The Coorgs (Kodavas) of Kodagu (Coorg) district have a very unique aspect to their history, for hundreds of years they were farmers who cultivated land in times of peace, and became soldiers of the kingdom during times of war.
Why did this arrangement exist? The kings of Kodagu did not maintain a permanent and paid standing army, because the people had the required martial qualities and fighting skills. As payment, the kings gave the people land called ‘Jamma’ in exchange for military services.
It also made economic sense for the kings, because Kodagu did not have a coast line and so did not have a flourishing trading economy. The kings were not cash rich, but the land was rich in natural resources, and barter (exchange of goods for other goods and services) became an accepted form of economy. So Coorgs went to Kerala carrying grain and returned with salt, dried fish, utensils for the household etc.
The main contention of the petitioner Chethan YK is that the British exempted the Coorgs to further their ‘divide and rule’ policies. But this is untrue because we already had this privilege during the time of the Kodagu kings and the British simply formalised it in the constitution and continued with it.
THE PRIVILEGE OF OWNING AND STORING ARMS AT HOME
The agreement between the people and the king of Kodagu being as described above, the armoury of the Kingdom of Kodagu (Coorg) was actually in the homes of the Kodava people.
It was necessary for the Coorgs to maintain their readiness to fight by practising with the various weapons, they had stored at home. This included guns, swords, daggers and spears.
This right was only formalised by the British Govt., in the year 1861, by exempting the Coorgs and later other jamma land holders from the Indian Arms Act.
RELGION & RITUAL
Weapons, both guns and swords, are an integral part of life for the Kodavas. No ritual can be performed without some element of weaponry in it.
They worship their guns and swords for the Keil Poldhu festival. They fire gunshots in the air when the paddy harvest is cut for the harvest festival Puthari.
Traditionally Kodavas have fired a single gunshot in the air to celebrate the birth of a boy, as a future warrior. And when someone dies a series of twin, or double shots are fired in the air throughout the night. This is to inform and summon their distant neighbours to come and help with the funeral arrangements.
THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT FORCED THE KODAVAS TO BECOME ALLIES OF THE BRITISH
The contention of the petitioner Chethan YK that the British gave such privileges to their allies, and thus trying to give us an unpatriotic colour, is just mischievous. It is in fact the old Mysore Kingdom (today Karnataka) that pushed us into friendship with the British.
The Coorgs had been nearly exterminated by Tipu Sultan who was at that time the ruler of Mysore State. The Coorgs had no choice but to get along with the British, in order to survive against the attacks of Tipu Sultan.
Tipu Sultan’s father Hyder Ali, a mere military commander, simply took over the kingdom of Mysore and made the legitimate rulers, the Wodeyars, mere puppets living in near house imprisonment in their palace. Hyder attacked Kodagu 32 times.
When Tipu came to power, he did away with all pretensions and declared himself the King of Mysore. He then unleashed a reign of terror, both within Mysore to keep his people from rebelling and outside Mysore. He attacked Kodagu 17 times.
By not having the courage to rise up and stop him from overthrowing their king, the people of Mysore (now Karnataka) are responsible for helping him to become a tyrant who ethnically cleansed the Malabar region of Nairs, nearly wiped out the Kodavas and carried away large populations of Mangalore (including Christians) to the dungeons of Srirangapatna. Large village populations of Mandya and Mysore fled to Tamil Nadu during his rule and never returned.
WHY THE REMOVAL OF THE ARMS EXEMPTION WOULD BE AN INJUSTICE.
It would be an infringement of the Coorg people’s religious rights as tribal, ancestor worshipping Hindus. The martial culture which created the father of the Indian Army, Field Marshall K.M. Cariappa would ultimately cease to exist. Kodagu is proud of its two chiefs of army staff, including General K.S. Thimayya, and a large number of major generals and lieutenant generals. Our contributions to the Indian Army are out of proportion to our small numbers. This would not have been possible without the Arms Exemption creating a culture of proud soldiering in every family.
Without the Arms Exemption making it easy for them to get guns, the community would not survive. Given the fast changing scenario in Kodagu where aggressive people from outside (including timber mafia, land mafia etc.) are trying to take over the land that is rich in beauty and natural resources.
Once our guns go, outsiders will rule and they will first attack our forests. With the forests gone the river Cauvery would go. The people of Mysore, Mandya, Bangalore and the Cauvery belt of Tamil Nadu would no longer get water.
It is no secret that the mafia groups named above work with the tacit support of the various governments who come to power. The larger strategy of such governments has been to keep the people of Kodagu weak and strengthen those from outside, so that they can retain their strangle hold on the land and its resources. But they might shoot themselves in the foot in the long run.
Once the exemption is removed, even legitimate requests for gun licenses will not be given to the Coorgs because government departments tend to toe the larger policy line of ‘Let us keep the Coorgs weak and strengthen the new migrant.’
Thanks to the presence of weapons at home, despite people living in isolated estates, they are able to survive the criminal activities that migration is bringing. With labour immigration from some of the poorer states of North India, Bangladeshi migration and some Naxalite activity, security is definitely an issue.
The massive deforestation that is going on in the name of infrastructure projects, and other illegal felling, has reduced the forests so much that the wildlife is now in the coffee estates as much as it is in the thinning forests. Without guns it would be next to impossible to survive and protect ones labour in many areas.
There is no misuse of this privilege in Kodagu, because guns are worshipped here. The people are very responsible when they use them.
PLEASE SEE THE CASE PAPERS LINK FILED BY CHETHAN YK