Taking suo motu cognisance of a vigilante attack that occurred on July 15 and the ongoing controversy over a college preventing a student from wearing a burkha, State Human Rights Commission Chairman S.R. Nayak has issued orders seeking action-taken reports from the officials concerned.

The orders, copies of which were made available at a press conference held by Mr. Nayak here on Monday, are based on media reports of the incidents. The order pertaining to the vigilante attack was issued on July 17 and the one concerning the ban on wearing burkha in the government-aided SVS College in Bantwal was issued on August 20.

Quoting the July 16, 2009 issue of The Hindu in his order, Mr. Nayak has said, “It is reported that a Muslim youth was assaulted admittedly by the Convener of the district unit of Sri Rama Sene, Madhu Urwastore, on the ground that the Muslim youth had no business attending a Hindu wedding reception.”

Commenting on the incident in his order Mr. Nayak has said that although the incident might be minor and did not cause any grievous injury or mortality, it “should definitely pain and disturb every lover of liberty and protector of the secular fabric of the Indian polity”. He also said that such acts compromise “the cherished goals incorporated in the Indian Constitution and human rights regime adopted by the Indian nation for its governance”.

He has also said that unless the State authorities, particularly the law enforcing authorities of the State, nip these “ugly heads of moral policing” in the bud there is the likelihood that these forces will cause an upsurge in violence in the coastal belt and even the State.

He has asked the Chief Secretary, the Inspector-General of Police (Western Range) and the Deputy Commissioner of Dakshina Kannada to submit an action-taken report. The deputy commissioners of Uttara Kannada and Udupi districts have been asked to submit reports listing the precautionary steps taken to prevent such incidents in their districts.

Burkha ban

Describing the ban on wearing the burkha in the college in Bantwal as “unhealthy” in his August 20 order, Mr. Nayak has said such incidents “tend to tear the secular fabric of society and create disharmony in our lives”.

“Religious freedom guaranteed under articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution embraces not only mere matters of doctrine and belief pertaining to a religion but also the practice of it,” Mr. Nayak has said in his order.

However, he said it remained to be examined whether the wearing of the burkha was indeed a “matter of religion” as stated in the Constitution.

“Matters of religion also have so much to do with the interpretation of religious doctrines,” he said.

Nevertheless, he told presspersons that the ban had greater implications and was an “act of provocation” that could disturb the “fragile nature of communal harmony” in the coastal districts.

He also referred to statements issued by the management of the college to the media and said, “The management has repeatedly claimed that it is under pressure from political parties and certain fundamentalist groups to enforce the ban. Clearly, this is a claim that needs to be investigated seriously.”

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