Earlier this week, the State Government said it was toying with a proposal for constituting a Temple Protection Force using retired armed forces personnel.
A dedicated corps of ‘guardian angels’ would indeed prove a blessing to places of worship, since statistics reveal that they are having a hard time in God’s Own Country keeping burglars out.
Figures tabled in the Assembly the other day by the Home Department show that places of worship were falling easy prey to thieves. If 277 thefts were reported during 2011-2012 in temples, churches and mosques across the state, the number rose to 314 during 2012- 2013. The data cover temples, churches and mosques, but of the three, temples appear the softer - and lucrative - targets for burglars. Of the 277 cases in 2011-2012, a whopping 203 were in temples. And, of the 314 thefts in 2012-2013, temples accounted for 249.
Christian churches trailed a distant second with 57 thefts in 2011-2012 and 58 in 2012-2013. Mosques also reported theft, but at a far lower rate. Mosques reported 17 cases each in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.
Some places of worship - such as the high-profile Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple or the hill-top Sabarimala shrine - boast round-the-clock security, but not all have it.
In December 2010, parishioners of the Holy Cross Shrine, Mapranam, were shocked to discover three holy relics stolen from the church. The relics were brought to the church - in Irinjalakkuda constituency of Thrissur district - from the Vatican in the 18th century.
More than two years after the daring burglary, the police remain clueless about the culprit/culprits. “The investigation is still on. But we have not recovered the relics yet,” Thomas Unniyadan MLA, said.
That said, thefts at places of worship still form only a small part of the total thefts and burglaries reported in the state. But they have made religious institutions predictably wary.
Surveillance cameras have become commonplace in many churches and temples now. The Attukal Bhagavathy Temple here, famed for the annual Pongala festival which draws lakhs of women, is planning to have three levels of security once it covers the sanctum sanctorum with gold panels, a project which was announced on Thursday.
“Once the work is over, we will have a three-tier security system complete with surveillance cameras. In fact, we already have adequate security arrangements in the temple,” Attukal Temple Trust secretary M S Jyothish Kumar said.
The Police Department has a State Temple Anti-Theft Squad (STATS) in place, with 160 personnel spread over the state. “Temples are targeted because it is there you find valuables like gold and silver. Except for the offering boxes, you don’t find so many valuables in a mosque,” said STATS SP Unniraj. “We have instructed places of worship not to store valuable objects. We have also advised them to install surveillance cameras,” he said.
A State Sainik Welfare Department proposal, which is being studied by the State Government, talks of a dedicated force for protection of valuables in places of worship using ex-servicemen. In fact, the department took the cue from Tamil Nadu, which has such a force in place.