In March 2018, the then Congress government in Karnataka, prior to Karnataka Legislative Assembly election, declared Lingayat community as a separate religion from Hindu religion, a move widely seen as a plot to split Lingayat and Veershaiva community. Such divisive steps have been successful, in past too, primarily for two reasons viz., ambiguity about Hinduism and benefits of being a minority religion in India.
There is no clear-cut definition of who Hindus are and majorly there are two views. As per first view, it is a geographical term and all people living on Indian subcontinent are Hindus. The opinion is based on the origin of the words Hind, Hindustan, Hindu and Hinduism from Persian derivation of Sanskrit words for land, people and civilisation of Sindhu, respectively.
As per the second view, Hindus are those who believes in Vedas, Puranas, Dharam-shastras etc. Such people follow injunctions in these scriptures related to social norms like caste system, idol worshiping etc.
But, both views are invalid to significant extent. The first view is rejected by many people with barely any acceptance from people of other religions living in India. The second view fails on the technical grounds as a lot of Hindus don’t believe in such scriptures with hardly any practice of code of conduct mentioned in Dharam-shastras. E.g. Arya-samajis believe in Shrutis but reject Puranas, Dharam-shastras etc.; some communities believe in Agamas or Tantras; some communities believe in the teachings of their Gurus like Sikhs etc. while some are atheist like followers of Ajivika, Charvak schools etc.
Thus, both views on the definition of Hindus are incorrect and many religions are created out of Hinduism as they don’t believe in such definitions and related social customs like Sikhs, Buddhists etc. And if this problem is not corrected then this confusion will continue, and many more religions will be created out of Hinduism, which will cause further divisions in the society.
Benefits of minority religion
Unfortunately, certain articles of our constitution are discriminatory, and they provide extra benefits to non-Hindu communities. That acts as an additional cause for creating new religions like the case of Lingayat here. The move to create a separate religion for Lingayat community is solely based on the consideration of extra benefits it’ll receive. Our constitution allows government to interfere in institutions unless they belong to minorities. This incentivises communities to create separate religion to save themselves from the government interference in their institutions.
India never had this concept of religion, which is alien to this land of Dharmic civilisation. This is the land of truth seekers which has seen birth of numerous Gurus, Rishis and Munis from time to time. Even the word Bharat, which is the name of this country literally means land of devotees of knowledge (Bha+rat). So, when invaders came to India, they also brought their ideology with them and created these concepts of religions like Hinduism, Buddhism etc. which are originally just different paths towards the same goal of the same culture.
So, as per present times if we must define religion in India then the actual religion of majority of Indians could be termed as Dharmism with its adherents called Dharmists or Dharmics. The definition of Dharmism would be the religion which has its origin in Indian subcontinent from primeval times and which is based on the core principle of Dharma. Besides Dharma, other central beliefs of Dharmism include Karma, Reincarnation, Moksha/Nirvana, Maya, Samsara, Guru, Yoga etc. The fundamental principles of Dharmism are primeval and immutable but only the path and practices to follow them differs in different schools. It has no single founder, no single scripture but various schools under it could have their own founders and set of teachings to realise Dharma and attain Moksha. So, Hindus, Buddhists, Jain, Sikhs and followers of numerous other schools are all Dharmists.
So, if this definition is made official then it’ll address one part of the problem of why new religions are continually created in India out of Hinduism. The other problem to address is to address issue of discrimination based on religion.
Discrimination in Educational Institutions
Constitution of India under article 30 grants all minorities, whether based on religion or language, the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice with full autonomy.
Regarding the linguistic aspect, minority linguistic community could establish autonomous institutes like Tamilians have the right to establish a school in Gujarat where the medium of instruction is Tamil, so that it could preserve their linguistic culture as majority run institutions would use state language as medium of instruction. This seems logical, but it is misused in such a way that any educational institution run by people from linguistic minority community is considered as minority institution, without considering whether the actual goal of promoting language is met or not. However, this doesn’t cause any issues regarding new religions though it is good if it is reformed by explicit mention of objective.
Regarding the religious aspect, I haven’t come across any solid rationale on why it is required and what educational institutions have to do with religion, which is instead the domain of religious institutions covered under Article 26 of constitution. If we assume that religious minority educational institutions need rights so that they could only educate students and recruit people from their own religion, then don’t only it shows bigotry of highest kind but also as bigotry begets bigotry so the day is not far when different caste and regional groups would also seek declaration of minority status based on caste and region and educate students of only their own caste and region, by citing to protect their regional culture in other states and to empower their own caste groups. So, this provision of exemption to religious minority is not only irrelevant but also dangerous for secular and pluralistic fabric of our society.
National Commission for Minorities (NCM)
The country needs some body to address the issues of atrocities and rights of certain communities, and this is where the role of National Commission for Minorities (NCM) comes in, which though also act as an incentive for creating new religions.
But there are two issues with the current state of NCM. First, it doesn’t address the same issues with other communities like Dalits and region-based minorities. To address this issue, the government could instead of bringing the separate prevention of atrocities act for SC/ST communities, could reform the NCM body to National Commission against Atrocities (NCA), which will address issues with minorities and Dalits.
Second issue with NCM is that it doesn’t define any criterion of being a minority, which is at present arbitrary. So, as per present laws, Hindus are considered majority even in those states where they are less in numbers like J&K, Punjab etc. It needs quantitative definition like communities whose numbers are less than 5% of total numbers in parameters like language, religion, or region at state and national level be declared as minorities at those levels. The region-based communities should also be declared minorities to protect them against atrocities like we saw the case with north Indians in Maharashtra. Also, the definition of minority should be dynamic, one that reflects the reality of present times as we’ve many more minorities today than before like LGBT+ community, atheists etc.
With the reform of NCM to NCA, the attitude towards it will also change as different communities could be minorities in different states and at national level and it will no longer be felt as an incentive reserved only for certain communities.
Under article 26 of the constitution, all religious institutions have right to administer such institutions without government interference. But as per clause 2a of article 25, the constitution allows government to regulate religious institutions, which government have used to appoint government officials to administer temples, which has led to rampant corruption, left ancient temples to ruin, diversion of temple donations to non-religious purposes, mismanagement of temples, loot of temple land, wealth, jewels, idols etc.[i],[ii],[iii]
There are two interesting points to note here. First, government selectively only interferes in temples (of Hindus, Buddhists and Jains) and second, it is doing so despite no such constitutional provisions. Government has right to regulate but not to govern the temples, which it is doing right now, and which is completely unconstitutional.
On the other hand, deregulating temples also have drawbacks as it could bring back the control of hereditary priests in temples, which could lead to mismanagement and could also bring anti-social customs back to society. Temples are public properties with the right to administer it vested to communities as per constitution but bringing them under priests is also not good as seen in past where people were denied entry just based on caste, gender etc. like the way Indira Gandhi was denied entry or the way women were denied entry in Sabarimala temple or giving priority of darshans to those who pay or those who are at high post.[iv],[v],[vi]
There should be an act from central government to regulate the administration of temples, which should define the democratic process of appointment of trust body and its members be selected through voting of devotees at regular intervals, along with mandatory provisions for public publishing of ledger, auditing by CAG, and the donations be used only for religious purposes like on temple preservation and restoration, improvement of public services, propagation of religion trough Vedic schools or Sanskrit classes, books printing etc. The extra funds should be parked at Hindus temples board which could divert the funds to other temples where they are required.
So, the incentive of communities to be declared minorities to escape non-interference of government in religious institutions is not the result of any constitutional provision but mainly because of inaction from Dharmic community to demand their rights. Perhaps, the reason was that the people found government run institutions be more efficient than before when they were even more inefficient.
Under RTE act and as per clause 5 of article 15, all schools need to reserve seats for students from underprivileged and weaker sections of the society. In my opinion, it is fair to reserve seats considering government pays to schools for this provision and in future, it might reduce the need to have government run schools with better quality of education for all. But it is surprising that the provision is discriminatory as it explicitly exempt minority run schools from such the noble cause. I think the government should amend clause 5 of article 15 and remove that exclusive exemption so that it equally applies to all kinds of schools. That would address the issue of discrimination and acts towards the welfare of weaker section of society.
There is need to amend our constitution to remove discrimination and bring equality to people. Discrimination brings the sense of injustice to people, which is certainly not good for any country in long run. It is surprising that despite our Constitution being declared secular in the preamble itself, still it has articles which are communal and against the very spirit of Constitution. There is a clear need to establish equality and secularism in the society through correction of Constitution, so that there is no discrimination.
In an ideal society, which is liberal, and which protects individual rights, rights of every citizen are automatically protected including that of minority rights. The present state of India only indicates the lack of individual rights to its citizens.