When I was a student in a Science College at Sangli in Maharashtra, I choose the Shwetambar Jain Hostel for residing instead of the Digambar one, although I was a Digambar at that time. (Now I do not belong to any sect, as I am a ‘Just’ Jain). The hostel belonged to Gujarati Shwetambar Jains, but at that time the trustees were broad minded enough to give admissions to students of other sects.
The rector of the hostel was Mr. Gandhi, a staunch Jain, who had traveled worldwide. But I was afraid to know that he loved to call himself as a Gujar and not as a Jain. He always liked to say about his community, “We are not Jains like you, we are Gujars”.
This was not an exceptional case; the students belonging to Shwetambar Gujarati Community also always introduced themselves as Gujars, and not as Jains. The same thing was being done by the students belonging to Gujarati Digambar community. For both the groups we natives of South Maharashtra were Jains, and Gujarati Jains were not Jains but Gujars!
In my High School days at Pune, I had observed that the Oswal Jains too liked to present themselves as Marwadis, and not as Jains. The worst thing was that they didn’t know anything about other Jains, and for them the word Marwadi was the only synonymous of the word Jain.
Even today, the situation is not changed much.
The Gujarati and Marwadi Jains in Maharashtra are suffering from an identity crisis. Although they are living here for last 4 to 7 generations and they have no connections with Marwad or Gujarat, although Marathi has became their mother tongue and they can not express themselves in Marwadi or Gujarati languages, although they have became Marathis in terms of culture, language and other aspects, they still like to call themselves as Marwadi or Gujarati and not as Marathi. This is a very wrong thing as no native people can accept the communities who themselves like to say that they are outsiders.
If you visit a Jain temple of Gujarati Shwetambar Murtipujaks, in cities like Pune or Kolhapur, or even in the interior parts of Maharashtra, you will find that the Name board and notice boards in the temple are written in Gujarati language. It automatically shuts the doors of the temple for others, including other Jains. Such thing has happened even in the Jain Temples in North America!
There is a two-sided problem with them. First, the Marwadi/Gujarati identity has overtaken their religious identity. Second, they are still living psychologically in Marwad/Gujarat, so most of them cannot accept that they are no more Marwadi/Gujarati.
What is the result? It has become a weapon for a specific group of people of Maharashtra who live on spreading hate against outsiders. In a recent blockbuster Marathi film, the main villain is a Gujarati Jain, while in another Marathi film the villain is a Marwadi Jain.
If Marwadi and Gujarati Jain community like to call them as outsiders, no one can help them.
They should remember that no community in Maharashtra is aboriginal, all are outsiders, but most of them are proud to call themselves as Marathis. Further, Jains living in Maharashtra do not need anybody’s permission to call their selves as Marathis, as Marathi language was developed by Jains only in ancient and medieval times. Many Jain Agams are in Marahatti language, which is mother of Marathi, and the first rock inscription in Marathi language also belongs to Jains.The oldest rock inscription in Maharashtra is also a Jain inscription. The most important thing is that the forefathers of many of the Rajsthani and Gujarati Jains were migrated from Deccan Maharashtra to Gujarat and Rajsthan in medieval times, including the forefathers of Kumarpal Solanki, and the Rathods.