Communal politics

Anti-Muslim remarks by BJP MP spark debate in Jain community about minority status

The MP has said being a religious minority is an insult to Jains because it puts them on a par with the ‘very violent’ Muslim community.


Abrasive anti-Muslim comments by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Meghraj Jain that earned him a summons from the Rajya Sabha Ethics Committee have sparked a discussion within the Jain community about whether they actually deserve the minority status they were granted three years ago.

Meghraj Jain, who is from Madhya Pradesh, told a press conference in Ratlam last April that the decision to give Jains minority status was a “conspiracy by the Congress’’. Asserting that Jains belonged within the Hindu fold, he claimed that the Manmohan Singh government had decided to classify Jains as a minority a few months before the 2014 general election even though a survey had not been carried out to elicit the community’s views on the subject.

By being declared a national minority, Jains can claim government scholarships, business loans for entrepreneurs and have the right to manage their own educational institutions, among other benefits.

But Meghraj Jain seemed especially annoyed that minority status puts Jains “on a par with a very violent community”.

He elaborated: “We are pure vegetarian. We can’t even kill ants, and if they do get killed we make atonement...It’s an insult to the Jain community...I am talking about Muslims...They kill goat...kill cow...they eat meat daily. We were made to sit with them.’’

Meghraj Jain’s views might not have become widely known had a Congress leader from Madhya Pradesh not complained about them. Shahid Modi sent newspaper clippings and a recording of the April press conference to the President, demanding that the MP be suspended from the Rajya Sabha for making a statement “deliberately for social, religious and political polarisation’’.

On Monday, Jain was called to explain his statement to the Rajya Sabha Ethics Committee, led by Karan Singh. However, the hearing did not take place, presumably because Singh is not in the country and two of the committee’s 10 members have left the Rajya Sabha and not been replaced yet. The Hyderabad office of Telugu Desam Party’s T Devender Goud, a member of the committee, said they had not been informed about the hearing.

Muslim factor

In an interview to Scroll.in, Jain stuck to his views. Reminded that the demand for minority status had come from the community, he countered: “So what? We are such a vast community. Some four people demanded it. Was a survey done to see if the entire community agreed? We share Vedic practices with Hindus. We perform the Navagraha puja, call a pandit for our weddings, we celebrate Navratri...How are we a minority?”

As Scroll.in has previously reported, Muslims have been central to the Jain community’s discussions on minority status. A petition filed by the Akhil Bharatiya Jain Mahasabha in the Supreme Court in 2014 claimed that the government “has adopted appeasement policy towards Muslims and in the name of the minorities all the benefits are being given to this community whereas other minorities are not being given the same benefit and status”.

Jain complained: “The term ‘minority’ has come to mean Muslims, you know that.’’

Different priorities

Asked about Meghraj Jain’s comments, the reactions of Jain community leaders ranged from embarrassment to anger.

Sunil Singhi, a BJP leader from Ahmedabad who was appointed the first Jain member of the National Minority Commission in May, could only say, “No, no, no, no...That may be his personal opinion. I don’t agree at all. Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis are minorities too, apart from Muslims. At any rate, we are a minority in terms of our numbers, it’s not a question of religion.’’ Jains make up 0.4 % of India’s population.

Lalit Gandhi, president of the All India Jain Minority Cell, agreed with Meghraj Jain that Jains followed many Hindu practices. “We are part of the Hindu mainstream, we share their culture,” he said. “In Maharashtra, for example, many of us celebrate the Ganpati festival. Where is the question of sitting with Muslims?’’ However, he emphasised that the Jain religion was distinct from Hinduism. “Many judgements have asserted this,” he said. “Ask any of our religious scholars.’’

At the same time, Gandhi, who had co-authored a presentation to the National Minority Commission listing out the specific demands of Jains a year after they were declared a minority, expressed anger at the MP’s dismissal of Jains who had asked for minority status. “Does the entire community ever ask for anything?” he asked. “It is always a handful of leaders who do so. Those like Meghraj Jain who do not want to avail of the minority status need not, but they should not prevent the rest from benefiting from it. This demand was fulfilled after a long struggle.’’

Noting that 30% of Jains live below the poverty line, Gandhi said lakhs of Jain students had benefited from scholarships meant for minorities. “Everyone forms a wrong impression of us seeing just the 10% super-rich Jains,’’ he said.

Dhanpal Solanki, a Mumbai-based lawyer who has been a vocal proponent of Jain minority rights said while Meghraj Jain was entitled to his opinion, “his remarks have no constitutional or legal sanctity’’. Solanki felt his community had not benefited as much as it should have since it was declared a national minority. On the contrary, he said, it has been at the receiving end of animosity from other communities. The main reason, the lawyer said, was the demand made every year by some Jain politicians that slaughter houses be shut for the entire duration of the nine-day Jain Paryushan festival. “These are emotive issues,” Solanki said. “These politicians should focus instead on the difficulties being faced by poor Jains.’’

Although none of these leaders spoke about Meghraj Jain’s views on Muslims, a post by the Vishwa Jain Sanghatan on its Facebook page, which is being circulated within the community on WhatsApp, says that by bringing in the irrelevant issue of Muslims’ food habits, Meghraj Jain had tried to create a rift between Jains and Muslims. The post adds that the MP should know that during the just-ended Navratri, animal sacrifice was carried out in many important Hindu temples. The post asserts that Jainism is a separate religion, and attributes the MP’s remarks to his desire to get a second Rajya Sabha term. Jain’s term ends in April 2018.

Meghraj Jain’s view that Jains are not a minority echoes that of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the BJP with which the MP has been long associated. The RSS places Jains within the Hindu fold. The 15 states which had granted Jains minority status before the Union government did were ruled by non-BJP parties.

Despite this, Jains have traditionally been BJP supporters. They have been particularly active in the campaign to ban cattle slaughter. Meghraj Jain was chairman of Madhya Pradesh’s Cow Rearing and Cattle Promotion Board, with cabinet minister rank, from 2004 to 2011. And everyone interviewed for this report expressed satisfaction with the cattle slaughter bans imposed by BJP’s state and central governments.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.