Ramasamy slams Chettiar trustees over chariot donations

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PETALING JAYA: Trustees of the Naatukkotai Chettiar temple have come under fire for the secrecy over how they have used public donations raised by the Silver Chariot procession at the annual Thaipusam festival.

The chairman of the state-run Penang Hindu Endowments Board (PHEB), P Ramasamy, accused the trustees of not chanelling the money for the benefit of poor Hindus in the state.

He claimed that as much as RM130 million had been collected in public donations over the years and questioned whether these had been used solely for the benefit of Chettiars in Penang, Malaysia and India.

“The PHEB is not against the Chettiars, but we are against those trustees of the temple that manage the chariot procession,” Ramasamy said today in a press statement. He said the board believed that public festivals must be organised and run without caste or clan affiliations.

“Another sore point is that members who are not citizens manage the Chettiar temple,” he said. “Every Thaipusam these members come from India to look at and adopt the accounts. However, the accounts are never made public. The entire matter is shrouded in secrecy.”

He claimed that even the local Chettiar community was not privy to information about the collections from Thaipusam, and some had come to complain.

He contended that funds collected from a public festival should not be used for private ends.

The Hindu board is a statutory body set up under colonial-era state law to manage endowments for Hindu temples in the state.

It has been at loggerheads with the Chettiar community and the trustees of Nagarathers Naatukottai Murugan temple in Waterfall Road after the state government announced that it intended to organised a separate Vel chariot procession at Thaipusam next year.

Ramasamy, who is deputy chief minister II, said the chariot procession had been a contentious issue for many years, and noted that Gerakan and MIC politicians had criticised the state government for attempting to hijack cultural and religious events organized by temple committees and civic organisations.

Last month, the state government also conducted its own celebrations for the Jade Emperor God deity at Weld Quay, causing an uproar because the Phai Thnee Kong celebration has traditionally been conducted by residents of Chew Jetty who accused Tanjong MP Ng Wei Aik and Pengkalan Kota assemblyman Lau Keng Ee, both of DAP, of hijacking the festival.

Ramasamy dismissed the Chettiar community’s contention that it was the community who had organised the chariot procession for the past 130 years, and claimed that the Chettiars had hijacked the event from the larger Indian community.

He claimed that the chariot procession “should rightfully be restored to the PHEB” as a statutory body under the state government and the body in charge of organising Thaipusam celebrations.

He said the board would not stop the Chettiars from carrying out their Silver Chariot procession, but the board would hold its own Vel procession from Mariamman temple in Queen Street to the Hilltop temple in Waterfall Road.

The Vel procession had been held on a small scale on Thaipusam eve but will be held on a major scale from next year, he said.

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