Bouquet of benefits awaits Jains from minority tag

 The major beneficiaries of the religious minority status being granted to the Jain community are going to be those running educational institutions and students who aspire for Central government freeships.

The Centre, obviously keeping the Lok Sabha elections in view, met the long-standing demand of Jains to declare them a religious minority.

The UPA Cabinet is scheduled to take a decision to issue a government order to this effect in its next meeting on Monday. The Centre is yet to announce the facilities to be extended to Jains.

Official sources in New Delhi said Jains would get the religious minority status under Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution. This means that they will be conferred with rights to protect their language and culture.

In simpler terms, the government cannot interfere in administration matters of educational institutions run by this community. It cannot interfere in appointments and expansion activities.

All minorities, based on religion or language, have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. Christians, Muslims, Parsis, Sikhs and Buddhists fall under the category.

Karnataka, like 14 others states, had declared Jains as a minority decades ago, but neither have students been getting financial assistance offered by the Centre nor educational institutions are getting funds under the infrastructure development head for private aided/unaided minority institutions. The maximum grants released under this programme for improving school buildings are Rs 50 lakh.

Schools run by Jains, like any other religious and linguistic minority, can also now seek exemption from implementing the Right to Education Act under which 25 per cent of the total seats should be reserved for the poor. At present, a section of the minority institutions has moved the court seeking quashing of the government order, directing the institutions to reserve 75 per cent of the total seats for minorities.

The Centre offers scholarship to minority students to study abroad. All these years, this facility is not being enjoyed by the meritorious but poor students among the Jains in the State, as the Centre had not given the minority status to this  community.

The minority status would serve as a boon to professional colleges and universities as 50 per cent of the total seats would be reserved for Jains.

In Karnataka, Jains are running many educational institutions including a private university, medical colleges and an engineering college. There is no consolidated data available regarding the educational institutions run by this community in the State. 

Official sources said that Jains form 0.4 per cent of the total population in the country. The 2011 census data on religion/caste has put the Jain population at 44 lakh in India and about a couple of lakhs in Karnataka. The census data is not available in the public domain. The literacy level of this community is 94 per cent in the country.

S Jeetendra Kumar, president, Jain Association of Karnataka, said that 90 per cent of Jains in Karnataka live in rural areas. The population is concentrated in Belgaum, Dharwad, Bagalkot and surrounding districts. In Bangalore, the population is estimated to be around 14,000. There are two sects of Jains - Shwetambar and Digambar. While the members belonging into the first sect are mainly into business, the latter are into conventional jobs as well as agriculture. Poverty is high among Digambars, he said.

The State government has set an annual income of Rs 5.5 lakh as the upper limit to seek fellowships for school students from minority communities. About 10,000 Jain students apply for assistance annually. Once the State gets grants from the Centre, then freeships to students of the community may go up three to four folds, according to officials in the directorate of minorities. The State had increased allocation for fellowships from Rs 1 crore to Rs 10 crore in this year’s budget.

Minority students (other than Jains) are getting benefits under at least two dozen schemes. Even Jain students will become eligible once the new rules come into effect. The State would also be getting reimbursement of its fellowships to a certain extent, from the Centre, officials said.

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