THE RULING BJP in Gujarat on Tuesday piloted through the assembly an amendment that clubs Jainism and Buddhism with Hinduism. Passed by voice vote amid vociferous protests by legislators of the opposition Congress, the amendment also triggered a debate on its validity outside the House.
Introduced in the assembly as an amendment to the anti-conversion law -- officially called the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act 2003 -- the bill states that Jainism and Buddhism shall be construed as denominations of Hindu religion.
Jains -- around 5.25 lakh -- are about 1 per cent of Gujarat's population. There are around 18,000 Buddhists in the state. In Delhi, members of the two communities and of minority panels said Jainism and Buddhism should not be treated as branches of Hinduism. They termed the move as arbitrary. Hamid Ansari, chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, said: "I think legislators cannot, and should not, decide the religious identity of a community this way. This decision has to be taken by the community itself in a democratic manner."
Udit Raj, a Buddhist and chairman of the All-India Confederation of SCs/STs Organisations, said, "It is an arbitrary move. The entire Buddhist community opposes it. We can never be termed as Hindus. There will be protests from Ahmedabad to Delhi and we will also convey our displeasure to the prime minister."
Chakresh Jain, president of the Delhi Jain Samaj, said the community would plan protests across the nation. "The move is absolutely against the wishes of the Jain community. We are not Hindus at all."
The amendment bill also defines 'conversion' -- which the anti-conversion law prohibits without prior permission from district authorities. It says if a person belonging to a particular sect adopts another sect of the same religion, it will not be considered conversion.