Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai, while speaking to reporters recently, had defended moral policing, saying, “Even our youth have to make sure that the emotions of people in the society are not offended.”

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai in his officeFacebook
news Controversy Monday, October 18, 2021 - 15:24

An association of lawyers have sent a notice to Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai demanding an apology and withdrawal of his recent statement where he justified moral policing. In the 10-page notice, the All India Lawyers’ Association for Justice (AILAJ) listed out the growing instances of communal violence in Karnataka, to point out how the CM’s remarks, in effect, puts his “seal of approval on social and cultural differentiation in the name of religion” and how he implicitly endorses the actions of those who take the law into their hands “to enforce and police such differentiation.”

Speaking to reporters on October 13, CM Bommai had said, “We all have to bear responsibility in society. People have some strong emotions and when there are certain actions, there will be reactions. The government’s job is not just to protect law and order but also to ensure there is harmony in society. For this, everybody has to cooperate. Even our youth have to make sure that the emotions of people in the society are not offended. This is a social issue and we need morality. When there is no morality in the society, there will be reactions accordingly.” TWait fre CM’s statements came in the context of him supporting Moodbidri BJP MLA Umanath Kotian, who had courted controversy after he was seen escorting two individuals, accused of moral policing, inside a police station on October 13

“By stating that every ‘action’ has a ‘reaction’, you imply that these violent reactions in the nature of so-called ‘moral policing’ are legitimate reactions, that citizens who wish to assert their rights must accordingly give up their fundamental rights in order to accommodate these ‘reactions’,” said AILAJ, an association of lawyers, legal professionals and law students across India.

They highlighted that the statement by the CM was shocking, especially in the context of the recent spate of communal violence in the state. The most gruesome such incident was the killing of Arbaaz Aftab, a young Muslim man who was brutally murdered in September for being in a relationship with a Hindu woman. His girlfriend's family had given a contract to Sri Ram Sene Hindustan, an offshoot of right-wing Hindu group Sri Ram Sene, to kill Arbaaz

Read: Violent Hindutva is not a problem in coastal regions alone: The north Karnataka story

“Violence by religious extremist groups is steadily on the rise in the state. These organisations are effectively imposing social segregation, which is contrary to the core principles of the Constitution of fraternity and secularism,” they said.

The CM, however, has used the power of his office "to condemn victims of religious hatred and violence for having provoked the violence against them, thereby not only denying them legal recourse and protection but also, in effect, abandoning them entirely to illegal and extra-legal forces.”

The legal fraternity also pointed out that by shifting the burden on the public, especially youth, “to behave according to discriminatory and unconstitutional moral standards of religious extremist organisations in order to avoid being victims of moral policing,” the CM has abdicated his duty to protect the Constitution and in turn, directed the citizens to live by the rule of the majority

Read: In Mangaluru, Hindutva groups wield a web of informers to target interfaith friends

“Crimes in the name of religion and enforced social segregation in the name of so-called “moral policing” offends against these fundamental rights, and polices the way women dress, their choices in relationships, their choice in religion, and their choice of expression. In its very essence, moral policing infringes the right to equality and treats citizens as unequal based on their choices,” they stressed.

AILAJ reminded the Chief Minister, that as the holder of a constitutional office, he should take concrete steps to condemn and prevent such crimes. “It is in complete contradiction of law and your oath that you have issued the statements, which have the effect of legitimising and condoning these growing incidents in the state.” 

What the CM and his government must do

As corrective measures, the All India Lawyers’ Association for Justice demanded that the CM withdraw his statement immediately and issue a public apology. They also demanded that the state government take the following measures:

> Ensure that action will be taken to prevent and punish crimes in the name of religion and caste.

> The state government undertakes to comply with the Supreme Court’s directions to protect inter-caste and inter-faith marriages and publicise the steps that have been taken to combat violence, honour killings and “moral policing” against such persons. 

> Ensure that the directions issued by the Supreme Court in Tehseen Poonawalla vs Union of India are strictly complied with. 

> The directions laid down by the Supreme Court in Shakti Vahini v. Union of India are complied with. 

 Full statement:

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