Bengaluru: A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Karnataka High Court (HC) challenging the Centre’s decision to continue the British-era rule of exempting Kodavas and Jamma land holders in Kodagu district from obtaining licence for firearms such as pistols, revolvers and double-barrelled shotguns till 2029.
On Oct.19, 2019, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs issued a notification providing exemption to the Arms Rules 2016, till Oct. 31, 2029. Following the PIL, the High Court Division Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Suraj Govindaraj, has ordered issuance of notices to Centre and State.
The PIL has been filed by Captain (Retd.) Yaladalu K. Chethan, son of Yaladalu D. Keshavananda of Galibeedu village in Kodagu and this latest petition is the third one. He has been challenging the exemption provided by way of notification on July 6, 1963.
Kodavas worship weapons and guns are part and parcel of every festival and ceremony — be it birth or death — and the decision has been taken considering the cultural and religious sensitivities of the community. “Those who have been given the exemption are every person of Kodagu by race and every Jamma land tenure holder in Kodagu,” according to the 2019 Home Ministry notification.
Kodavas are the only community in India who are exempted from obtaining arms licences. “The arms or ammunition carried or possessed by any person being from Kodagu by race and every Jamma tenure holder in Kodagu and herein exempted while residing or travelling outside the district of Kodagu shall not exceed one rifle with 100 rounds of ammunition for the same and one smooth bore breech or muzzle-loading gun with 500 cartridges or the equivalent in leaden shot and gunpowder,” the notification had stated.
In his PIL, however, Chethan has stated that exemption, granted to ‘every person of Coorg race and every Jamma tenure land holder in Coorg’ is unconstitutional, as it creates differentiation based on race, caste and ancestral land tenure.
“The Union Government has not in letter and spirit reviewed or reconsidered its 1966 notification despite certain observations made by the High Court in earlier proceedings,” the PIL stated.
“The classification and use of term ‘Coorg race’ promotes discrimination between the citizens of Coorg region on the ground of caste, violating Article 15 of the Constitution. The classification of ‘Coorg race’ itself is derogatory and possesses a threat to the life and liberty as the people exempted are permitted to hold arms and ammunition without any scrutiny of their antecedents or criminal records,” the PIL said.
He claimed that the gun licence privilege was a reward given by the British for the loyalty of the Coorgs during the first war of independence in 1857 and also during the Coorg Rebellion in 1837. It was never an exemption given on the basis of tradition and culture as claimed by the beneficiaries under the exemption, he stated.
“While a community that took on the British and refused to acknowledge their hegemony was stripped of all rights, those communities which supported the British in subjugating their own countrymen are enjoying the British-given privileges,” the petition said.