Separate religion for Lingayats: Why it defeats the spirit of the Indian Constitution
The decision by the Siddaramaiah led Congress government in Karnataka to accord 'religious minority' status is expected to face tough legal scrutiny. One of the main points that one needs to take into consideration is that although the Constitution is silent on this issue, it still goes against its spirit.
In this context one would also need to look at Section 2(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. It recognises Lingayats, followers of Brahmo, Prathana, Arya Samaj and Veerashaivas to be various forms of Hinduism.
If the decision of the Karnataka government is up for challenge before a court of law, then this would be one of the major points of argument.
As pointed out earlier that while the Constitution is silent on the issue, the spirit states that a state cannot be seen as supporting the cause of a particular community.
While the definition of minority is not defined under the Constitution, the National Minorities Commission Act of 1992 states that the Central Government can declare a community as minority. The Centre may also declare a community as a minority under the National Minorities Educational Institutions Act of 2004.
There have been two instances in the past when the Supreme Court has turned down petitions seeking to be identified as a religious minority. A plea by the Swaminarayan sect seeking to be separate from the Hindu religion was turned by the Supreme Court. Again in 1995, the court rejected a plea by the Ramakrishna Mission to be recognised as a religious minority distinct from Hindus.
The 2002 TMA Pai Foundation vs the state of Karnataka verdict of the Supreme Court too is important in this context. A 7:4 majority discussed the score and extent of rights enjoyed by minorities under Article 30(1) to administer and establish educational institutions. The majority view held that the state will be the basic unit and not the whole of India for the determination of linguistic and religious minority under Central of State law. This would mean that the determination of a minority would have to be done state wise. In this context one must also visit Article 25 of the Indian Constitution which only ensures the right of all religions to practise and profess their faith. The article is however silent on the definition of a religion.