India’s federal government has decided to grant the Jain community the tag of a “minority” religion.

The Jains, a seven-million strong community in India, are followers of the 6th century BC saint Mahaveer. For long, the Jains have been largely perceived as an adjunct of the Hindu religion.

The federal cabinet’s decision on Monday fulfils a long-standing demand by the Jains to be categorised as a minority religion.  

The Jains were already tagged a minority religion in 11 states. Some 10 years ago, a section of Jains approached India’s supreme court asking that the status be extended nationally. The court responded saying it was up to the federal government to take a call on the issue.

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The Congress government move, hanging fire since the court ruling, was initiated by federal minorities minister K Rahman Khan and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi as it is perceived as a positive move in the run up to the national elections a few months away, reports said.

Besides the Jains, the other religious minorities in India are Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis.

Under the Indian Constitution, minority religions have access to special rights including managing their own educational institutions that need not necessarily follow reservation policies and quotas for other communities. 

Reports say that the minority religions are also entitled to funds from the government’s minority welfare programmes which amounts to 15 percent of all monies that the central exchequer spends on various programmes.

Jains, among the most educated and affluent in Indian society, have often complained of losing their identity under the larger Hindu domination. Jain leaders say the latest decision would help the community in retaining their identity.

Source: Al Jazeera