Siddaramaiah completes six months amid controversies (Karnataka Newsletter)
Karnataka's Congress government headed by Siddaramaiah completed six months in office this week with controversies stalling its move to ban superstitious practices and threatening to derail plans to organise free educational tours for students from the minorities, backward classes and Dalits.
Both moves have been hit by the majority-minority divide.
The Bharatiya Janata Party and several Hindu religious leaders are opposing the ban on the ground that the move targets only Hindus. They claim that followers of other religions also have superstitious practices but they are not being touched because of the Congress's "minority appeasement" policy.
The government move also came in for criticism within the ruling Congress, with state party chief G. Parameshwara saying the issue has not been discussed in the party forum. Former union minister Janardhana Poojary has stated there is no need for ban and the Siddaramaiah government should focus more on educating the people against evil practices. Siddaramaiah took over as chief minister May 13.
The growing opposition forced the government to drop the plan to introduce in the assembly's winter session beginning Nov 25 a bill to ban such practices.
The controversy started following the presentation of a draft bill to Siddaramaiah by a panel headed by S. Japhet, professor at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP), National Law School of India University, Bangalore, earlier this month.
The panel suggested several acts which should be considered superstitious and banned.
The practices include human sacrifice for gain or for appeasing a deity; spreading belief in human sacrifice or persuading others to perform human sacrifice; attempting to cure illness or carry out supposed exorcism by using violent means; invoking black magic; persuading, propagating or facilitating rituals that involve self-inflicted injuries such as hanging from a hook inserted into the body or pulling a chariot by a hook inserted into the body; persuading, propagating or facilitating rituals involving harm inflicted on children in the name of curing them, such as throwing them on thorns or from heights; forcing isolation or facilitating segregation of menstruating or pregnant women; subjecting women to inhuman and humiliating practices such as parading them naked in the name of worship; exposing women to sexual exploitation invoking supernatural means with the promise of conferring social or personal benefits including pregnancy; facilitating 'Made Snana' (people rolling over plantain leaves with leftovers of meals eaten by Brahmins) or similar practices that violate human dignity; and declaring the guilt or innocence of any person by subjecting him to physical or mental harm such as forcing him to hold a flame in his bare hands.
Siddaramaiah has sought to douse the controversy by saying that the government is yet to study the draft bill and blamed the media for reporting that the bill will be tabled in the winter session of the legislature.
Even as this row continues, his government's plan to organise free education tours for students from minorities, backward classes and Dalit communities has come in for opposition from the BJP, which contends that the move will divide the student community.
"We oppose the move and will launch an agitation after Nov 17 if it is not dropped or extended to all poor students," BJP state chief Pralhad Joshi told reporters Thursday in north Karnataka's Hubli town, about 400 km from Bangalore.
The party is now busy with preparing for the Nov 17 rally in Bangalore to be addressed by its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi.
These two controversies have hit the Siddaramaiah government while he is facing a continuing agitation by former BJP leader B.S. Yeddyurappa over the 'Bidai' or 'Shaadi Bhagya' scheme under which women from minority communities will be given Rs.50,000 to facilitate their marriage.
Yeddyurappa, now heading the Karnataka Janata Party, has been on 'dharna' or sit-in protest at the city centre since Oct 31 demanding that the scheme be extended to the poor from all communities. He had declared he will continue the agitation till the demand is met, though the venue will shift to the north Karnataka town of Belgaum, around 500 km from Bangalore, Nov 25 as the legislature will hold its winter session there.
Siddaramaiah has promised to look into the possibility of extending the scheme to poor from all communities but has refused to appeal to Yeddyurappa to call off his agitation on the ground that the protest is "politically motivated".
(V. S. Karnic can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 16-11-2013)