By Natalia Chakma
Aundh is a suburb in the city of Pune. It is under the area where the Smart City Pune Project is being constructed. The Smart Street in Aundh was one of the first projects to be completed in the city. The Smart Street is constructed on DP road that stretches from Parihar Chowk to Bremen Chowk. It was inaugurated on October 17, 2017. The other end of the Smart Street extending from Parihar Chowk to DAV school is still under construction. We noticed that the Smart Street which was entirely developed had no temples, whereas the street that was still under construction has a few temples that have been documented below.
In September, 2009 the Supreme Court announced that there shall be no construction of religious structures on public space, public parks or public streets, and for the existing unauthorized religious structures, the court said that the State Administration shall review those case by case and take necessary actions. Emphasizing the order passed on 2009, the Supreme Court in 2011 restrained the state governments from granting permission to build religious structures or statues on public lands.
This is Shiv Dhatt Ganesh Temple. It is built by Gokul Gaikwad, whose ancestors owned large amounts of land Aundh, and remain one of the most influential families of the city. Gokul Gaikwad is also the third brother of Dattatray Gaikwad who was the ex-mayor of Pune Municipal Corporation. The priest of the temple takes care of the cleanliness and basic amenities of the temple. People come to visit the temple from the neighbourhood as well as from distant areas like Pimpri-Chinchwad, Baner, etc. When one views this temple from the other side of the road, it looks like it is on the footpath but when one sees it closely the shrine is actually beyond the property line. The compound wall of the temple seems to extend a little onto the footpath though. No notice has been given by the authority about the condition of the wall and what is going to happen after the Smart City road is completed.
This temple is built by a local of Aundh. He is the land owner of the particular area where the shrine stands. Hence, like the previous temple, it looks as if its standing on a public space but the temple is actually on private land. The local people around, especially the tailor besides the temple looks after it. Mostly the people living nearby come to worship in the temple. After the Smart City road is constructed the temple will be renovated and glass-fitted.
Both these temples looks like they are on a public space but in the owners claim that they are on a private property. They are in a confused space.
This temple is built by the auto drivers of the area and they take care of the temple. Earlier the temple was a little ahead of the footpath but was a source of hindrance to the vendors who sit there because the size of the temple was much bigger. So these drivers negotiated with PMC (Pune Municipal Corporation) and shifted the temple and reduced its size so it doesn’t cause any problem to anyone. Though the construction of these religious structures are illegal on public spaces, they are allowed to exist.
This temple is on Sarjaa Road. The temple is looked after by the auto drivers. As the picture shows the temple is on the footpath i.e a public space which is against the laws.
The above two examples have a similar story of construction on a public space. They are an outcome of the collective feeling of brotherhood and belonging to the place. It can also be seen as an informal exercise in claim making. Both the temples are built beside the auto stands, so there is always someone to protect and take care of the temple.
What is legal? What is illegal? Both, ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ are contested concepts and often tend to exist in the same space, together. When one talks about legal streets it means streets with definite spaces for parking, visible property lines, footpath uses, etc which exists only on paper. For example, there are designated places for parking, but people park their vehicles wherever they want to, and very often they are allowed to do so. Street vendors very commonly vend in no-hawking zones since vending is their only means of livelihood. Though all these are seen as “illegal” on paper, in practice they are either allowed or tolerated for various reasons, or they continue to resist and exist despite the backlash from state authorities or the police. Similarly, building of temples on public spaces are considered “illegal” but are allowed.
It is the local people who make decisions about building temples. These decisions are made on the basis of a feeling of belonging to the neighbourhood. Though India is a secular country, its population has immense faith in religion. So anything that is related to religion becomes sensitive and no one questions the construction of religious structures on public spaces. Once a temple is built it becomes very hard to demolish. However, there are a few cases of temple demolitions. Some of these demolitions have taken place with high security personnel guarding the state officials and wokers to avoid violence against the demolition squads.
Lastly it is interesting to see that there are no temples on the Smart City road which has been completed and hence, the upcoming Smart City roads will look different from the older, already existing streets that have been organically developed through multiple incursions, negotiations and informal acts of claim making.
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