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Lingayats Reiterate Demand for Constitutional Recognition of Their Religion

The movement for a Lingayat religion has been taken forward by various organisations which seek to avoid litigation and instead build a grassroots movement.

Members of the Akhila Bharata Lingayat Samanvaya Samiti held a demonstration on Monday, reiterating their demand to ensure ‘constitutional validity’ for the Lingayat religion. Around 100 members gathered in Bengaluru’s Freedom Park from across the state. The one-day protest was held to reiterate their stance that Lingayat is an independent religion indigenous to the state of Karnataka.

The organisation put up a charter of demands, urging the state government to re-issue a proposal to the central government to recognise Lingayats as religious minorities. They demanded the rollback of the entry fees charged by the government at the samadhi of Basavanna in Kudala Sangama. Further, they demanded that the state government grant funds for the development of Mangalwedha town in Solapur district, where Basavanna worked as an accountant in the King’s treasury. They also demanded that Gulbarga University be renamed Basaveshwara University.

In 2017, large-scale rallies took place in the state, especially in North Karnataka, led by Lingayat priests who supported separatism. The priests pressured the Congress-led Siddaramaiah government to classify Lingayats as a religious minority. The government appointed a seven-member committee to study the demands. Following the submission of the committee report in March, 2018, the state government passed a notification recognising the followers of Basavanna as a separate religion. This caused consternation among Veerashaivas, who also follow Renukacharya and Vedic texts and identify themselves as Veerashaiva Lingayats. In December of that year, the central government rejected the proposal to notify Lingayat as an independent religion.

The demonstrators were led by several priests, including Channa Basavananda Swamiji, who is the honorary President of the organisation. Speaking to NewsClick, he said, “Only those who accept Basavanna as our dharma guru (religious teacher), the vachanas as our only religious texts and Kannada as the language of our religion, can be called Lingayats. We do not accept the caste/varna system, or discriminate based on religion or nationality. For us, Shiva is a formless supreme being; we do not worship the Shiva mentioned in the Puranas. Basavanna was an egalitarian. He did not want anyone to mediate between God and its worshippers. If Veerashaivas follow their own gurus and religious texts, we do not have any objection. Let them also have an independent Veerashaiva religion.”

The organisation also demanded funds for the development of Mangalwedha town, which is located in the Solapur district of Maharashtra. They say that this is the region in which Basavanna used to work and that the Karnataka government should provide grants for its development.

The organisation's national coordinator is Avinash Bhosikar, 41, from Mumbai. Addressing the gathering, he said, “Until our demands are met, we are going to hold rallies every three months. This organisation was started by Mataji (Mate Mahadevi) to guide our movement. We will grow the Lingayat Samanvaya Samiti by building local units in every taluk and district of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Telangana.”

The organisation's members admit that along with recognition of their religion, they also seek the benefits accorded to minorities in education, employment and administration. They have also been reluctant to place their demand before the courts because they fear that a decision against them could block the path to their goal. Instead, they want to build their movement through public opinion and public pressure. The organisation will hold the next rally in Hyderabad.

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