New Delhi: In response to an FIR being filed against 49 celebrities and prominent personalities for writing an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, more than 180 cultural and literary personalities have condemned the charges and endorsed the original letter.
Among those who have signed the letter are actor Naseeruddin Shah, writer Nayantara Sahgal, dancer Mallika Sarabhai, historian Romila Thapar, academic Anand Teltumbde, singer T.M. Krishna and artist Vivan Sundaram, according to a report by NewsClick. In a statement, they said “more of us will speak every day” against mob lynching, silencing of people’s voices and misuse of courts to harass citizens.
On October 3, an FIR was lodged against the 49 celebrities, including Ramchandra Guha, Mani Ratnam, Aparna Sen, Shyam Benegal, Anurag Kashyap, raising concern in late July over the growing incidents of mob lynching, police said.
The FIR was lodged under several sections of the Indian Penal Code, including sedition. This is despite the Supreme Court’s stance that sedition charges cannot be invoked for criticism of the government. Supreme Court Justice Deepak Gupta also recently advocated the dilution – if not complete abolition – of the sedition law.
In the statement issued by 185 signatories, the eminent citizens said that the FIR was lodged against the 49 “colleagues in the cultural community simply because they performed their duty as respected members of civil society.”
“They wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister, expressing concern about mob lynching in our country. Can this be called an act of sedition? Or is harassment by misusing the courts a ploy to silence citizens’ voices?”
While condeming the “harassment” of the original signatories, they also endorsed “every word of the letter our colleagues wrote to the Prime Minister”.
“This is why we share their letter here once again, and appeal to the cultural, academic and legal communities to do the same. This is why more of us will speak every day. Against mob lynching. Against the silencing of people’s voices. Against the misuse of courts to harass citizens.”
The full text of the statement has been reproduced below.
An FIR has been lodged against forty-nine of our colleagues in the cultural community, simply because they performed their duty as respected members of civil society. They wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister, expressing concern about mob lynching in our country.
Can this be called an act of sedition? Or is harassment by misusing the courts a ploy to silence citizens’ voices?
All of us, as members of the Indian cultural community, as citizens of conscience, condemn such harassment. We do more: we endorse every word of the letter our colleagues wrote to the Prime Minister. This is why we share their letter here once again, and appeal to the cultural, academic and legal communities to do the same. This is why more of us will speak every day. Against mob lynching. Against the silencing of people’s voices. Against the misuse of courts to harass citizens.
Abha Dev Habib
Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar
Jawari Mal Parakh
KG Sankara Pillai
Krishnan Unni P
Rukmini Bhaya Nair
Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri
Shoma A Chatterjji
Sunil P Elayidom
Text of open letter written to Prime Minister Modi on 23 July 2019 by 49 eminent citizens, including Aparna Sen, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shyam Benegal, Anurag Kashyap, Ashis Nandy and Ramachandra Guha:
We, as peace loving and proud Indians, are deeply concerned about a number of tragic events that have been happening in recent times in our beloved country.
Our Constitution describes India as a secular socialist democratic republic where citizens of all religions, ethnicities, gender and castes are equal. Hence, to ensure that every citizen enjoys the rights given to her/him by the Constitution, our submission is:
1. The lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities must be stopped immediately. We were shocked to learn from the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) reports that there have been no less than 840 instances of atrocities against Dalits in the year 2016, and a definite decline in the percentage of convictions.
Further, 254 religious identity-based hate crimes were reported between January 1, 2009, and October 29, 2018, where at least 91 persons were killed and 579 were injured (FactChecker.in database, October 30, 2018). The Citizen’s Religious Hate-Crime Watch recorded that Muslims, (14% of India’s population) were the victims in 62% for cases, and Christians (2% of the population), in 14% cases. About 90% of these attacks were reported after May 2014, when your Government assumed power nationally.
You have criticized such lynchings in Parliament Mr. Prime Minister, but that is not enough! What action has actually been taken against the perpetrators? We strongly feel that such offences should be declared non-bailable, and that exemplary punishment should be meted out swiftly and surely. If life imprisonment without parole can be the sentence in cases of murder, why not for lynchings, which are even more heinous? No citizen should have to live in fear in his/her own country!
Regrettably “Jai Sri Ram” has become a provocative ‘war-cry’ today that leads to law and order problems, and many lynchings take place in its name. It is shocking to see so much violence perpetrated in the name of religion! These are not the Middle Ages! The name of Ram is sacred to many in the majority community of India. As the highest Executive of this country, you must put a stop to the name of Ram being defiled in this manner.
2. There is no democracy without dissent. People should not be branded ‘anti-national’ or ‘urban Naxal’ and incarcerated because of dissent against the Government. Article 19 of the Constitution of India protects freedom of speech and expression of which dissent is an integral part.
Criticising the ruling party does not imply criticising the nation. No ruling party is synonymous with the country where it is in power. It is only one of the political parties of that country. Hence anti-government stands cannot be equated with anti-national sentiments. An open environment where dissent is not crushed, only makes for a stronger nation.
We hope our suggestions will be taken in the spirit that they are meant – as Indians genuinely concerned with, and anxious about, the fate of our nation.