A group of concerned citizens, including several leading writers and activists, and the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) have written to the Chief Minister and the Governor urging them to ensure there is no bar on non-Hindu traders at temple car festivals and protect the Right to Education of Muslim students. In both letters, they argue that any such social boycott based on religion is “unconstitutional”.
“In this State where we sing everyday calling it sarva janangada shantiya tota as part of the State anthem, religion is being deliberately used to create hatred shamelessly,” a letter from a group of citizens, including K. Marulasiddappa, Vijaya, S.G. Siddaramaiah, and Purushottam Bilimale, among 61 signatories, said.
The letter alleged that several arenas of syncretic culture and communal harmony were deliberately being corrupted for political ends. “In these tough times of the pandemic, when unemployment and underemployment have hit the populace hard, it is ironic that the Government is not acting against these boycotts, but in fact defending them,” the letter said, adding that the State Government needs to be reminded that it was duty bound to maintain peace and harmony, and not disrupt it.
In its letter to Governor Thaawarchand Gehlot, PUCL has alleged that the State Government was deliberately misrepresenting Rule 31(12) of the 2002 Rules of the Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997, which is being cited for a ban on non-Hindu traders.
“Rule 31 only deals with long-term leases of immovable property owned by a temple (up to 30 years for land, and five years for shops and buildings). It does not deal with the short-term licences which would be used to allot stalls or spaces to vendors during a festival,” it said, adding that such a ban violates Article 15 of the Indian Constitution as well.
“Article 15(2) clearly proclaims that no citizen be subject to any ‘restriction’ with regard to ‘access to shops’, ‘maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public,” it said.
The open letter from the citizens also condemns the Government making an issue out of hijab for exams. “Government has also issued a new circular a day before SSLC exams making uniforms mandatory. After two years of online classes, many of the poor and those from backward sections neither can wear their old uniforms nor can they afford to get new uniforms at such short notice,” the letter noted, demanding the circular be withdrawn and even students with hijabs be allowed to write exams.
Both letters have demanded that the Government immediately take measures to ensure all traders irrespective of their religion be given equal opportunity at the jathres in the State and that they take punitive measures against organisations that have been calling for socio-economic boycott of communities and trying to enforce them through pressure tactics. They have also demanded amendments to any law that excludes persons based on religion.