Buckling under pressure from Hindutva groups, the organising committee of the historic Kote Marikamba Jatra in Shivamogga has favoured only Hindu shopkeepers during the five-day festival beginning on March 22.
Leaders of the BJP, Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad demanded that no Muslim be allowed to do business during the festival. This forced the festival committee to allot the tender to a Hindutva group.
Kote Marikamba Jatre, held once in two years, attracts lakhs of people from neighbouring cities and districts. The last time it was held was in February 2020. People from all castes take part in the event. According to the residents, Muslims and Christians also offer harake, an offering to the deity for fulfillment of a wish.
The committee had allotted the tender of managing shops and collect fees from each shopkeeper to Chikkanna. He had deposited ₹9.1 lakh. As had been the practice all these years, he had allotted shops to Muslim traders too. But, when they went to put up stalls on March 17 night, a few Hindutva activists picked up an argument and asked them not to set up shops at the jatre (fair).
Chikkanna, who was upset with the development, cancelled his tender and demanded return of his money from the committee.
On March 19, the committee held a meeting with representatives of Hindutva groups. It was resolved to give the tender to Hindutva groups for allotment of shops as per their wish.
S.K. Mariyappa, president of the committee, told The Hindu, “The committee had never taken a stand against any particular religion all these years. But, some people launched a campaign on social media platforms against allowing Muslim shopkeepers. Only three days are left for the festival to start. We agreed to their demand in the interest of smooth conduct of the festival, which attracts thousands of people,” he said.
A similar decision was taken by the Hosa Marigudi temple in Kaup. The committee decided to allow only stalls by Hindus during the annual event — Suggi Mari Pooje.
Hindutva leaders defended their argument citing the recent murder of Hindutva activist Harsha at Shivamogga.
“All these years, we never opposed Muslim putting up stalls. Their conduct in the recent days has forced us to put up such demands,” Channabasappa, leader of BJP in Shivamogga City Corporation, told The Hindu. “Why should they take part in our (Hindu) event when they do not condemn the murder our activist?”
This development has upset a section of the people in Shivamogga.
N. Ravikumar, a journalist and member of the organising committee, said, “Personally, I am against the decision of the committee. The festival has a long history of participation by people of all religions. Nobody can dispute the fact that many Muslims also offer harake during the festival. This development is against the tradition of harmony associated with the event.”