part of that land for a shrine’s use is as angering as turning part of Kota Damansara City Forest Park as a burial ground.

I understand that context is important in considering the issue. Selangor state councilor Elizabeth Wong is content that many temples, including Sri Maha Kaliamman, “were forced over the years into this grey zone, and neglected until recently.”[1] In between the lines, maybe she is suggesting that the previous state government might have not been very forthcoming when it comes to providing land for non-Muslim religious purposes. Indeed, a 2002 report published by the US state department states that the Malaysian government “enforces some restrictions on the establishment of non-Muslim places of worship” may strengthen that opinion.[2]

Within that context, I am willing to see the state helps to relocate the shrine to somewhere else to correct the wrongs of past administration.

Baradan Kuppusamy tried to provide a big picture but I do not quite like what I read. In the article of his, he said there is no such thing as enough temples “because a person who builds temples is deemed especially close to and favoured by the gods.”[3]

Mr. Kuppusamy goes on by saying “there exists a strong urge to build and keep building more temples from roadside shrines to large temples wherever Hindus live.”[4]

I have problem with that. That somehow sounds like a ticket to have religion to trump everything else.

The quantity of temples really does not bother me. Rather, I strongly feel that construction of temples, or any religious structure for that matter, should not exploit public space without going through the necessary processes.

Having a temple in public space effectively turns a public space into a private space as its use is very exclusive. It is therefore, at its worst sounds like a land grab. How reasonable is it for anybody to build something on a piece of public land and then practically claim ownership over the land on behalf of anything, including gods?

Another factor which I am uncomfortable with is the fact that, as Mr. Kuppusamy wrote in the article, poorer Hindus do not go to or prevented from visiting to temples patronized by the richer Hindus. He implicitly makes a conclusion that the existence of the caste system which Hinduism calls for more temples despite the presence of “many larger temples that dot every major town in the country.”[5] My conclusion would definitely take a different path and call for abolition of the caste system. Yet, nobody is being forced to participate in the caste system and coercion cannot be used to abolish the discriminatory system. Yet, while the Hindus are free to practice Hinduism, the practice of their religion should not affect others’ right.

I am in the opinion that religious institutions should be treated no differently from any organization. If anybody wants to utilize public space especially on permanent or long term basis, the necessary approval must be obtained so that others’ right over the use of public space is preserved. The opinion and agreement of most stakeholders of the public space is important to legitimize the privatization of the public space. Any action which effectively turns a public space into private area without consultation from other stakeholders amount to stealing from the public, be the motive is commercial or religious.

The approval processes of course need to be fair and transparent; discrimination based on religion is a no-no. The slowness or reluctance of the authority to grant approval to the construction of places of worships belonging to religions other than Islam definitely needs to be tackled to address the issue.

Before I end, I want to stress this: this is not as much as a religious issue with me as much as a matter concerning property right. The fact that that particular piece of land is a nature preserve makes me care more about it.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] — [On the Sri Maha Kaliamman shrine. Elizabeth Wong. September 30 2008]

[2] — [Malaysia. International Religious Freedom Report 2002. October 7 2002]

[3] — [Tempers rage over Hindu temples issue. Baradan Kuppusamy. The Star. September 30 2008]



2 Responses to “[1800] Of property rights are sacred too”

  1. on 07 Oct 2008 at 09:23 zewt

    Religious institutions be treated equally? coming from an economic perspective… i will say yes. but i am committed to my faith thus… i think religious institutions should have a separate set of rules given the nature of our asian heritage.

  2. on 07 Oct 2008 at 21:42 Crankshaft

    I agree with you, earthinc. At some point, there would be no more boundaries of what you can or cannot do in the name of religion.

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