Monday, June 28, 2010

Identity Crisis in Migrated Jains in Maharashtra

-Mahavir Sanglikar

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.


  1. Ethnic and regional identities were always strong in Indian subcontinent. These identities have survived all the invasions and calamities. So i am not really surprised to see Marwaris and Gujaratis maintaining their identities even after several generations. If i am not wrong then they still go to their respective native places whenever have time. So, it is wrong to say that they do not have 'any' connection to their native place.
    I personally don't mind such behavior. That's OK. But it is really irritating to see them lecturing Marathis or anybody else for being 'narrow minded' when they themselves hardly communicate outside their community. They were always orthodox in religious and social sense. But in British era, they grew really strong economically became highly influential. It will not be exaggerate to say that they were pioneers of capitalism in modern India. Though, all communities in India maintain their connections in their past, identities have been redefined, refined and revived in many forms. All the Indian communities have their present identities strongly connected to the recent or medieval past. Gujarati and Marwadi Jain communities are no different. Like Marathis, Rajputs and Sikhs have their version of jingoistic nationalism based on their martial History, like Bengalis have their version based on their intellectual past, like southern states have their version based on their cultural heritage, Gujju and Marwadis have their own version due to their economic strength which is being accumulated since British raj. This new version of jingoism has gone unnoticed so far but is growing rapidly and more bullish.
    So, i disagree with author that they are in identity crisis. I would rather say that identity has became razor sharp and would soon dominate other, publicly. And i don't see any attempt to negate this attitude by the intellectuals in the respective community.

  2. iwant to know more abt Marvadi and Gujarati Jains. We Ezhuthachans are former jains historically , now fully Hinduised.

  3. We are Kachchhee Jains and speak Katchchhi only,but Kutchchh is in Gujrat state,Yet Gujrati don't accept us.So what?

  4. i am digambar Jain, original roots from eader district of Gujarat,i m the seventh generation in my clan who had left Gujarat and got settled in Karnataka,now in Mumbai.
    We speak Marathi at home as to give respect to region where we stay ,but still we speak Gujarati occasionally,and i think its necessary.
    i still consider myself as Marathi speaking Jain Gujarati.

  5. Jai Jinendra Mahavirji!

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    Paresh Pagariya
    C: 0-9881130033

  6. I came across your blog thru my brother. I am impressed with the depth of your knowledge about Jain identity. My feeling regarding your current topic:
    1. Jains like others, are busy dividing themselves into the 13-criteria such as: Race, Colour, Caste, Sex, Age, Language, Religion-Sect, Ideology-‘isms, Size, Community, Wealth, Status, Country-Geography. They forget they are humans first and their Self / Soul is same in everyone. This is a problem with all humans who have not realized the difference between their Self and Body.
    2. The Jain ideology is very strict and the Gurus are living in the past, thereby they have lost the mass appeal that Jainism has in the bygone ages. So many profess Hinduism or refer to Geographical origin to establish their identity.
    3. The basic tenets of Jainism are so good and do not recognise the divisions among humans, yet this fact is lost to most Jains who indulge in 'ritualism', flaunting of their riches, call the Tirthankars as Gods, are confused over the use of modern tools, promote blind belief, etc.
    4. The value-education which was imbibed in the remote-past generations is gone with modern schooling where competition and not excellence is the driver. Materialism has gained dominance over 'natural acceptance' and Jains as well as other communities have got stuck in conflicts even among themselves. Jeevan Vidya and Madhyastha Darshan teache Sah Astitva which can bring mankind back to the right path. This has many proposals very similar to true Jain tenets, yet our schools and elders have no time for real learning.

    I expect that with the passing of more generations, the feeling of foreign domination will reduce and India citizens will hanker for the glory of the past in intellectualism.