Rethinking minority status for Lingayats

Monday, 30 April 2018 | Priyadarshi Dutta | in Oped

‘Lingayatism’ is about shunning pretention and leading a sincere and spiritual life while staying engaged with the world. Hindu society has never been averse to reforms — from Buddha to Ambedkar, though they might have been critics of Hinduism, all have been welcomed

What makes Lingayats think that they have everything to gain and nothing to lose by being recognised as a religious minority? There are many who argue that India is a dangerous place for minorities. Such voices became more strident after the Narendra Modi Government assumed power four years ago. Is it not a risky proposition for the Lingayats to paint themselves in a corner? Will they not risk losing sympathy of the larger Hindu society?

In India’s neighbourhood viz, Pakistan, situation of the Ahmadis has steadily deteriorated since 1974 when they were declared a non-Muslim community by the ZA Bhutto Government under pressure from extremist forces. Let us try to figure out what makes India different.

In Pakistan, the Ahmadis never wanted to be reduced to a minority status. They saw themselves as equal partners in the newly formed Islamic Republic. But situation began to turn ominous for them in the very first year of Independence. On August 11, 1948, Ahmadiyya military officer Major Mahmud was brutally lynched. He died painfully due to an internal haemorrhage resulting from grievous wounds on body. The murderous crowd formed audience of a Muslim Railway Employees Association’s meeting which was being addressed by several maulavis, all of whom chose to dilate upon the concept of Khatm-e-nubuwwat (Muhammad as the last Prophet).

They chose to heap curses upon the founder of Ahmadi and Qadiani sect Mirza Ghulam Ahmad because he had threatened the concept of Khatm-e-nubuwwat by claiming that he had received ilham or revelation from Allah in 1882. Major Mahmud, who wore short beard characteristic of the Ahmadis, became a target of the maddened crowd. His curiosity to stop his jeep near the meeting became fatal for him.

The campaign against the Ahmadis was led by fundamentalist group Majlis-e-Ahrar-ul-Islam who took a dim view even of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. They dubbed the Quaid-i-Azam as Kafir-e-Azam because Jinnah had married a Parsi lady, Rattanbai Petit.  Things came to a boiling point after the All-Pakistan Muslim Parties Convention in Karachi between January 16 and 18, 1953, demanded the Government to announce Ahmadis as non-Muslims. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, created by the Convention, sent an ultimatum to Prime Minsiter Khawaja-Nazim-Ud-Din that if the Ahmadis were not declared non-Muslims, and the ones holding key Government post including Foreign Minister Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan, were not removed, the Majlis would resort to direct action (rast iqdam).

As the Prime Minister rejected the ultimatum and gave reasons for the same, he also ordered the ulama behind those demands to be arrested. To this, all hell broke loose on March 5. Pakistan was gripped by sectarian violence. Military had to be called in. In Lahore, martial law was proclaimed that remained in force till mid-May. In Lahore alone, 11 were killed, 49 were wounded in suppressing violence. There were significant casualties in other towns as well.

Now compare this with the condition of Lingyats in India, particularly Karnataka. Did they face any discrimination or persecution in modern times in the hands of the Hindu society that formed a majority? Karnataka has seen several Lingayat Chief Ministers like BD Jatti, S Nijalingappa, SR Bommai, SR Kanthi, Veerendra Patil, JH Patel, BS Yeddyurappa and Jagadish Shettar. Did any section of Hindu ask for their removal because they did not believe in the Vedas?

It is thus a proof of Hindu catholicity which Lingayat ideas about mainstream Hinduism cannot explain. If one went by the Manusmriti, then every Hindu, let alone much maligned Brahmins, should be a votary of untouchability. But when Article 17 of the Indian Constitution abolished untouchability, did any section of the Hindu oppose it? Did one section of the society turn upon the other as it happened in the US, leading to Civil War (1861-65) when Abraham Lincoln showed the courage to abolish the slavery system?

‘Lingayatism’ arose in the 12th century Karnataka as a protestant creed. Its Vachana literature, originally in Kannada, provides a mystic orientation to life and action. It challenged the religion-political power structure of the society, working for the benefit of a few and to a detriment of many, through a series of innovative intervention. The rejection of the Vedas, Brahminic superiority, use of Kannada language in place of Sanskrit, equal status for all castes, helping inter-caste marriages could be considered progressive steps for its time. But can one still beat with the Hindu society with these sticks in the 21st century?

Rather nursing grievances against the Hindu society for those reasons would mean a mindset that is still stuck in the 12th century, when Basava founded the Lingayat order. While the religious minority tag might appeal to the Lingayat community, the scheduled castes among them find it discomforting. This because they are not Hindus, Buddhists, or Sikhs and stand to lose the benefit of reservation in education and jobs by renouncing Hindu fold.

Though Lingayats speak of casteless society, they have around 99 castes and sub-castes amongst them. While minority status might benefit a few mutts who run educational institutions, there is little that a common Lingayat might hope to gain.

Rather in case, a Lingayat family is affected by the problem of the love jihad, reportedly a growing problem in Karnataka, the approach of Hindu organisations are likely to be muted.  ‘Lingayatism’ indeed has a message for the rest of the Hindu society.

That is about shunning pretention and leading a sincere and spiritual life while staying engaged with the world. That is why the rest of the Hindu society of Karnataka treated ‘Lingaytism’ as a heritage rather than its opponent. The Hindu society has never been averse to reforms from Buddha to Ambedkar though they might have been critics of Hinduism.

(The author is an independent researcher. Views expressed above are personal)


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