Arms Act exemption to Kodavas: Stakeholders urged to present  facts before Court, Government
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Arms Act exemption to Kodavas: Stakeholders urged to present facts before Court, Government

August 31, 2019

Union Home Ministry seeks opinion from Kodagu DC

Madikeri: The filing of writ petition in Karnataka High Court by Captain (retd.) Yaladalu K. Chethan, who has questioned the exemption to Kodavas and Jamma land holders in Kodagu district from obtaining a licence to possess firearms under Section 3 and 4 of the Indian Arms Act, 1959, has resulted in several Kodava organisations coming together to put up a united front to fight for their rights and resist attempts from vested interests to snatch away that privilege.

Among the organisations that are pressing for Kodava rights is Nelaji Farmers Club who has urged the Kodava community leaders, Kodava Samajas and other stakeholders to provide proper information to the Government and the Courts in this regard. Even Napoklu Kodava Samaja has criticised the filing of the writ petition and has extended its support to Codava National Council that is fighting a relentless battle to safeguard the gun rights. 

On its part, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) told the High Court recently that the exemption granted since 1963 to certain class of people in Kodagu district from obtaining licence to possess and carry firearms under the provisions of the Arms Act, 1959, is being reviewed along with the review of the entire Arms Act to amend the old enactment.

Assistant Solicitor General of India C. Shashikantha informed the Court that MHA has constituted a Committee to review and suggested amendments to Arms Act, and the process had been initiated to secure the views of stakeholders with regard to exemption granted to a class of people in Kodagu district.

Addressing a press conference in Madikeri on Tuesday, Nelaji Farmers Club President M.K. Nanjappa said that Kodavas have been using the gun as an item of worship and a gun is a symbol of culture, tradition and is a part of a Kodava attire.

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“A gun is linked to the life of a Kodava from birth and till death, and its cultural influence is one of the reasons why the British gave the community an exemption to possess firearms. When a child is born in the Kodava community, four gunshots are fired to let residents of the village                               know of the birth.”

“In villages in Kodagu, houses are spread out far apart and as a community we get together when a baby is born. Hearing the gun shots, residents know that a birth has taken place and they try and help in any way they can,” said Nanjappa.

Similarly, when someone dies, two gunshots are fired so that residents can rush to help the families in distress. “We take pride in our association with guns and they are not misused,” he said and added that the Courts and the Government must be informed about the exclusive rights of Kodavas so that the right stays.

“After the First War of Indian Independence in 1857, the British introduced the Disarming Act, which outlawed the use of weapons in Coorg. But in 1861, an exemption was granted for a class of people in Coorg to possess firearms, for the first time by Mark Cubbon, the then Chief Commissioner of Coorg,” Nanjappa explained.

“In 1878, the British drafted a law, which later came to be known as the Indian Arms Act, in which the exemption granted to the people of Coorg was extended to two groups of people — a person of Coorg (Kodava) race and a Jamma tenure holder. These rights are unique and Kodavas never misused this. The Kodagu District Administration must inform the facts to the Court and see to it that the rights are safeguarded,” Nanjappa demanded.

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Club Secretary Sachin Ganapathy, Directors Viju Appaiah and Naveen Nachappa were present in the press conference.

Meanwhile, Kodagu Deputy Commissioner Annies Kanmani Joy has stated that the District Administration has received a notification from the Ministry of Home Affairs seeking opinion on this issue. “We have sought some time due to the floods and landslides relief work in the district to carry out the consultation,” she said.

Background of the case

Y.K. Chethan, son of Yaladalu D. Keshavananda filed a Writ Petition in the High Court on Jan.8, 2018. In his petition, (WP No. 1386/2018), Chethan, a resident of R.T. Nagar in Bengaluru, claimed that the continuation of the exemption, granted to some class of persons by the British Government in pre-Independent India in furtherance of their divide-and-rule policy, was unconstitutional, as it was based on irrational, fictitious and discriminatory grounds, such as race and ancestral land tenure.

He claimed that the exemption granted to Jamma land holders and for the members of Kodava race under Section 3 and 4 of Indian Arms Act differentiates between communities living in a society and promotes disharmony.

The original petition (a Public Interest Litigation) was filed by Chethan in 2015 and the High Court had disposed it and asked the petitioner to submit a representation on his grievance about exemption to the Union Home Ministry. On its part, the Ministry had told the Court that the exemption provided to Kodavas was as per law. Not stopping at this, Chethan filed another Writ Petition in the High Court in 2018, questioning the arms exemption.

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