The supposed temple issue in Selangor is not a new one. In fact, ever since a Pakatan Harapan government took root in the state under Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, there have been continued issues with the relocation of Hindu temples.
Case in point, the temple move in Shah Alam early in the days of the new government in 2008 almost reached a boiling point when a public hearing almost led to chair throwing. It was the same time that Khalid Samad had his picture trampled in the grounds of the state mosque. It was the same period as the cow head protest march towards the State Secretariat (SUK) building.
So in this sense, nothing new.
Even on the basis of having instigators paid for to march, it isn’t new – refer back to the cow head march a decade ago.
What is new, however, is the fact that this time around, there was damage to private property. What is new, is that the instigators are allegedly from a law firm based in Malaysia, paid for by the company who wants to take the land away.
What is also new, is that the government has now detained 30 people to assist with the investigation, a member of the Malaysian Fire Department was critically injured, and that the temple had received RM1.5 million in compensation and is now refusing to move.
The Selangor state was right in considering the Mid Valley Solution, where the temple continued to remain on the grounds of the development. However, when the developer has legally settled the issue with a payout and the temple committee backs out of the deal without offering to return the money, we definitely have a problem.
So, perhaps a few things need to happen here – the temple needs to return the money, the developer needs to reconsider a Mid Valley Solution, and everything else is just irrelevant if the two issues are settled.
If neither side believes in returning back to the negotiation table, then there will continue to be an issue of unrest just waiting to happen.
Since the courts have ruled for the developer, there really is no legal basis for the temple to remain there other than a mob defending it. What happens when they decide to just go ahead and demolish it?
Is the government going to continue to post police right near the temple to maintain the emotional mob even then?
And while Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed has announced that future houses of worship will require local council approval – does he understand what he is asking?
Consider Malaysian Christian shoplot churches or Chinese roadside shrines – are you truly going to now tell them that they need to go and file a document with the local council on whether they can do so or not?
And what if they don’t? Will they then see their worship under threat, closed down by local authorities, play the injured martyr and subsequently have the rule of law make an exception over and over again?
Then why bother with the registration at all?
The problem with half baked thoughts made into regulations and laws which in the end, end up being enforced and subsequently ignored, is that Malaysia has plenty of them. Thus a different solution needs to present itself to ensure the local community and the worshippers of whichever deity or religion are secured.
One way to handle this is not to have a registration with local councils, but also to make it mandatory for any house of worship to hold a public hearing for the community within the area particularly the residential associations.
While some may argue this will put the right to freedom of religion at threat, it does no such thing. All it does is ensure that local communities have a say and are informed of the establishment of religious institutions and raise their concerns while removing the threat of later issues.
The second thing to do will be a bit technical and would require the government to intercede. The government needs to establish a land trust for all religious institutions – particularly temples.
The issue with such establishments, particularly temples and suraus, is that it is established by communities without proper land titles or any protection from developers. Having it placed under a trust would allow the government to intercede with the issue of temples, churches, and even suraus and mosques built by local communities to be protected.
When government reconsiders and understands that worship is organic, usually by the demands of the community at one point in time which later on either thrives or withers, it allows the issuance of measures to ensure whether or not the established house of worship needs to move, or will remain protected.
And this will later on ensure that the government (either state or federal) gets a handle on dealing with the matter before it blows up to window breaking and midnight marches torching cars.