This paper briefly attempts to assess the present demogaphic, economic and soci-political status of the Jain community in India and abroad. This is done mainly from the sociological perspective.
The demographic, economic and minority status analysis is supported by sets of 1991 and 2001 census data which highlight various aspects of Jain demography, namely variations in Jain population in India since 1891, distribution of Jains by states and union territories, select demographic indicators including sex ration, literacy and work participation rates, etc. Intermittently, the author argues in favour of a more systematic social science research of all aspects of the Jain community.
The Jains are one of the oldest religious communities of India. Although the origin of Jainism is lost in antiquity, it was revived by Lord Mahavira during the sixth century B.C. Jainism as well as Buddhism belongs to the Shraman tradition, a tradition that is distinct from the Vedic tradition and is considered even older and indigenous.
As a social movement Jainism was opposed to caste system, secondary status of women, dominance of priestly class (namely Brahmins), ritual sacrifices, slavery, and monarchical basis of polity. In ancient India Jainism was a force to reckon with and had a considerable influence on the various North Indian kingdoms and parts of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
In modern times, the Jains have been a small religious community in India. Thus in 1881 when the first systematic census of India was taken, the total Jain population was enumerated at 12, 21, 896 that is, 0.48 per cent of the total Indian population. In 1981 there were 32,20,038 Jains in India and their population in 1991 was enumerated at about 33,52,000.
The corresponding figure for the census year 2001 was 42,25,053. During the past 130 years or so the Jains never constituted more than 0.50 percent of the total population of India.
During the decade of 1981-1991 the Jain population grew very slowly, that is at the rate of only 4.42 percent compared to 23.17 percent for the previous decade (Census of India 1991). The population growth rate, however, was high (26.0%) during 1991-2001 period giving the impression that the trend of slow growth rate had been reversed.
Ironically there are no corroborating data in the 2001 census to this effect. On the contrary, the available data on the fertility behaviour of the Jains, namely the proportion of population in the 0-6 age-group clearly suggest that the community has low fertility rate vis-a-vis other major religious communities (Census of India 2001).
How then to explain the sudden jump in consecutive decadal growth rate from 4.2% to 26.0% ? The answer to this question given by demographers and sociologists suggests that the sudden jump occurred not due to change in fertility behaviour but because of the heightened ethnic awareness among the Jains-resulting from a community-wide campaign during the 1990s to declare themselves as “Jains” and not Hindus in the 2001 census returns. In this manner more than 700,000 people were additionally classified as Jains.
Jains are increasingly becoming urban dwellers. In 1901 about 30 percent Jains lived in urban areas. The corresponding figures for the census years 1941 and 1981 were 41.4 percent and about 64 percent respectively. In 1991 just over 70.0 percent of the Jains population was residing in urban areas. This percentage went up to about 75 in 2001 census. For obvious reasons this represent the continuity in rising urbanization trend among the Jains.
The 1971 census data also suggest that the Jains are more urban in the areas where they are few in number and more rural in the areas where they are comparatively large in number (Sangave 1980). The other demographic features of the community include a very high level of literacy (94.1% in 2001), the lowest infant mortality rate, and medium level of sex ratio (940 in 2001).
However, in spite of the highest literacy among the Jain women, their work participation rate was the lowest (only 9.0%) vis-a-vis other five religious communities in India. In short, all the demographic indicators confirm the urban middle class character of the community.
Although spread all over the country, the Jains are found to be heavily concentrated in the western half of India. Thus according to the 1991 census, the five Indian provinces of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka alone had over 86.0 percent of the total Jain population.
If we add two more states to this list, namely Delhi and UIttar Pradesh, then the seven states together accounted for over 94.0 percent of the total Jain population in 1991. In 2001 these seven states accounted for about 90% of the total Jain population-a slight reversal of the trend due to low natural increase and/or out-migration. Bihar, the cradle of Jainism, has less than one percent of the Jains living there.
Given the fact that the majority of Jain Tirthankars lived and preached in Bihar and other parts of eastern India, the historical shift from Bihar to western half of India, where overwhelming majority of Jains today live, is both interesting and intriguing and requires analysis in terms of the changing political economy of India over the millennia.
Almost all the Jain community-related demographic trends highlighted in various census reports need sociological validation through fieldwork in various parts of India. In particular, extensive studies are required to be done about causes and effects of low population growth low sex ration and allied aspects of fertility behaviour. Similarly, in and our migration trends pertaining to Jains in India need a through investigation.
With over 75% of them living in urban areas in India, the situation has been causing marriage problems in rural areas as the city and town-based girls are unwilling to get married to boys living in villages. The low sex ratio within the community has already been exacerbating this social problem.
Additionally, we need to know the nature and extent of inter-religious and inter-caste marriages taking place among the Jains. Needless to say, similar studies are required to be done on the major Jain diaspone communities. How these communities were formed and got consolidated, what is their economic and occupational status, what are their socio-cultural problems-all these aspects deserve adequate attention of the social scientists. The philanthropic activities of the Jain diaspora and their ramifications on the Jain community in India too are and emergent field of inquiry.
Small size of the Jain community, sectrian divide, caste endogamy, low sex ratio, lack of widow remarriage, practice of Bal Diksha-all these factors have tended to aggravate the problem of marriage among the Jains in the sense that the availability of choice of marriage partners is increasingly being restricted. Needless to say, these issues need sociological investigations. Patriarchy and its impact on the status and role of women and youth are other social issues requiring sociological investigation in the context of the Jain community.
As already noted, Jains have been a minority community since at least the begining of the modern time. Presently the Jains as an affluent minority face two major problems. One of these relates to seeking and maintaining its separate ethnic/religious identity vis-a-vis the Hindus.
Apart from the numerical and legal aspects of minority status. more serious problem relates to the progressive erosion of the Jain values, or the “Jain way of life.” particularly among the younger generation.
The disintegration of the caste system increasing intercaste/religious marriages, widow remarriage, use of alcohol and non-vegetarian food, nighteating. etc. are some of the concerns of those who wish to ratain the traditional value system of Jainism.
The Second problem with which the Jains have to come to terms with is their slow growth rate which hade come down to as low as about 4% in the 1991 census and was expected to come down further. However, the 2001 census data with over 26% decadal growth rate do not confirm this trend. As already mentioned, it is widely believed that this high growth rate do not confirm this trend.
As already mentioned, it is widely believed that this high growth rate of Jains in the 2001 census was due to ethnic awareness, and not due to any changes in their fertility behavior. Therefore, only the next census report would be able to confirm the slow growth rate trend decisively. Logically, the affluent minorities of the world such as the Jews and the Parsees share the predicament of demographic stagnation and eventual decline in the long run and the Jains appear to follow the same trend.
As already mentined, a series of socio-demographic studies are needed to ascertain the nature of demographic transition taking place in the Jain population in India. Short, medium and long-term population projections have to be worked out in the light of the sociological realities of the community. It should also be possible for the community to carry out a country-wide census of the Jain population to dispel any misgivings about the actual size of the Jain community in India.
The relative affluence among the Jains has been noted by a number of scholars which is attributed to the fact that the Jains have traditionally been mainly engaged in trade, commerce, and banking Hardiman 1996; Laidlaw 1995; Stevenson 1915; Weber 1958).
Since the 18th century a number of Jains have also been engaged in industrial production in a big way. The business and trading character of the Jain community has been continuing even today. Thus according to the 2001 Census, only 18.3% of the Jain population was engaged in “working class” Jobs (11.7% cultivators, 3.3% agricultural labourers, 3.3% household industry workers); the rest, that is 81.7% were in “other” occupations.
These other occupations comprise various trade and commercial activities and the modern education-based professions such as teaching, engineering, medicine, law, Information Technology, etc. Not surprisingly, the Jains have varyingly been described by scholars as “the Jews of India”. “the middlemen minority”, “the marginal trading community”, “the capitalist without capitalism”, etc. (See Nevaskar 1971).
In more recent times, the Jains have also been vigorously entering into some new professions such as business managemtn, computer and information tecgnology and healthcare related professions. Thus a large number of them have come to own medical clinics, nursing homes and even hospitals, etc. In the past few years, a number of them have also entered in the field of education by establishing schools and colleges. Some of them have even established new universities.
Teerthankar Mahaveer University, Moradabad, O.P. Jindal Global University at Sonipat, Haryana, and Mangalayatan University near Aligarh are cases in point. In these cases it is the individual entrepreneurship rather than the institutional one (e.g. , deemed universities at Ladnon and Shravanbelagola) that need to be underlined.
Being mainly engaged in business and professions and thereby being economically well-off, the Jains appear to have little time or desire for entering the field of active politics. At least this has been so for the past few decades. Earlier the situation was quite different. A large number of Jains had vigorously participated in India’s national independence movement (Jain and Jain 2003).
After India’s independence, six Jains were members of the Constituent Assembly of India. A small number of Jains were politically active in intial decades after indepencence. Thus there were about three dozen Jain members in the first parliament of India comprising the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
This number got progressively reduced to the extent that in the current parliament there are only three elected members in the Lok Sabha. Of these only one member is in the cabinet with the rank of the Minister of State. The general mood within the community during the past few decades, therefore, has been one of political indifference or apathy.
During 60 years of India’s independence Jains have produced only five Chief Ministers in Madhya Pradesh and one in Rajasthan a handful of cabinet ministers in the central government and only a small number of ministers/members of legislative assemblies in various Indian states/Union Territories. The enlightened opinion in the Jain community is that there has been as deficit of politicians among them which has hampered their progress on issues such as the declaration of Jains as a minority by the states as well as the Union governments.
Many problems pertaining to the Jains have remained unresolved in various Indian states due to “political weakness” of the community. With these considerations in mind the Jain Political Forum was launched in June 2007 by the members of the All India Digambar Jain Mahasabha, Delhi which also has separate wings for Women and Youth. Apparently so far not much has been accomplished by the Forum.
In spite of being a small community, contestations and confrontations have not been lacking among the Jains. Since the first century, A.D. Jains have been divided into two major sects-Digambara and Svetambara. Literally Digambara means “sky clad” and Svetambara means ``white robed”. i.e., the monks of the Digambaras are naked while those of the Svetambaras wear white cloth.
Two major points of difference between the two sects arose from the controversy whether the practice of complete nudity by a monk is essential to attain liberation and whether women can attain nirvana in this life. Whereas the Svctambaras believe positively in these tenets, the Digambaras do not (Sangave 1980 : 50). The social organization of the Digambar Jain sect displays individualistic, prophet derived and sect-like character in contrast to the Swetambar Jainism which shows the group bound, priest derived and church like ambience (See Jain 1999 : 34)
Although Jainism does not sanction caste system, the Jaina community today is divided into a number of castes and sub-castes and sections and Sub-sections (Jain 1975). The caste system among the Jains probably arose during the medieval period. However, it is not as rigid as among the Hindus. As Sangave (1980 : 81) put it. “Among the Jains the castes were not arranged in a hierarchical order of respectability.
No restrictions were put on social intercourse between different caste members and there was no lack of choice of occupation. “Recent ethnographic studies suggest that caste rankings are based more on economic status rather than ritual purity (Banks 1992 : 253; Dundas 1992; Singhi 1991). Apart from exclusive Jaina castes there are a number of vishnav Hiudu castes among whom there are Jaina followers. In short, the caste system among the Jains has been transmuted into competitive endogamous status groups.
Socially, Jains are not a self-sufficient community. Whereas at the all-India level the Jain community can be treated as a statistical category, at the local level it constitutes what sociologists have tewns as the “partial community”-partial in the sense that not all kinds of castes and occupations are present in it. In fact an overwhelming majority of Jains are engaged only in so-called “clean occupations.” There are no exclusive Jain villages or towans in any part of India or elsewhere. Also, unlike the Sikhs for example, the Jains are neither regionally concentrated nor do they have a particular modern language or script to identify with.
There is some degree of ambivalence among the Jains with respect to their social status vis-a-vis the majority Hindu community. One view is that the Jains are Hindus and as such they fall in the Vaishya Varna of the Varna Vyavastha. The other view of course is that the Jains are outside of, and distinct from, the Hindus and their caste system.
Empirically we do not know which self-perception is prevalent among the Jains and to what extent.Nevertheless, the two views have differential implications for their ethnic boundary maintenance and their ethnic relations vis-a-vis other communities.
In the wider context of the Indian socio-cultural diversity and pluralism, inter-ethnic relations of Jains vis-a-vis major religious and ethnic communities require anthropological/sociological investigation. Historically, the Jains had to suffer a lot, especially in the medieval period in South India when Hinduism was being revived. Not only hundreds of Jain Munis were put to violent death, but the Jain and Buddhist temples also were destroyed and/or converted into Hindu places of worship.
In modern times with the exception of a few minor clashes between Jains and Hindus over the contents of Jain Ramayana, and some other issues, the relations of Jains with the Hindus and other ethnic groups have by and large been cordial. Nevertheless the Jains do maintain varying degree of social distance vis-a-vis rest of the communities in India.
In different parts of India Jains tend to behave like upper caste Hindus and as such they did and do practice untouchability against the Dalits. An experiment of integration of Dalits (Bhagis in Udaipur) into the Jain fold under the auspices of Acharya Tulsi during the 1980s could not go smoothy far enough (Syamlal 1992). On the other hand, the Jains do maintain cordial relations including inter-marriages with Hindu Banias in many parts of India, particularly in Gujarat, Western U.P. and in most metropolitan towns. The services of Brahmin priests are utilized on the occasions of birth and marriage.
And the Rajput and other Kshatriya castes treated respectfully by the Jains. In rural India the Jains have been the part of the Jajmani system. It is equally important to study the inter-ethnic relations of the Jains with Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsees, Buddhists and other religious communities.
Jains display an unusual sense of tolerance and peaceful coexistence with other communities which can be related to their epistemological doctrine of relative pluralism (Nayavada) which states the manifoldness (Anekant) of Reality and Knowledge. It states that the reality can be comprehended from an infinite number of standpoints which have been classified into seven types known as Saptabhangi naya (sevenfold-standpoint).
This doctrine is known as Syadavad (doctrine of may be). In short, the doctrines of Anekant and Syadavad constitute one of the distinguishing features of Jainism. The Jains are particularly proud of this part of the Jain philosophy and in all probability it reflects in their definition and perception of social reality as well as the formation of self-identity.
Although the Jains have been traveling beyond the borders of India for centuries in connection with trade and commerce, this kind of population movement was of short duration and seasonal in nature, and did not lead to major settement abroad.
The Jains began to migrate with intension to settle abroad sometime in the late19th century when they went to the East African country of Kenya. The Jain diaspora thus formed was very small and had to wait for more than half a century to grow in significant size. Thus the Jain diaspora was mainly formed during the past three-four decades due to the emigration of educated professionals into North American. European and other countries (Kumar 1996).
Not surprisingly, whereas the Jains in India continue to remain overwhelmingly a trading community, their diasporic counterparts have emerged mainly as communities of professionals, except perhaps in East Africa, Belgium and Israel. Of the total Jain diasporic population estimated at about quarter-of-a-million, about 96% of them live in just five countries, namely the US (120,000+), the UK (60,000+), Nepal (30,000), Canda (!5,000) and Kenya (15,000).
For the past few years the small diasporic Jain population has been exerting a significant amount of influence on the Jains in India through such international associations as the Federations of Jains Associations of North America (JAINA), Jain Samaj Europe, Jain Social Group International Federation, Jain International Trade Organisation, and the International Summer School for Jain Studies, etc.
Making people aware about Jainism as a world religion and spreading its messages of Ahimsa, peaceful co-existence and vegetarianism appear to be high on the agenda of the Jain diasporic pro-activism.
The brief sociological assessment of the status of contemporary Jain community in India and abroad has been done here in the light of the available social sciences literature on the subject which is not much and has been unevenly developed (See Bibliography).
Therefore it should not be surprising to suggest that in the realm of the Jain studies hitherto too much emphasis has been placed on the research and studies of the Jain philosophy, religion and literature. In the process the social science studies have been largely neglected. The community and its leadership therefore need to be sensitized to the importance and the lopsided development of the Jain social.
Before it is too late, a well thought out strategy by the Jain research institutions, associations, business houses and NGOs to plan and exceute social sciences research projects on the Jain community is the need of the hour. Besides opening exclusive social science research centres for Jain studies, the existing Jain institutions of higher learning must also be requested to do the same.
The lack of specialists and funds appear to be the major stumbling blocks in this regard. But then, for a prosperous community like the Jain it should not be difficult to overcome these hurdles. In this regard, the Jain can learn a lesson or two from the Jews who constitute one of the most researched communities in the world.
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