Together they constitute 1/1200th of our total population. Or 0.083 per cent. Yet, they are a visible and largely affluent lot, known as much for their business success as their patent on an old Indic religion. Call it a formal recognition of the influence they wield, or a desperate attempt by the UPA to mop up whatever little comes their way ahead of a tough election. Between hope and an uncertain future, the Congress-led government hastily ushered in the nation’s sixth minority community—the Jains—last week. And a century-old issue was sorted out at the speed of light. On Republic Day eve, Jain leaders were meeting party vice-president Rahul Gandhi to petition him; on the morning after, the UPA was notifying the announcement. Pure optics or a fait accompli?
For the community, it has been a long wait that saw them moving the Supreme Court in 2005 and knocking at the doors of respective state governments for that one recognition that would put them on a par with India’s other five minorities: Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Zoroastrians. The court directed states to take appropriate measures to identify the community and accord the status in line with the provisions in the Constitution, but didn’t itself oblige. The National Minorities Commission set up in 1992 also recognised only five communities, and the Jains were not among them. Back in 1905, the Jains had managed to get the minority tag but their exclusion by the framers of the Constitution rankled large sections of the community.
At the lord’s feet Bahubali worship. (Photograph by AFP, From Outlook 10 February 2014)
The legal nod had already come from Attorney-General Ghoolam Vahanvati. The A-G is said to have been reluctant initially—though Outlook has no independent means of verifying it—but is believed to have been sufficiently convinced by the arguments put forth in favour of recognition of the community as a linguistic and religious minority.
The final push perhaps came from Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. After meeting a Jain Samaj delegation comprising among others spiritual head Lokesh Muni, All India Jain Minority Forum president Chakresh Jain, Ahimsa Foundation’s Ravi Kumar Jain and an influential business group from Rajasthan on Jan 19, he prevailed upon Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to do the needful. The formalities over, the Jains were declared a minority community on January 27, a day after the Republic Day.
Says Chakresh Jain, who met Sonia Gandhi along with other members of the delegation, “Mrs Gandhi was sympathetic to our cause. And Sibal saab is an old friend.” The freshly minted minority group has been going around thanking the prime minister and other ministers, including minority affairs minister Khan, in the last few days.
Blessed visit The Jain Samaj delegation with Rahul Gandhi
Their beholdenness should be encouraging for the Congress. As Chakresh says, “The Congress has been known to take care of the minorities, and we will take care of them. Why not?” Sibal bats away any suggestion of a quid pro quo. “Aren’t they a minority?” he retorts. “Aren’t they a religious and linguistic minority?” Indeed, they are, and have been for a long time. It still doesn’t answer the question: why now, two months short of a general election?
What’s more, there are enough voices within the community that despair of the status. They caution that the demand for identity is actually linked to control over educational institutions and places of worship. A minority tag will help the community run both according to their own rules. In Delhi alone, more than 25 schools and institutes are run in accordance with the Jain tradition, which includes eschewing non-vegetarian food.
Says education activist and Delhi High Court advocate Ashok Aggarwal, “The minority tag to a highly enterprising and largely prosperous community does raise questions about the benefits such a tag will bring, and to my mind, it will free unaided educational institutes run by Jains from implementing 25 per cent reservations for the backward classes.”
Anil Kumar of the Jain Samaj and part of the delegation that met Sonia would have none of this. “This is about our identity as distinct from other religions,” he says. “It also allows us to run our places of worship as we want to. There is no other benefit we seek and all doubts about reservations are baseless,” he says.
Mount Girnar The site of dispute between Jains and Hindus
Control over places of worship too is at the heart of the debate over the minority tag. At Mount Girnar, for instance, Jains worship the footprints of the 22nd Tirthankara Neminath, who is said to have attained nirvana here, while Hindus claim it is the abode of Dattatreya. Both communities have been involved in skirmishes despite the Gujarat High Court ordering in 2007-08 that Jains be provided safety. Despite that, a Jain sadhu was stabbed here last year, and things came to a boil.
Likewise, there is dispute between Hindus and Jains over the Rishabhdeo temple in Udaipur as well. Though the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Jains, the matter is still not resolved. In fact, there is a quarrel between the two sects—the Digambars and Shwetambars—over its control. So much so that the feuding sects have decided to divide their time of worship. The Shwetambars like to decorate their deity while the Digambars like to keep things bare. The two sects are also feuding over Shikharji on Mount Parasnath, the holiest of the holies where 20 of the 24 Tirthankaras found enlightenment.
The minority tag is being seen as a first step towards resolving issues of faith. Temple wealth and control of management remains a thorny issue as government-appointed nominees have had their say thus far. With the minority tag, that will end, says the Jain community. Spiritual head Lokesh Muni, who has long been pressing for the demand, thinks this should have happened long ago. “Justice has prevailed now,” he says.
Above all, the Jains will now become eligible for funds earmarked by the Centre for minority welfare. The Rs 3,000 crore corpus set aside for the purpose might just see an increase in this year’s budget following the inclusion of Jains in the group.
Most Jains owe a personal debt to Bal Patil, the general secretary of the Jain Minority Forum, who had taken the battle to the Supreme Court in 2005. BJP supporters traditionally, will 2014 mark their conversion to the Congress?
Jains are an affluent, intelligent and literate community steeped in centuries-old religious and social values (Jainuflection, Feb 10). For a community to which helping the less privileged not only amongst their own but also others comes naturally, the state’s largesse has no special appeal. Further, Jains have never been a socially or religiously persecuted minority who needed state protection through laws that govern minorities in India. The upa government’s move at the fag end of its term and in an election year reeks of political opportunism: of baiting minority groups (read others in waiting), though all calculations show that the very small percentage of the widely and thinly spread Jain population doesn’t make for an important electoral pie.
Jayanthi S. Ramlal, Mumbai
The granting of minority status to the Jains is not motivated by any desire for a theological revival of the Jaina way. The Jain International Trade Organisation (JITO) has worked overtime to get this demand implemented for the personal gain of a select few industrialists, who contribute heavily to the Congress coffers. It’s a fact that Jains have never availed of the BPL card and never desired reservation in jobs. As a Jain, I am ashamed to be called a minority and thus clubbed with Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Parsis. I am strongly against our new-found status.
Rajiv Boolchand Jain, New Delhi
Did you know that a large population of the quite local and indigenous Jain community called the Sarak Jains, of which I am a member, is concentrated in Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa? Marginal farmers by occupation, in Bengal and Orissa, they are listed as backward classes; in Jharkhand, they are fighting for their rights.
Ritesh Sarak, Giridh
It is a big myth to generalise all Jains as economically well-off and therefore in no need of financial assistance. My family has sponsored an engineering college and architecture school in Chennai. Being hands-on for the last two decades, I can tell you there are many Jains who cannot even afford tuition fees.
Jaswant Munoth, on e-mail
We, the largest Jain organisation—Bharatiya Jain Milan—welcome the government’s decision to give the minority status to Jains. We are sure this will be of great help to the many poor Jains who are farmers in Karnataka and many other parts of the country.
Dharmasthala Surendra Kumar, on e-mail
How come the Buddhists were granted minority status 60 years before the Jains?
Parjan Kumar Jain, Delhi
Divide and rule has long been a Congress mantra. They are masters at inflaming a sense of victimhood in communities and then pretending to come to their rescue. Having run out of communities to divide, they are now scraping the bottom of the barrel and hence the Jains.
Ravi Jain, Hyderabad
The Jains are not a herd of sheep who will vote en bloc. If they have been accorded minority status for political reasons, then the rulers are in for a rude shock. The Jains are intelligent businessmen, who think with their brains, not with their heart.
Shirish Patwa, Ahmedabad
Being married to a Jain/I can hardly complain/Since Jains are pretty much at the top of the food chain.
Ashok Lal, Mumbai
Talking of the Jains, I can only express my deep sense of appreciation for their philanthropic disposition. In particular, I recall the book bank members of the community were running in Madras in the ’70s, a non-profit venture, from which I and umpteen others benefited.
N. Krishnamurthy, Chennai
I am a Jain, and believe me, few among us even knew about this demand for minority status! In fact, there were so many jokes going around about who among us might have asked for it.
Sachin Kumar, Shamli
A joke going around on WhatsApp: One Jain, speaking to another, “Vote to NaMo ne hi joiye. RaGa ne ‘michami dukhadm’ kanvanu (Our vote will go to NaMo only, we’ll say ‘I am sorry’ to Rahul)!”
Kiran Bagachi, Mumbai
The Jains are a pretty close and well-knit community, helping and supporting each other through their associations, without expecting any dole from government. They are enterprising and business-minded, educationally and economically forward, scarcely in need of a minority status. They are spread all over the country, largely in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. They dominate all kinds of lucrative businesses, be it gold and jewellery, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, electrical appliances and money-lending that has become synonymous with them. The minority status is superfluous for them, they might not even choose to avail the benefits under it.
M.Y. Shariff, Chennai
Remember that traditional matrimonial relations between Jains and Agarwals, Oswals or Sainis belies their being a separate community.
Ashima Goel, Hisar
Looks like everyone within the Hindu majority is seeking a ‘backward’ tag, and those outside it a ‘minority’ one. And it won’t be long before they join the backward movement too.
Arun Maheshwari, Bangalore
There are in fact pending demands from quite a few sects operating under the broad umbrella of Hinduism. The Lingayat community in the south, for example. They reject the Vedas and are estimated to be around four crore in number and want to be treated as a separate religion. Also, the Ayyavazhi followers, again in the south, estimated to number a crore or so. They too reject the Vedic system. With the Pandora’s box now flung open, there may be many more looking to be ‘minorities’.
R.V. Subramanian, Gurgaon
Now that the Jains have been given minority status, how about adding to the list Atheists and Agnostics? They are also minorities in India and not all of them are doing well!
Some are born minority, some achieve minority status and others have it thrust upon them. The Jains seem to belong in the last category. Talking of which, why not extend the same courtesy to Jews, some five thousand of whom are left in the country?
Ramesh Ramachandra, Bangalore
Your cover story on Jains (Jainuflection, Feb 10) proclaimed the Gomateshwara statue in Sravanabelagola to be 1,800 years old. In fact, since the first Mahamastakabhisheka was held in AD 981 by Chavundaraya, the statue is 1,033 years old at the most. And Belgaum is not the only district in Karnataka which has Jains. Every district has a Jain presence.
Being 'MINORITY' is the Niche 'STYLE STATEMENT' now.
Being 'MINORITY' is the new 'STATUS SYMBOL' now.
good cover story about jain community......but something is missing.......do you know that large populated indigenous jain community called Sarak Jain are concentrated in Bengal, Jharkhand and orrisa.......Sarak jains are marginal farmers and in bengal and orrisa they are enlisted in backward classes...in jharkhand fight for their rights are going on.......Sarak jain in these region are poor and backward......but mainstream media is unaware about this community........the sarak jain community need the benefits of minority status for entire development.............
Jains once used to be in the largest ambit of the Vaidik traditions as it,s core philsophy is similar to the oldest school of Vedas by kapil Muni i.e Samkhya.It was around 500-600 BC that due to the devolution of vaidik traditions Jains decided to disassociate themselves from Vedas. The same approach was adapted b y Buddha when he objected to the practice of animal sacrifice in Yagna citing it to be a misinterpretaions of Vedas by certain gropup of Brahmins which has monopolized over the teaching of vedas and made it to be a ritual cult of practice.
RAMKI @ 27 & 28
Are you suggesting that Hinduism is amorphous in nature and content?
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