Karnataka high court upholds arms act exemption to Kodavas, Jamma land holders
The Karnataka high court on Wednesday upheld the constitutional validity of the Union government’s notification that grants exemption to members of the Kodava community and Jamma tenure land holders in the coffee growing region of Kodagu, from the requirement to obtain a licence to carry and possess firearms.
A division bench of acting Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum heard the matter which was first filed on June 30 by 41-year-old Captain (Retd) Chethan YK, also a resident of Kodagu, who sought to know why only one race was given this exemption.
Sajjan Poovayya, senior counsel who appeared for the Bengaluru Kodava Samaj said that the exemption was made from the British colonial era which permitted members of this race and those who hold Jamma land, that includes people from other communities, be exempted from obtaining a licence.
Poovayya said that there are 40-50 exemptions in the Arms Act and one of them is for the Kodava race whose exemption was called into questioning by the HC in 2017 after the Centre’s review. The Centre, in 2019, brought a fresh and identical exemption with a periodical review from 2019-29 and then review it every 10 years.
“But that exemption again as I said is not a blanket ban as you have to go through a process of police verification, you have to indicate there is a limitation on the number of weapons in each household, etc, etc,” Poovayya said.
The Kodavas, who are from Kodagu in Karnataka, about 225 kms from Bengaluru, have a distinct culture in terms of their language, attire and bear weapons which is part of their ethnic identity. Several members of this community have made a name for themselves in the armed forces as well as in the field of sports with many representing India in games like hockey and other areas. Field Marshal KM Cariappa and General KS Thimmaiah are some of the most notable who belong to this community.
The respondents argued that the weapon is part of its religious and cultural identity and supported the arguments under Article 25 and 26 that the gun is both a cultural and religious symbolism from them.
Gagan Ganapathy, the advocate on record for one of the defendants said that there is no antecedents to suggest the misuse of the weapon and also that the Kodavas are a martial race.
“That order states that there is nothing unconstitutional about it (exemption) and does not violate Article 14,” Ganapathy said.
He added that the court observed that the notification was in accordance with law and also that from time immemorial the Kodavas were a martial race.