Karnataka govt defends move by temples to ban Muslim traders from fairs
The Karnataka government on Wednesday defended a decision by some temples banning Muslim traders during religious festivals, citing a little-known law to argue in the assembly that no people other than Hindus could be allowed inside temple premises during fairs and holy occasions.
The state’s law and education ministers backed the ban instituted by at least six temples in the past week, and chief minister Basavaraj Bommai said the government couldn’t interfere if the ban was legal. Over the last five days, banners have emerged outside temples in Udupi, Dakshina Kannada and Shivamooga districts announcing that Muslim traders will not be allowed to set up stalls in religious fairs, breaking from decades-old local traditions.
In the assembly, state law minister JC Madhuswamy said according to the Hindu Religious Institutions And Charitable Endowments Act, passed in 2002, it is prohibited to lease out the space near a Hindu religious institution to a person of another faith. “If these recent incidents of banning Muslim traders have occurred outside the premises of the religious institutions, we will rectify them. Otherwise, as per norms, no other community is allowed to set up shop on the premises,” the minister added, pointing out that the government in 2002 was run by the Congress.
Bommai defended the law minister and said that as per law, non-Hindus were not allowed to put up stalls near temples during festivals. “During such jathres (religious fairs), there are a lots of shops that are sub-leased. These people who take up the lease from the temple management board would do it for money. This is something that the government cannot interfere in. When it is such cases, we will look into the laws as well as the facts of the case,” Bommai said.
Outside the assembly, education minister BC Nagesh justified the ban as a “reaction” to the bandh observed over the Karnataka high court’s recent verdict upholding a ban on the hijab in classrooms. “There is always a reaction for anything. People of science know that action and reaction are equal and opposite,” Nagesh said.
The statements came amid swirling controversy over several temple authorities across Karnataka denying Muslim shopkeepers permission to set up stalls in popular Hindu religious fairs, where usually members of all faiths do business alongside each other. The posters have come up in communally sensitive districts of coastal Karnataka, which were already on the boil over the state government’s decision in January to ban the hijab in classrooms, and the ensuing controversy.
The Hosa Marigudi temple in Mangaluru barred Muslim traders from taking part in the auction for stalls at the annual Suggi Mari Pooja on March 22. Then on March 23, at the Kote Marikamba Jatre in Shivamogga, which is held every two years, a contractor cancelled the tender he received for allotting stalls after he was asked the temple committee to cancel the stalls given to Muslims.
The Kollur Mookambika temple fair in Udupi district announced the ban on Tuesday. On the same day, banners announcing the ban on Muslim traders were placed in front of the Bappandu Durgaparameshwari temple,. Mangaladevi temple and Puttur Mahalingeshwara temple. “No permission for those who are against Constitution and those who kill cattle,” a banner read.
The issue was raised by the deputy leader of the Opposition, UT Kader, and Congress legislator Rizwan Arshad. Kader said that people who were “cowards and cruel humans” put up such posters, stoking protest from several Bharatiya Janata Party legislators. “Don’t the police know who are putting up such posters. We ask the government that whoever has put these banners, what is their intent and take action against such people and give a proper message to society,” Kader said.
In Mangaluru, the president of the Hosa Marigudi temple management committee, Ramesh Hegde, said that ban was clamped after an appeal from Hindu organisations. “They said that those who do not respect the high court’s decision will not be allowed to enter the temple festival. We didn’t want a law and order problem, so we have taken this decision,” he added.
In Shivamogga, too, a temple official, who requested anonymity, said Hindu activists asked the local temple committee to cancel the allotment of stalls to Muslim traders.
The official added that for several years, Muslims and Christians were taking part in the festival and offering prayers to fulfil their wishes.
K Mariyappa, president of Kote Marikamba Jatre committee, told reporters that there was pressure to institute the ban. “The committee was never communal in the past but recent developments, especially on social media, where many have launched campaigns against Muslims shopkeepers, forced them to agree to the demand in the interest of smooth conduct of the festival,” he said.
Prakash Kukkehalli, the Hindu Jagarana Vedike’s Mangaluru division general secretary, said that some temple worshippers were outraged by Muslims closing their shops in protest on the March 17 high court order upholding the ban on wearing of Hijab in classrooms. “If they can oppose the Karnataka high court, why can’t we stop them? We are asking Hindus to be self-sufficient and make sure that our businesses are not stolen by the Muslims,” he said. Bajrang Dal leader Suryanarayana Rao said the organisation was not against Muslims but only those who opposed the rule of the land and the high court verdict on Hijab.
Mohammed Arif, the secretary of Udupi District Street Vendors’ and Traders’ Association, said Muslim traders had not been banned in such a manner before. “There are about 700 registered members of which 450 are Muslim. We did not have any business for the last two years because of Covid-19. Now as we begin to start earning again, we have been left out by the temple committees,” he told reporters.
Muslim traders have expressed both grief and anguish about the development. “We cannot live without the help of Hindus, but at the same time, it was outright unethical and unjustified for a few Hindu fringe elements to block Muslim traders in temple fairs,” said a trader.
Responding to the government’s explanation, former Karnataka advocate general, senior counsel and constitutional expert Professor Ravi Varma Kumar said that the Hindu Religious Institutions And Charitable Endowments Act. “This is discrimination purely on the basis of religion. This is impermissible. The act has to be challenged on that grounds. As long as they are contracts given by the government, the government cannot discriminate on the grounds of religion,” Kumar said.
“If they are private temples the question of raising the constitutional issue does not arise. Because fundamental rights are guaranteed only against the government. But temples under Muzrai department, these (constitutional rights) are applicable,” he added.