Hundreds of residents of Kollagondanahalli in Ramanagara district’s Kanakapura taluk blatantly violated lockdown norms and gathered in huge numbers to conduct a religious fair “to ward off coronavirus”. Visuals of residents holding up plates of offerings at the Maramma Temple in Kollagondanahalli went viral on social media on Friday.
Although such a huge religious congregation took place in broad daylight on Wednesday morning, neither the officials nor the district administration claimed to have had prior knowledge of the goings-on at Kollagondanahalli. This village is located in Kanakapura taluk, the constituency of Karnataka Congress President and MLA DK Shivakumar. Both Shivakumar and the minister in-charge for the district Deputy Chief Minister Dr CN Ashwath Narayan have received flak for allowing the fair to happen.
On the night of May 12, residents of the village began streaming out of their homes in huge numbers failing to wear masks nor paying any attention to physical distancing norms as they shouted prayers for goddess Maramma. Several youth held wooden beacons and began a procession by shouting out prayers. In one of the videos of the religious fair that went viral, a youth, who is a part of the crowd, throws his wooden beacon. Luckily, the fire does not spread as the beacon falls on the road. The procession, however, continues unabated.
In another video purportedly shot on the morning of May 13, residents of the village can be seen crowding around the entrance of the Maramma Temple. Many are seen holding plates of offerings including fruits and flowers above their heads and chanting hymns.
Speaking to TNM, Kodihalli Police in Ramanagara said that by the time the police were notified of the religious gathering, the people had already dispersed and gone home. On the evening of May 12, the tehsildar of Kanakapura and the panchayat development officer Mahadev went to Kodihalli Police Station and filed a complaint stating that residents of the village had violated lockdown norms and congregated for a religious fair.
“We found that the temple priest had given everyone the idea that by holding the village fair, this time, it could help ward off the coronavirus. This religious fair is held every year. The people believe that goddess Maramma will cure them of any diseases or ill health. Many people come here from Tamil Nadu every year to offer prayers as well,” the investigating officer told TNM.
Kollagondanahalli is located on the border between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The village bordered Krishnagiri and police investigators say that the probe is on to find out if any of the residents’ relatives had also attended the fair.
Speaking to TNM, the Tehsildar of Kanakapura, Varsha Wodeyar said that she and the PDO Mahadev were in Kanakapura when the incident occurred. “The village accountant NC Kalmatt, was in charge of ensuring the lockdown is followed in the village on Tuesday and Wednesday. He has been suspended,” she added.
Investigators now suspect that the village accountant Kalmatt had helped the residents hold the religious fair. He has been suspended pending inquiry. Ramanagara Deputy Commissioner said that the incident had taken place without the knowledge of the district administration and no permission was granted to hold the religious fair.
The temple priest Chikka Bore Gowda was arrested on Friday afternoon and taken into police custody for questioning. He has been booked under sections 188 (disobeying order issued by a public servant) and 269 (negligent act leading to spread of infectious disease) of the IPC.
Deputy Chief Minister and Ramanagara District In-Charge Minister Dr CN Ashwath Narayan on Friday said that stringent action would be taken against those responsible for organising the fair.
“I totally condemn people responsible for conducting this kind of festival. Action should be taken against those people without any consideration. When people are not supposed to gather in crowds, they have come and done something like this. I will speak to district officials and the Deputy Commissioner. I will ask them for a report and instruct them to take strict action against those who are responsible. No one will be spared and this message has to go out strongly,” DCM Ashwath Narayan said.