Updated: July 8, 2021 4:31:46 pm
The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday issued a notice to the state and Central governments following a PIL questioning the 2019 notification of granting exemption to Kodavas and Jamma landholders in Kodagu district from the requirement to obtain a licence to carry and possess firearms under the provisions of the Indian Arms Act, 1959.
Hearing the petition filed by an ex-Army officer, Capt Chethan Y K, on the grounds that the exemption is unconstitutional as it creates differentiation based on race or caste and ancestral land tenure, a division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Suraj Govindaraj issued the notice.
Capt Y K Chethan, a resident of Galibeedu village of Madikeri taluk, referring to the notification dated October 29, 2019, questioned the constitutional validity of the notification issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) extending the exemption for requirement of gun licence to “every person of Coorg race and every Jamma tenure land holder in Coorg” till October 31, 2029.
The Centre had decided to continue the British-era rule of exempting Kodavas and Jamma land holders in the hill district of Kodagu from obtaining licence for firearms such as pistols, revolvers and double-barrelled shotguns. The exemption has been given for 10 years, till 2029.
The petitioner has claimed that the MHA has made away with the scrutiny of persons before granting licence in respect of the people belonging to the ‘Coorg race’, adding that this itself is not only derogatory to the citizens of the entire nation other than the ‘Coorg race’, but also possess 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 special privilege to own firearms without a license was granted to the Kodavas, a small martial community in Kodagu (Coorg) District in Karnataka, by the British in recognition of their martial traditions. Kodavas, an ethno-linguistic tribe, consider themselves the original inhabitants of Kodagu district and are known for their martial culture. The community has its rituals around guns and weapons like swords.
In 1963, the Union Government issued a notification exempting “every person of (the) Coorg race and every Jamma land tenure holder in Coorg” from the Indian Arms Act. There was no curb on the privilege even after Coorg, which was a separate state earlier, merged with Karnataka.
According to reports, a proposal to do away with the privilege under the Arms Act, was made way back in 1964 by the Central government. But the move was dropped, apparently, at the behest of Field Marshal K M Cariappa — the first Indian Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the Indian Army — and the then Union Minister C M Poonacha, who was also the former chief minister of Coorg state, before its merger with Karnataka.
Former Kodagu District Commissioner, T P Issar, in his report, had said: “It is a well-known fact that the gun, the Odikathi (a small broad bladed sword) and the Peechekathi (a type of dagger) are as much a part of the life of a Coorgi as the kirpan is for Sikhs and the kukri for Gurkhas. From my study of the old gazetteers and other books on the life and culture of Coorg, and from my knowledge of their present day customs, I am in a position to bear out the truth of the arguments of the Coorgis that these arms are inseparably linked with many of their ceremonial occasions.”
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