The UPA Government'sclaim that it proposes to grant minority status to Jains and Kashmiri Pundits to empower these communities is absolutely bogus. It is no one'scase that Jains are a disadvantaged or deprived community or they are vulnerable to persecution because they constitute a miniscule part of the country'spopulation. As for the Kashmiri Pundits, granting a minority status to them will not obliterate the horrendous atrocities committed on them. They were driven out of their homes and hearths as part of the religious cleansing by anti-Indian elements and the only lasting solution of their uprooting is to create a congenial and peaceful atmosphere in J&K so that they can return to their homes confident of their safety and dignity. Certain self-style leaders of the community may grab the lollipop offered by the Government but the large sections of self-respecting Pundits will settle for nothing short of restoration of their properties?illegally occupied or ?purchased? by non-Pundits?and their rehabilitation in the Valley. The move to grant minority status to more and more religious and linguistic groups is a bizarre move that will divide India and lead to further fragmentation of the Hindu society.
The Government of the day is following in the footsteps of the colonial rulers who after the first war of Independence in 1857, that we lost, felt threatened and fine-tuned a strategy to wean away the Muslims from the national mainstream and weaken the Hindu society by encouraging small religious groups to claim separate identity by denying their larger Hindu identity. The process was set in motion by introducing a separate column for Sikhs?without saying who is a Sikh?in a special census conducted in Punjab in 1868. They took the process ahead in the census conducted in 1881 by defining Sikhs as Khalsa that observe Panch Kakars (Five Ks) ordained by Guru Govind Singh. The British introduced a separate column for Jains in 1881. In the census held in 1891, separate columns were introduced for Arya Samajis and Brahmo Samajis as well. Leaders of certain religious groups did try to secure for their communities a minority status but their claims were rejected by judicial pronouncements.
The latest in the series is the August 8, 2005 landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of India through which it dismissed the Minority Commission'splea to grant minority status to Jains saying, if only on the basis of a different religious thought or less numerical strength or lack of health, wealth, education, power or social rights, a claim of a section of Indian society to the status of ?minority? is considered and conceded, there would be no end to such claims in a society as multi-religious and multi-linguistic as India is. It went on to say that a claim by one group of citizens would lead to a similar claim by another group of citizens and conflict and strife would ensue. The apex court bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India, Justice R.C. Lohati, made the following significant observation, ?The so-called minority communities like Sikhs and Jains were not treated as national minorities at the time of framing the Constitution. Sikhs and Jains, in fact, have throughout been treated as part of the wider Hindu community that has different sects, sub-sects, faiths, modes of worship and religious philosophies. In various codified customary laws like Hindu Marriage Act, Hindu Succession Act, Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act and other laws of pre and post-Constitution period, definition of ?Hindu? included all sects, sub-sects of Hindu religions including Sikhs and Jains?.
The Government'smove is a blatant defiance of the Supreme Court'sorder and the constitutional provisions. Explanation II of the Article 25, clearly states that the reference to Hindus in sub clause (b) of clause (2) of the said Article shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikhs, the Jains or Buddhist religions, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions in the said sub clause shall be construed accordingly. The Congress has seldom shown any sensitivity to constitutional and legal niceties. It is, therefore, not surprising that it'sacting in a manner that amounts to contempt of the court and utter disregard for the fundamental law of the country. Its purpose is simple. It wants to woo various sections of society with ?concessions? that may or may not benefit the communities concerned but will give space to the ruling party to exploit these communities for electoral purposes. The hidden agenda, of course, is to further divide the Hindu society so that the Hindu nationalists are weakened.
Why everyone from a service and spiritual society like Ramakrishna Mission to a miniscule religious group like Jains, petition various organs of the Government to grant them minority status? One obvious reason is that every community wants to enjoy freedom in running educational and other institutions. As of now, the government can and does interfere with the functioning of private institutions even in matters of admissions, fees, recruitment of teachers and other employees and the content of what they should teach. The simple solutions is that we move on to a regime that gives identical, less regulated freedom to all institutions run by private parties regardless of the identity of the religious group running it. This is not to suggest that the Government should have no mechanism to regulate institutions, particularly those funded by Government. However, above a reasonable threshold, all institutions run by religious groups should be allowed freedom to administer. If this is done, there will be less enthusiasm for minority status. At a more fundamental level, vote-bank politics is responsible for the clamour to get minority status. More and more religious and social groups feel that they will get benefits from ?secular? political parties if they are able to establish a separate identity and get a minority status. Our Constitution guarantees equal rights and freedoms to all citizens. Provision of minority rights in the Constitution has led to the proliferation of separate identities and rights. These provisions need to be reviewed. Our goal should be to establish a society where citizenship rights are independent of religious identity. Special rights and privileges on the basis of religious and sub religious identities are a great hindrance to the development of a strong and integrated India.