I am sorry to state that demolition of places of worship in Malaysia simply cannot be defended from strictly interpreting the law. There is more to safeguarding places of worship rather than simply hiding behind the legality of ownership question.

Ownership is an important consideration, but if places of worship have been on properties for years, isn’t there another way to look at the problem in terms of solving them?

Yesterday, Ahmad Solehin Abd Ghani wrote an article in Malaysiakini saying that the demolition of the Sri Sivaskathi Sri Sinna Karuppar temple in Seri Alam, Masai Johor on Jan 11, 2018 should be interpreted from a rational perspective. There is no need to get overly emotional about what happened.

Apart from his name, I am not sure about the details of the writer and whether he is employed by the Johor state government or whether he in in the service of the land owner. Whatever the case, Ahmad Solehin seems very sympathetic to both the Johor state government and the landowner.

He argued that the temple demolition matter should not have been politicised since it was based on Johor Bahru High Court decision taken in July 2016.

Only July 23, 2016, the court declared that the temple was situated on a private land, ordered the management of the temple to take the necessary measures to demolish the structures and hand over the land to the owner, in the event the management failed, then the owner had the right to remove the structures on the land and an injunction will be issued to stop the devotees or any others from coming into the land.

Following the court order, it seems, that efforts by the Johor state government, the land owner and other concerned parties to peacefully resolve the matter failed.

Ahmad Solehin says that Johor government even offered an alternative land for the temple, but it was not accepted by the temple management.

Although the Johor state government was concerned about the matter, it did not have the powers to stop the execution of the demolition order.

And finally he said that although the demolition of the temple was done in accordance with the law, some irresponsible parties including the opposition have made highly sensitive remarks about a religious matter.

He hoped that Hindus can be more rational, open and not jump to conclusion on the matter of temple demolition. He said that they should not be influenced by “hate politics” of those who have political intentions to embarrass the Johor state government.

Role of state governments

I am sorry that the Ahmad Solehin has given a very strictly a legal interpretation to the matter of the temple demolition.

However, such interpretation seems to absolve both the Johor state government and the land owner of any wrongdoing. This is very cunning way to cast the blame on entirely on the temple committee for not adhering to the legal requirements imposed by the court in 2016.

It is not that temple became illegal after the land was bought by the present landowner in 1995; in fact, the temple was on the land long before the present landowner appeared on the scene.

In fact, the temple was built even before political independence in 1957 and chances are high that it was built by former estate workers of a plantation. Just because the ownership of the land changed in recent years, structures on the land do not become “illegal” overnight.

Unfortunately, the courts in the country have failed to take a broad view on the question of legality. Since the majority of court decisions have been in favour of those own properties, little allowance is given to those who could have lived on properties or have put up structures like places of worship.

The minute ownership of the properties change, these structures that have been there for years become “illegal” over night.

The Johor Baru High Court might have been the “right” legal decision in one stroke of the pen, but it failed to provide justice to plantation workers and their families who built the temple long before independence.

In fact, there are hundreds and thousands of Hindu temples in the country that were built in the plantations during the colonial period. However, rapid urbanisation and commercialisation have meant among other things of the sale of land previously belonged to plantation companies.

Once these plantations lands were sold to private owners, then there is real danger for temples because they become “illegal” and prone to demolition.

Yes, state governments cannot interfere with the court decision. However, there is nothing that prevents state governments from providing alternative lands to temples that might face the dim prospect of eviction or demolition.

It is lie to say that the Johor state government offered an alternative plot of land to the temple management, but was rejected by the committee.

Since I was there on Jan 13, 2018, I can confirm that no alternative land was offered by the Johor state government to the temple committee before the temple structures were demolished. I am not sure where Ahmad Solehin got the information.

As I have said earlier, the problem in many of the states other than Penang or Selangor, is that there are no administrative provisions under the local governments for the setting aside of landfor non-Muslim places of worship.

MIC’s failure

Absence of this provision coupled with the lack of effective non-Muslim representation has prevented state governments in the BN states from fairly and effectively discharging their responsibility towards the non-Muslims.

In the case of the demolished temple in Johor, state leaders including the MIC representatives could have resolved the problem amicably.

Why did the MIC in Johor fail to address this problem of the demolished temple?

Sorry, there is nothing to be politicised about the temple demolition in Johor. The very act of demolition carries with it huge political and social implications.

While the Ahmad Solehin asks the Hindus in Johor to be rational and open, would he expect the same thing if other religious places of worship were demolished?

How would the Muslims react if their place of worship were disturbed? How would the Christians react if their place of worship is torn down in the name of a court order.

Knowing how sensitive religious matters are, it is plain stupid and unthinking for asking Hindus not to be too sensitive about the temple that was torn down in Johor recently.

Temple demolitions are not mere rational acts even though they are ordered by the court of law. Whether a temple is illegal or not, the mere act of demolition is something difficult for the Hindu community to accept.

What do you expect them to do, praise the court decision or the judge who ordered the demolition?

As I have pointed earlier, I am not still convinced whether the land owner or his agent followed the correct court order in going for the demolition. Yes, the court gave the order in July 2016, but the enforcement needs a bailiff order within a stipulated time.

Was the bailiff order for eviction or demolition or both? Can the land owner provide clarification on this matter? I hope that lawyers acting for the temple management should take up this matter, even if the saving the temple or its structures is merely academic now.

Finally, I am not sure why the land owner or his agent needed the service of more than 300 police and FRU personnel for the purpose of the demolition. Let me ask the CPO of Johor whether he was aware that his men in blue were not innocent bystanders to ensure peace and security at the temple site, but actually engaged in the demolition exercise in favour the land owner.

During my visit last Saturday, I was informed by those gathered that the police were seen pushing and dragging old women. I would like to get a response of the CPO as soon as possible.

YB Prof. Dr. P. Ramasamy