Monday, April 21, 2008

community in Delhi demands minority status

By Madhusree ChatterjeeNew Delhi, April 20 (IANS) The Jain community in the capital is raising the pitch for minority status on par with the Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs, Muslims and Parsis, listed as notified minority groups under the Delhi Minorities Commission Act, 1999. Members of the community say they want minority status primarily because they want to incorporate Jainism, the religion of the community, as a subject in Jain schools. The capital and its adjoining areas have eight Jain schools.

They are not being able teach Jainism to their children because most of the Jain schools in Delhi are partially funded by the government, which doesn’t allow the teaching of any particular religion at schools unless it is a minority community.

“The government is ignoring the community. We want minority status as enshrined (under Article 25) in the Indian Constitution, which empowers the government to accord minority status to six marginal ethno-religious groups, so that we can teach Jainism to our children in schools run by us. We don’t want reservations in jobs or in education,” Chakresh Jain, head of the Delhi Jain Samaj, told IANS.

Members of the Jain Samaj had assembled at Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s home Saturday to celebrate Mahavir Jayanti, the birth anniversary of Lord Mahavira, the last of the Jain spiritualists. Mahavira was born 2,604 years ago in Vaishali (now in Bihar).
Chakresh Jain said children of the community here were losing touch with their traditional culture because they were not being taught Jainism in schools.

The community, comprising mostly businessmen, trace their lineage to Lord Adinath, a seer-king who preached non-violence, tolerance, vegetarianism and the importance of karma and literacy during the Vedic Age (2nd-6th century B.C.).

The members of the Jain community in the capital are traditionally jewellers by profession with the highest literacy rate.

Till the middle of the last century, the community lived in the old walled city of the capital. According to official estimates, there are 480,000 Jains in Delhi.

The Jain community is known for its social work and service in the sphere of education.
Underscoring the need for minority status, Chakresh Jain said Jains were included in the list of minorities in seven states across the country - Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal (which enacted a law to bring the community under the minority fold three weeks ago). According to 2001 Census, the Jain community forms .45 percent of the population.

“Delhi is one of the few states where the Jain community has nor been granted minority status,” he said.

According to Jaipur-based Jain scholar Hukam Chand Bharill, “Jainism as a religion is older than Buddhists, Sikhism and Islam”.

Bharill has authored 66 books on Jain spirituality and way of life.

“Sikhism, the dominant religion of Punjab, is barely 500-years-old whereas you will find mention of the Jain community in the Vedas. The ancient Indian scriptures acknowledge Rishab Dev, hailed as the first Jain guru,” the scholar told IANS, arguing in favour of minority status for the community in Delhi.

“One must not forget that Lord Mahavira’s grandfather, the ruler of Vaishali, propounded the concept of a republic (Loktantra),” Bharill said.

Bharill runs 400 Jain elementary night schools across the country (known as Vitrag Vigyan Pathshala), which churn out nearly 500 Jain scholars every year.

“We want to teach our children compassion, good behaviour, health and hygiene in school, according to Jain tradition. But we cannot do so because the government provides aid to most of our education institutions in the country. Minority status would solve the problem. But we will never teach our children to look down upon other religions,” he said.

The Jain community, who don’t like to be clubbed with Hindus, have their own temples, texts, religious mores, food habits and deities. Like Buddhism, the group is divided into two sects - the Shwetambar and Digambar folds.

“We do not believe in Jagatguru Shankaracharya, we have our own spiritual identity,” Chakresh Jain said.

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