Ayodhya- In Uttar Pradesh, approximately 400 individuals who were involved in the production and sale of Prasad are left unemployed presently due to a ban on external offerings at the Ram Janmabhoomi Temple in Ayodhya. The Ram Janmabhoomi Trust, citing security concerns, transitioned these individuals into labour roles within the temple premises. The families affected by this decision find themselves in a precarious financial state, with concerns about future employment opportunities post the completion of temple construction.
The initiation of Ram Temple construction in 2019, following the Supreme Court's verdict, brought about significant transformations in the region. The lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic halted the offering of Prasad, leading those engaged in its preparation to shift to selling masks. However, when the lockdown concluded, the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust imposed a ban on external Prasad offerings, resulting in job losses for around 400 individuals. The displaced workers now engage in alternative tasks, such as applying tilak and sandalwood outside the temple gate, although challenges persist, including restrictions on these efforts near the temple.
Ayodhya's Ram temple has long been a spiritual center for Hindus, attracting over fifty thousand devotees daily from across the country and abroad. Despite this, the developments following the Supreme Court's decision in 2019 have had adverse effects on the local economy. The efforts to build the Ram temple led to the redevelopment of the pilgrimage site, involving the demolition and renovation of shops along the route from Hanuman Garhi to the Ram temple. Financially weak shopkeepers lost their establishments, contributing to the overall economic downturn.
Traditionally, the Ram temple in Ayodhya has offered Meva and Mishri as Prasad for centuries. However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted this practice, with Shrinath Singh, a Prasad preparer and seller at the Ramjanmabhoomi, noting that the temple ceased offering Prasad during the lockdown. Unfortunately, when the lockdown concluded, the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust imposed a ban on external Prasad offerings, leading to unemployment for around 400 individuals engaged in this work. Shrinath Singh and others, who used to earn a daily income of two to three thousand rupees through Prasad sales, now find themselves engaged in planting tilak and sandalwood outside the temple gate, relying on voluntary donations from devotees.
Amit Kumar Sharma, who sells Prasad near the Ram temple, states, "I have been selling Prasad since the age of 7. I used to go to school and sell Prasad whenever I had time. There was a ban on Prasad after the lockdown. Even though the lockdown ended, the ban on Prasad continued."
Interestingly, even those involved in applying Tilaks near the temple gate face strict prohibitions by the Trust and occasional interference by the police. On the condition of anonymity, one of the men stated, "We are strictly prohibited by the Trust from applying tilak at the gate of the temple. Many times the police chase us away. Just a week ago, a policeman had thrown away a person's sandalwood material after picking it up."
The Ram Janmabhoomi Trust has assumed responsibility for the entire Prasad arrangement within the temple, implementing a comprehensive ban on external offerings. Former practitioners of this tradition have transitioned into roles that now involve applying tilak and handling sandalwood. Additionally, many have secured employment as laborers within the temple premises. The Trust attributes the Prasad ban to security concerns, reaffirming its commitment to overseeing all facets of the temple's operations. This situation highlights the intricate shifts in employment dynamics and livelihoods following the transformative changes at the historic Ram temple complex.
Story Translated by Geetha Sunil Pillai