Two weeks ago, the issue of Devasthan Regulation came to the forefront when the Mazanias of Navadurga Temple in Madkai, who belong to the Brahmin community, tried to stop the locals from celebrating the zatra by going to court to deny access of the articles used in the rituals during the zatra. Although the Courts rejected the request in the interest of public sentiments, the conflict between the two communities over the control of the Navdurga temple doesn't appear to head towards any immediate resolution.
Avinash Tavares takes a close look at the situation on the ground
o, who are the rightful owners of the Navdurga temple in Madkai? On one hand, a group of people who belong to the Brahmin caste claim they own the temple while on the other hand ethnic Goans who have been living in the village for centuries claim that their ancestors had built the temple.
In another part of Goa, a young man was sitting with friends and describing his experience in Shirdi. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t like people going to Shirdi and I had gone there to find faults. But what I saw was amazing. We don’t have anything like that in Goa. The Shirdi trust gives free medical treatment for the poor, they run several colleges and universities. What has the temple committees in Goa done for the people”, questioned the man.
The discussion eventually steers towards caste domination in temples and then some upper-caste bashing. But there was a fundamental premise to their argument which seemed indestructible and that is the acceptance of the status-quo of the law that governs the temples, the Devasthan Regulation formally known as the Regulamento das Mazanias.
Origins of Regulamento das Mazanias
The first Regulamento das Mazania was introduced by the Portuguese regime in 1886. Subsequently, new 1933, the Portuguese government had introduced regulation to replace the earlier one. Since then, the Regulamento das Mazanias was amendment twice, in 1980 and 1983.
The original people of Goa, the non-Brahmins and non-kshatriyas, followed a practice where the tribal deity was assumed to be the owner of the lands of the tribe. The first right of ownership thus lay with the deity. This form of ownership remained undisputed till the arrival of other tribes now considered as upper castes. When land records were prepared, diety’s names were entered as the owner of these properties of the village.
When the upper caste groups arrived in Goa, they took advantage of the situation. Groups such as the Gowd Saraswat Brahmins, Djvandnya Brahmins and later the Ksatriyas had an inherent advantage by virtue of knowing to read and write. When the Portuguese arrived, they wanted to formulate regulations for land inorder to generate revenue via land taxes. Just like the code of communidades, the portugese drafted regulations managing the properties of the temples.
Uner the RDM, Mazanias were defined as members of the Devstan which are the “male descendants in direct line and those adopted according to the respective Code of usages and customs shall succeed”. This definition was vague and thus gave extensive liberty to those who were literate to frame their customs in favour of a particular group while sidelining the rest.
The bias towards literate tribes or caste was further evident in Article 17 of the regulation which states that the bodies of members (mazanias) in order to have a legal constitution, shall be required to have bye-laws approved by Government, wherein, it should be mentioned the designation of the Devasthans and their dependent temples, of the groups or family groups of which the bodies of members (mazanias) are composed, tribe, “gotra” (progeny comprising various families), when the associates are brahmins, class and surnames (mazanias) rights and obligations, honours and responsibilities of each family group, and of families within the family groups, cult, obligatory religious acts and festivities, fund receipts and expenditure, servants and their obligations and pay, rates of cultural and festive acts, and any other provisions that may not be in opposition to this Regulation and to the general law.”
“Imagine being an ordinary illetrate ethnic goans from the OBC or ST caste in 1933. They would obviously need someone from the upper caste to manage the temple affaris since they could read and write. But after several generations, those upper caste people took total control of the temple ”, says Ashwinkumar Naik an activist from Madkai who is demanding temple rights for the excluded groups.
Advocate ViviekKasar, who is the attorney for the locals of Madkai in the Navdurga case, says that during the Portuguese regime, many in the upper castes groups were close to the Portuguese and the Portuguese used to take the advice of these groups when they were grafting regulations for local customs. “When these groups came to Goa they set up their own temples but slowly they brought the properties of other temples which rightfully belonged to the ethnic tribes and aboriginal inhabitants of Goa under their devasthan.”, said Kasar. It was easy to register the properties under RDM since under Article 12 of the law which stated that “rural and urban properties belonging to the bodies of members (mazanias) that may not have been registered at the office of the Land Registrar of the respective judicial district (Comarca), shall be so within the time limit of one year from promulgation of this Regulation”. The protuguese were not concerened with verifying the claim of ownership since all they were concered with is collecting property tax.
administrators or owners?
“Under the regulations, the Mazanias are not given any kind of ownership. They are mere administrators of the temple affairs. Who gave those properties to the Devastans? How did the deveastan come to become guardians of the property? If they are the properties of the devastans, can the mazanias claim ownership of the properties? There are some of the questions that are yet to be answered by the Mazanias as well as the Government of Goa that is allowing the law to remain in force”, says Kasar.
The issue here is very similar that in the Code of Communidades, which was enacted to regulate the community lands of the villages. It is assumed that Gavkars are the original inhabitants of a village. In some Communidades such in the village of Verna, the Gavkars belong to the Brahmin caste, whether Christian or hindu. Does that mean that there were no ethnic tribes in these villages? Or did litracy and proximity to the protuguese play a role in appropriating the commons lands?
More importantly, while both the Commundade and the Mazanias were envisaged as administrators of the community and temple land respectively, how and when were they assume ownership of the lands?
Regulamento das Mazanias and Consitution of India.
Art. 17 of the Regulation states that the bodies of members (mazanias) should have by-laws which should mention the designation of the Devasthans and their dependent temples along with the family groups of which the bodies of members (mazanias) are composed, tribe, “gotra” (progeny comprising various families) incase of brahmins, class and surnames (mazanias) rights and obligations, honours and responsibilities of each family group, and of families within the family groups, cult, obligatory religious acts and festivities.
Other issues plaguing the Regulamento das Mazanias
In some bylaws of the devastans, certain duties were assigned to the lower caste people even though the caste system has been abolished in India, says Adv Kasar.
“When Mazanias members don’t have male heirs, they have adopted a son by deed of adoption from their community or another community. The problem with the later is that though the person has the legal right to practice as Mazania under the regulations, he is deprived of his rights. Future of Devasthans
If Devasthans were an industrial sector, it would probably be the highest revenue generating sector in Goa. However, they have been exempted under income tax laws. “Money coming to them is unaccounted except with receipts and donations accepted in cheques. More than developing colleges, medical facilities etc, they think of developing temple and marriage halls. If the managing committee had to divert the money for the social benefit it would have good but such things are not taken into consideration here. We don’t know where all the money donated to our temple in Madkai goes.”, says Ashwinkumar Naik.
Should the Government then take over the temples? In 2014, the SC pronounced a judgement on the role that governments should not play with temples. It ruled that no government had the absolute right to take over. One option is that the origins of every temple have to be researched so that it can be determined who had established the temple and therefore are the rightful Mazanias of the temple. The other option could be to amend the Mazanias guidelines to allow local excluded groups and ethnic Goans to be enrolled as members. The solution could also be somewhere in between.
Another option is that the Devasthan Regulations and the Temple management should be given to the locals. Two years ago, devotes of Navdurga Temple in Madkai had made this demand. Whether this is the correct solution is uncertain but if the Government doesn’t step in and bring in reforms, the demand for scrapping the law will only increase. “Our people would have never objected to the Mazanias regulations if the money donated to the temples would have been used for the welfare of the people. Today our youth have to travel far if they want to attend college. There is no hospital in our village. On top of that, the Mazanias are filing cases to stop our religious rituals. Somewhere this trend has to stop if we need our village to progress”, says Askwinkumar Naik