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Is Jain Minority Right In India Receiving A Fair Deal?

By Bal Patil

27 November, 2006

I refer to the Prime Minister, Dr.Manmohan Singh’s address at the annual conference of State Minorities Commissions recently in New Delhi attended by the Union Minority Affairs Minister, Mr.A.R. Antulay, the Union Human Resource Development Minister, Mr.Arjun Singh and the National Commission Minorities Chairman, Mr.Hamid Ansari

Stressing pluralism of the Indian culture Dr. Singh said that the nation 'does not belong to any single race and that it belongs “to a mosaic of religiously, linguistically and culturally varied communities... India must remain a nation where pluralism and socio-religious variety are respected. In a pluralistic society like ours, national identity cannot be adjudged by any litmus test ... This nation does not belong to any single race, least of all to any group of religious extremists.''

He also stressed that the minorities should get a fair share in central and state government and private sector jobs. Conceding that the benefits of developmental schemes had not "flowed equitably to the eligible sections among the minorities he noted " state chief ministers have been asked to put in place a monitoring mechanism over implementation of minority welfare schemes.

Union Minister for Minority Affairs A.R. Antulay said Dr. Singh's presence at the meeting indicated the importance the Government attached to the minorities.

Commission Chairman Hamid Ansari said: "It signifies a purpose, suggests an approach, indicates a willingness to hear — in this case a cry in which anguish and expectations alternate — and to redress."

The NCM Chairman had earlier slammed the controversial Gujarat Bill stating that such clubbing was “unacceptable”. The Commission said as per the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992 and the subsequent notification in 1993, Buddhists are a religious minority in the country along with Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Parsis. “The Gujarat Bill violates the existing law in the country. You can’t have such legislation in some region that runs against a national Act and notification of the Centre.”

One must note the cryptic omission of the Jains who are also classified as Hindus along with Buddhists in Mr.Ansari’s criticism of the impugned amendment. I wonder if the Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities was afraid of unwittingly giving the minority status to the Jain community. Perhaps he is not aware that the National Commission for Minorities has twice recommended minority status on par with other national minorities which has not been implemented.

The Congress, meanwhile, said the amendment was a “double assault” on the Constitution. Party spokesperson Satyavrat Chaturvedi said the action of the Gujarat government is in line with the RSS line of “intimidating minorities”.

The three-day Congress plenary session in Hyderabad in January 2006 had called upon the United Progressive Alliance Government to make the minorities partners in progress by enhancing their opportunities for education and employment stressing that the State Minority Commissions have to play a crucial role in ensuring communal harmony by implementing the Prime Minister’s 15-Point minority welfare programme initiated by Indiraji in 1983. The Union cabinet on July 12 approved a new 15-point programme to prevent and control communal incidents and take care of minorities welfare.

The 15-point programme has been recast to focus action sharply on issues intimately linked with the social, educational and economic uplift of minorities and provide for earmarking of outlays in certain schemes so that the progress was monitorable.

But this national minority welfare policy envisaged by the Congress and the UPA Government suffers from a glaring lacuna because it is applicable only to national minorities and thus discriminates against a minority declared by the States such as the Jain community who are declared minority in seven States but are not a national minority. Thus the Jains are out of the purview of the welfare benefits avaialable to the national minorities.

I am therefore concerned to protest as the Secretary-General of the All-India Jain Minority Forum that the national minority welfare policy envisaged by the Congress and the UPA Government and the seemingly “equitable” minority welfare plan announced by the Prime Minister suffer from a glaring lacuna of discrimination against the Jain minority religious community who have been declared as a minority in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttaranchala and Rajasthan together constituting 80% of the Jain population in India according to the recent census 2001 will be deprived of such benefits because they have not been given the status of national minority on par with other national minorities such as Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhists, and Zoroastrians (Parsis).

Therefore, the 15-Point minority welfare package formulated by the Congress cannot be meaningful unless the notional, even meaningless distinction between the National and State minorities is removed. The Jains have to be assimilated into the national mainstream of minorities by notifying them as a minority on par with the other national minorities such as Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Zoroastrian (Parsi).

The Central Government took a cryptic stand by clarifying in response to the Supreme Court Order in 2004 in Bal Patil Vs.Union of India & ors. in the Civil Appeal No. 4730 of 1999 praying for the implementation of the National Minority Commission’s recommendation that the Jains should be accorded minority status, that the issue of minority for Jains is a subject matter of States and central government has no role to play. The decision on the minority issue for Jains was taken by the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs in the light of the Supreme Court's directive to the Union Government that it should give its view about the minority status of the Jain community.

The meeting was significantly chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and also was attended by Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister, Sharad Pawar Agriculture Minister, K Natwar Singh External Affairs Minister, Communication and IT Minister Dayanidhi Maran and Law Minister H R Bhardwaj. Jains’ Minority Status to be Decided by States : Govt.

As regards the untenable stand of the Political Affairs Committee of the Government of India, it needs to be reminded that although the States were reorganised on linguistic basis they were not reorganised on religious basis. In fact the Supreme Court Order in Bal Patil vs,.Union of India 4730 of 1999 in July 2004 had specifically said that the criteria of the TMA Pai Foundation judgement did not apply to the case.

As noted by Mr. Syed Shahabuddin in his article Supreme Court Judgement on Minority Status of Jains Obiter Dicta Places Hindu Religion Above all Other Religions published in the Milli Gazette, 3 November, 2005 “This equation between the two categories of minorities (linguistic and religious)does not logically follow, as the States have not reorganized on religious basis and all religious communities are scattered throughout the country. The Central Government, a respondent, found it convenient to take shelter under this totally illogical presumption of the Supreme Court and refused to exercise its statutory power under the Act, thus making it redundant.”

At present the Jains are declared a minority in seven States of India. This means that the Jains are Hindus in the rest of the States in India. Is this not implicitly classifying Jains as Hindus? Why blame then the Modi Government in Gujarat State for classifying Jains as Hindus? Why does the UPA Government professedly secular continue with such unwarranted assault on the constitutionally recognised identity of the Jain religion?

Besides are the national minorities so-called like Muslim, Christian,Sikhs are minorities in the real sense of the term? The Muslims are majority in Jammu & Kashmir, the Sikhs are majority in Punjab and Christians are majority in the eastern Indian States Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya. And the national majority of the Hindus are minorities in these States. As a matter of fact only the Jains are the only religious community comprised of 4,223, 053 population according to the official Government of India Census 2001 are a true minority in every State of India.

In this confusion worse confounded of the National vs. State Minority status the Government must spell out clearly the distinction between the two and how precisely the national minorities so-called qualify to be so. The double-think on this vital issue is extremely damaging as in the case of the Jain religious minority. If the Jains can be a minority in more than seven States and are a distinct religion clubbed together with the Sikhs and Buddhists in Explanation II of Article 25 of the Constitution and also have been counted as a major religious community since the first Census in 1873 why should the Government persist in quibbling about State and National minority status?

It is pertinent to note in the aforesaid context that the prestigious Institute of Indology in the UK was instrumental in getting the Jain faith recognised as one of the nine faiths practised in the UK by HRH Duke of Edinburgh at the Buckingham Palace on 23rd October, 1990. It is recognised as a faith in its own right by the InterFaith Network in the UK and is represented at all civic, government and inter-religious events as such.

Why is the government of India then still playing hide and seek with the Jain minority status for the Jain religious community despite all the evidence to the contrary? Is it because the Jain community is a peace-loving community? Is that why the saffronite Modi government in Gujarat has dared to classify Jains and Buddhists as Hindus? And still the Centre is watching helplessly.

One of the main points raised by the Central Government authorities including the Minority Affairs Minister with regard to the issuance of Jain minority notification is that a section of the Jain community is opposed to the minority status. Does it mean that the minority constitutional right is to be decided by democratic vote? Was that how the national minority status given to the national minorities, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhists, and Zoroastrians ([Parsis)?

If the Government really means what it says let it scrap all the national minority list and begin anew by taking a national vote on all the minorities. It will discover then that national minorities too are majorities in some States-like Sikhs in Punjab, and Christians in eastern States, and Muslims in Jammu & Kashmir. Not only that but the national majority of Hindus are a minority in Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir and the Christian majority States.

In sum, the Government of India makes a mockery of of the minority welfare programmes by its flagrantly discriminatory treatment of the Jain minority community so generously announced by the Prime Minister. Why is the Government of India digging its heels on the issue of Jain religious minority status despite all the evidence to the contrary?

If the Central Government cares to look into the Census figures it will find that Jainism is counted as a major religion right from the first Census in 1873 and that the Jains are truly a minority not only in every State of India but also in every District and Taluka.

In the aforesaid context following constitutional, and judicial evidence needs to be noted:

1. On 25th January, 1950, a Jain delegation was led to the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and other central leaders to draw their attention to the anomalous position of the Jains under sub-clause (b) of Clause 2 of Article 25 and a petition was submitted. Jawaharlal Nehru clearly assured the delegation that the Jains are not Hindus and on 31-1-1950, his Principal Private Secretary, Mr.A.V. Pai wrote the following letter (a copy of the letter is enclosed) in reply to the petition:

"This Article merely makes a definition. This definition by enforcing a specific consitutional arrangement circumscribes that rule. Likewise you will note that this mentions not only Jains but also Buddhists and Sikhs. It is clear that Buddhists are not Hindus and therefore there need be no apprehension that the Jains are designated as Hindus. There is no doubt that the Jains are a different religious community and this accepted position is in no way affected by the Constitution."

In his Allahabad speech on 3rd September,1949, Jawaharlal Nehru said:

“No doubt India had a vast majority of Hindus, but they could not forget the fact that there are also minorities Moslems, Christians, Parsis and Jains. If India was understood as a “Hindu Rashtra “ it meant that the minorities were not cent per cent citizens of te country.” (The Statesman, 5-9-1949)

It may be recalled that the Deputy Prime Minister of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in his letter of 25th August,1946 addressed to Sir Bhagchand Soni, President, All India Digamber Jain Mahashbha assured the Jain Community not to be worried about their religious rights and promised that “in free India there would be no restrictions upon the religious liberty of any Community and there need be no apprehensions in this regards.”

2. The National Minorities Commission arrived at their recommendation that the Jain community be declared as a minority religious community. It was in consideration of the following: 1)the relevant constitutional provisions, 20 various judicial pronouncements, 3) the fundamental differences in philosophy and beliefs (theism vs.atheism principally) vis-a-vis Hinduism, and 4) the substantial number of Jain population in the country, resolved to recommend to the Government of India that the Jains deserve to be recognised as a distinct religious minority, and that, therefore the Government of India may consider including them in the listing of "Minorities" in their Notification dated 23-10-1993. This recommendation was issued on 3-10-1994.

3. In the latest Supreme Court Appeal (Civil) 9595 of 2003: Petitioner: Committee of Management Kanya Junior High School Bal Vidya Mandir, Etah, U.P. Respondent: Sachiv, U.P. Basic Shiksha Parishad Allahabad, U.P. & Others, Date of Judgment: 21/08/2006

The Division Bench of S. B. SINHA & DALVEER BHANDARI and the Judgment delivered by Justice Dalveer Bhandai states:

"The Founding Fathers of the Constitution had unequivocally recognized the Jains as a minority community as is evident from the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly. While keeping in view that the Jains are a minority community, a representative of the Jain community was taken in the Minority Advisory Committee of the Constituent Assembly."

“Jain religion indisputably is not a part of Hindu religion.

4. The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh launched the Jain Manuscripts Catalogue of the collection in British Library, London, in New Delhi today., 27th May, 2006 .

Dr.Manmohan Singh said: “This ancient land of India has been home to some of the greatest religious movements and religions known to mankind, among which Jainism occupies an important place of pride. It is an important constituent of our composite culture and civilizational heritage.”

“Further he said: “The rational basis of Jainism has contributed to the growth of scientific temper and the fight against superstition and blind belief. Rejecting the rigidities of doctrine, Jainism presented a new openness and in a new freshness in our approach to matters considered spiritual . This approach has helped in grappling with social, religious and even economic problems facing mankind. Jainism is part and parcel of the rich tradition of rational intellectual discourse that has flourished in this ancient land of India.

“Indeed, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that “Jainism represents the highest flight of logic. It has taken nothing for granted and has endeavoured to prove metaphysical truth by challenging the intellect”. The tradition not to take anything for granted and examine all postulates on the basis of reason and intellect needs to be followed in our own time”

5. Mr.Pranav Mukherjee, India’s Foreign Minister said: at a reception hosted in his honour by Ambassador Ronen Sen in New York on Sunday, September 24, 2006:

“It is indeed a matter of great pride for us that we represent a great and composite civilisation that defines our 'Indianness' and our worldview. Our thinking is shaped by a history in which practically all the communities of the world have thrived. India has always been a mosaic of cultures and an open society. Great religions have been born in our nation, and many from outside have been absorbed and internalised.

“Not many people are aware that while the great religions of the East -- Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism and many others -- grew from the soil of India, the faiths from West Asia were also embraced with equal respect and reverence.”

In the aforesaid context I am constrained to ask the Government of India backed by the UP alliance and the secular Constitutional ideology in all secular and constitutional conscience why is it turning a Nelson’s eye to the Jain minority status? Is it the Government policy to treat certain communities only as minorities? How is it going to administer the fresh package of fair and equitable treatment to the minorities announced by the Prime Minister when the Jain who are declared in several States would be deprived of the benefits available only to national minorities? And what happens to the Jains in States where they have not been declared a minority?

In view of the unimpeacheable constitutional, judicial evidence and the views of the most illustrious leaders and the sitting members of the Government of India I submit that the Government of India should take an expeditious decision on issuing a Notification declaring Jains as a national minority on par with Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians.

Bal Patil is the Secretary-General, All-India Jain Minority Forum,
Co-author: JAINISM with Colette Caillat, A.N. Upadhye, Macmillan, 1974, Author:Supreme Court's volte face on Constitutional Amendment, Published by Govt. of Maharashtra, 1980

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