Lingayat religion issue – UPSC GS1

  • The demand for independent religion status for Lingayats once again gathered new momentum.
  • Lakhs of people belonging to Lingayat community took to the streets in Bidar – Karnataka.
  • Their anger was not just against those who projected Lingayat community as an integral part of Hinduism but also those who argued Lingayat and Veerashaiva were one and the same.
Who are Lingayats?
  • Lingayats are a ‘caste-sect’, and fall within the OBC category in Karnatka
  • It is a community that is made up of different castes within Hinduism, united by their allegiance to the teachings of Basaveshwara, a 12th-century social reformer and a poet-saint within the Bhakti movement.
  • Basavanna, as he is popularly known, fought the inequalities of the Hindu social order by establishing a new egalitarian religious stream or sect of Shiva worship called Veerashaivism, which attracted followers from different sections of society.
Lingayat and Veerashaiva
  • The heads of the different Lingayat mutts who arrived from different parts of the country to participate in the agitation invariably asserted that Lingayats had been neither part of the Hindu religion nor were a synonym for the Veerashaiva sect.
  • There are two main religious streams in Hinduism — Shaivas and Vaishnavas. Veerashaiva is one among the seven sects of Shaivas. Both Shaivas and Vaishnavas uphold Vedas, Agamas, Shastras and Puranas and follow the Vedic religious practices. However, Lingayat religion founded by Basaveshwara vehemently opposed them.
  • Lingayats are spread across Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and other States. Historically, ours is an independent religion founded by Basaveshwara in the 12th century. It has never been a part of Hinduism. Contrarily, it fought Hinduism.
Legal Position
  • “Apart from theological differences evidence has to be adduced by Lingayats to claim a separate status”. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and other Hindu Laws Acts prove their claim. Section 2(1) of the Act mentions Veerashaivas and Lingayats as two different forms to which Hindu Law applies.
  • Lingayat should convince the Parliament of India about the threat of extinction and the numerical inferiority of the community, if Lingayat religion is not recognized as a separate and distinct religion.
  • “State Government can exercise its power to some extent, at best it can recommend to the Centre. In this regard, the President of India should issue notification after consulting the state government and we have to approach the Central Government only.”
  • Political experts, however, see the ferment within the Lingayat community over the move as closely linked to the assembly-election cycle rather than a widespread call to move out of the Hindu fold.
  • An important reason why the demand was finding favour with some sections of the Lingayat community had to do with the large number of educational institutions run by Lingayat leaders and religious muths. As members of a minority religious community, Lingayats would be able to enjoy the benefits that are accorded to such groups, including the freedom to administer their own educational institutions.
  • The issue, swathed in layers of complexity, puts the spotlight on how democratic politics shapes caste and religious identities, and the contingent discourse around reservation benefits. But in a more immediate context, it brings into play tricky questions surrounding Lingayat identity with an aim to unsettle the existing political equations.

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