The Siddaramaiah government recently decided to declare Lingayats as a religious minority + and include the Veerashaivas who follow Basavanna as a group within the community.
Who are Lingayats ?
Lingayats are followers of 12th-century social reformer Basavanna and his vachana (verses) philosophy. Their beliefs, practices and faith are different.
Where as Veerashaivas who worship Lord Shiva, the one mentioned in Hindu mythology is not the Shiva that Basavanna referred to in his vachanas (verses) but the ishtalinga (formless God), which people of the community wear around their neck.
Who is Basavanna?
Basavanna was a 12th-century social reformer. The revolution that Basavanna led came years after the Buddha. It was Basavanna and his contemporary Sharanas who launched a very strong spiritual, social and religious rebellion against Brahminical hegemony. Basavanna had declared that “work is worship”. He gave women equal status in his movement through the vachanas (verses). In order to take the social movement closer to the people, Basavanna and all the other Sharanas voiced their concerns in simple Kannada vachanas so that even lay people could comprehend them.
Who are Veerashaivas ?
Veerashaivas are a sub-sect of Lingayats and ardent followers of Lord Shiva. They preceded Basavanna, the founder of Lingayatism. Veerashaivism has its roots in the Vedas and Agamas, and Veerashaivas do not worship any god other than Shiva
- They are spread across Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
- All Veerashaiva sects follow the ‘Pancha Peeta’ or five mutts — Kashi mutt, Rameswaram mutt, Ujjaini mutt, Rambhapura mutt and Srishaila mutt, the core holy places for the community.
- There are 92 sub-castes among Lingayats and Veerashaivas are one among them.
Why do Lingayats want a separate identity ?
Lingayats have been revolting against oppression and discrimination by the Veerashaivas, who are politically and economically a dominant group within the community. Lingayats allege that Veerashaivas are attempting to destroy the revolutionary faith founded by Basavanna by portraying Lingayatism and Veerashaivism as the same. Moreover, they feel the Veerashaivas are not giving their guru his due, as he had rejected caste hierarchy and Vedic rituals.
How will the community benefit
For the moment, there will not be any change in reservation for education and jobs since the state government has left it to the Centre to take a decision on the issue.
- Sources said Lingayats will continue to enjoy 15 per cent reservation under categories 2A and 3B. Any increase in quota for Lingayats will be decided only after the Centre accords minority status to them, and considers the impact of this on existing quotas.
- If notified as a religious minority, Lingayats will get additional benefits in education and employment on par with minorities. Educational institutions run by minorities get certain exemptions, which they will be eligible for, as a majority of educational institutions in North Karnataka are run by Lingayats.
- They will able to avail benefits under section 25 of the Constitution. These include freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.
- They will also get benefits under section 28, which includes freedom in terms of attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions.
- Section 29, which includes protection of interests of minorities, and section 30, which includes the right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions, will also be applicable.
- Veerashaiva seers, led by the panchacharyas (five powerful seers) had opposed granting religious minority status to Lingayats alone.
- While Lingayats were demanding recognition as a separate religion and not be identified as Hindus, Veerashaivas had opposed it on the ground that Veerashaivas and Lingayats are one and the same.
To pacify this section, the cabinet decided to include Veerashaiva-Lingayats as a group within the Lingayat community. The government made it clear the Veerashaivas are a sub-sect of Lingayats.
What’s next ?
After accepting the recommendation of the seven-member panel headed by retired judge Justice Nagamohan Das to grant religious minority status to “Lingayats and Veerashaiva-Lingayats (believers of Basava philosophy)” the Cabinet will ratify an official notification to this effect at its next meeting, which could be as early as the following week.
It will then recommend to the Centre that the community be granted religious minority status. Essentially it will be up to the Centre to decide to accept the state government’s recommendation.