Retired IAS officer SM Jaamdar, who is spearheading the Lingayat religion movement, called out the Sangh Parivar for discrediting their movement for religious minority rights, at a press conference held in Bengaluru on Friday. The Lingayats in Karnataka have been demanding separate religious status for a while now, and Jaamdar is the latest to speak out on the issue.
Vishwesha Tirtha Swami, who heads the influential Pejawar mutt, had remarked earlier this week that Lingayats should stay within the Hindu religion as its followers worshipped Lord Shiva. In response, Jaamdar argued that unlike Hindu worship of Shiva lingas, Lingayat Shiva is formless.
“We do not worship Shiva in temples or stone lingas. We embrace the concept of Ishta Linga,” he said. The Ishta Linga is a symbolic representation of a formless god, usually worn on the body by Lingayats.
“Lingayat Shiva does not reside in Kailasa nor does he have a family. We do not believe in heaven and hell. The Pejawar seer should know this, or we can engage in a debate about it,” he said.
Several leaders of the Lingayat movement have earlier opposed RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat for trying to interfere in their movement. “We have never been in the Hindu religion. There should be no question of leaving Hindus,” added Jamdaar.
‘We’re like Sikhs, Buddhists’
Lingayats, a distinct Shaivate religious tradition, are followers of the 12th century poet-philosopher-social reformer Basaveshwara who rebelled against established Hindu tradition by defying the caste system and vedic rituals.
Jaamdar compared the Lingayats’ movement for religious independence to similar movements in the past by the Sikh, Buddhist and Jain communities.
“Our demands are similar to what the Sikhs, Buddhists and Jain communities demanded, but while none of them were criticised and made to look like villains, we are made to look like enemies of the Hindu religion. Why are they (Sangh Parivar) scared?” he asked.
Fight for minority status
The drive for minoritisation is also propelled by the fact that it allows a community greater control over its educational institutions, exempts them from the Right to Education and allows them the right to select students for minority institutes. This right was upheld in several Supreme Court judgements including the case of St Stephen’s College vs University of Delhi 1992, when the court allowed an upper limit of fifty percent students belonging to Christian community in the institution’s annual admissions.
“There are already institutions set up and run by Lingayats but a minority religion tag will make them more autonomous,” said Jamdaar.
‘Veerashaivas are not Lingayats’
A complication in the Lingayats’ bid for separate religion status is their desire to dissociate themselves from Veerashaivas, also a Shaivate religious tradition, whose followers adhere to the vedas. An expert committee comprising five members each from the Veerashaiva and Lingayat groups was in the works to decide whether the separate religion should be Veerashaiva-Lingayat or just Lingayat. However, negotiations between the groups reached a deadlock. “There were negotiations between the two groups but they collapsed,” confirmed Jamdaar.
Even though the demand for a separate identity is growing louder seven months before Karnataka goes to polls, it has a 40-year old history. Many scholars including MM Kalburgi, who was killed by unknown assailants in 2015, have contended that Lingayat tradition is distinct from Hinduism. Both Lingayats and Veerashaivas are now set to submit different representations seeking separate religion status.