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National minority status for Jains

Members of the Jain community celebrate outside the Congress office in New Delhi on Monday. (PTI)

New Delhi, Jan. 20: Jains today became the country’s sixth designated minority community after the Union cabinet approved the status that would help the five-million-strong segment access central funds and other welfare schemes.

The decision to grant the status under Section 2 (c) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, came a day after Rahul Gandhi took up the matter with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, according to Congress sources.

The cabinet’s nod means that Jains, who enjoyed minority status in states including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, can now run educational institutions across the country according to the same rules that govern all minority institutions.

Wajahat Habibullah, chairperson, National Commission for Minorities, said half the seats would now be reserved for Jain students in institutions run by the community, just as 50 per cent seats are reserved for Muslims in Jamia Millia Islamia and for Christians in St Stephen’s College.

“The minority status will help the Jain community access central funds meant for several welfare programmes and scholarships for minorities. They will also benefit from the Prime Minister’s 15-point welfare scheme dedicated to minorities,” Habibullah added.

An official in the minority affairs ministry said the government, by extending the community’s minority status to the whole of India, had “recognised the role” it had played in the “social, cultural and economic development of the country”.

Jains, who accounted for 0.4 per cent of the country’s population according to the 2001 Census, are mostly engaged in business.

The community now joins five others — Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis — that had been declared minority communities through an October 1993 notification under the 1992 act.

Sources in the minority affairs ministry said Rahul spoke to the Prime Minister soon after a delegation of Jain leaders led by Union minister Pradeep Jain met the Congress vice-president on Sunday to seek his support for notifying Jains as a minority community at the national level.

The ministry had recently moved a cabinet note to recognise Jains as a minority community after attorney-general G.E. Vahanvati and the ministry of law and justice cleared a proposal to this effect.

Community members welcomed the cabinet’s decision, saying it would help them preserve their identity. Some of them met the minority affairs minister to express their gratitude, a statement said.