Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the government has finally decided to provide minority status to the Jain community at the national level. For now, Jains enjoy minority status in 14 states.
The law ministry has given its go ahead to a minority affairs ministry proposal for making the Jains, with an estimated population of five million (50 lakh) in the country, eligible for minority status nationally.
So far, five communities - Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Budhhists and Parsis — were recognised as national minorities under a central law.
The ruling UPA has now decided to add the Jain community to this list, finally accepting the community’s decades-old demand.
A minority status enables a community to run and administer exclusive educational institutions and derive benefits from the government’s welfare schemes for minorities.
The decision of the government’s legal arm is based on the revised opinion from its top law officer, Attorney General GE Vahanvati, who stated that “it is constitutionally permissible to issue a notification declaring Jains as a minority community….and if the government were to accept the recommendations of the National Commission for Minorities, it will not be not be illegal.”
The revised opinion was sought since the AG had in 2010 and 2011 told the government that any decision on the issue would be subject to the outcome of pending cases in courts and would therefore be vulnerable to a legal challenge.
Jains are already declared as minorities in 14 states – Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and West Bengal.
The minorities recognised by the government can also approach the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) for safeguarding rights and grievance redressal.
The law ministry has justified its decision.“An earlier judgment of the Supreme Court that the Jain community was a part of the Hindu tradition does not interfere with the government’s decision to accord it the minority status, which will become effective after the cabinet approval,” said an official.