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Indian celebrities in trouble over mob lynching letter

VIPs accused of ‘tarnishing the image of the country and undermining the prime minister’

Indian celebrities in trouble over mob lynching letter

All Bengal Minority Youth Federation members protest in Kolkata on July 3 about a rise in mob lynching in India. (IANS photo)

Indian authorities have accepted a complaint against 49 celebrities who wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the growing incidents of mob lynching.

A document known as a first information report (FIR) was lodged in Bihar state’s Muzaffarpur city after a court was handed a petition filed by local lawyer Sudhir Kumar Ojha.

Sister Anastasia Gill, a member of the Delhi Minorities Commission, described the news as “very shocking” and added: “It is unfortunate because there is absolutely no wrong in those who are concerned about the society and country writing an open letter to the concerned person. It is their right.

“First of all, it is one’s right to express our views according to the Indian constitution, which nobody can take away. Some writers have been killed, activists arrested and jailed. It shows that the government does not want anyone to raise their voice against wrongdoing in society. It is very dangerous for our country.”

Ojha, meanwhile, said: “The chief judicial magistrate accepted my petition, upon the receipt of which an FIR was lodged at Sadar police station.”

He said nearly 50 people were accused in his petition of “tarnishing the image of the country and undermining the impressive performance of the prime minister.” He also said that the accused supported secessionist tendencies.

The police said the FIR was lodged under the Indian Penal Code for offenses relating to sedition, public nuisance, hurting religious feelings and insulting with an intent to provoke a breach of the peace.

The celebrities, including filmmakers Mani Ratnam, Anurag Kashyap and Shyam Benegal, actor Soumitra Chatterjee and singer Shubha Mudgal, had written a letter to PM Modi claiming intolerance had flourished in the country under the rule of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In the letter dated July 23, the signatories stated that they were “deeply concerned” about a number of tragic events that had occurred recently. 

They cited the lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities, which they said must be stopped immediately; they said they were “shocked” to learn that there had been no less than 840 instances of atrocities against Dalits in 2016 accompanied by a decline in the number of convictions. 

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The letter also stressed that there was “no democracy without dissent” and noted that "Jai Shri Ram" (Hail Lord Rama) had been reduced to a “provocative war cry.”

Cow vigilantism gained widespread attention when Mohammad Akhlaq, a Muslim farmer from Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, was lynched for allegedly possessing beef in his house in September 2015. Laboratory tests proved, however, that the meat was not beef.

Minorities groups in India say that since the pro-Hindu BJP came to power in 2014, such incidents have increased but the government had pointedly failed to condemn them.

At least 25 people have been killed in cow-related violence since 2010, at least 12 of them since 2015, and 21 of them were Muslims, according to a recent report by IndiaSpend, a data website. At least 139 people were also injured in these attacks. More than half of them were based on rumors, it said.

Father Savarimuthu Sankar, spokesman of Delhi Archdiocese, told ucanews: “It was just an open letter. There was nothing to hide, no secret about it, so targeting them because they raised their voice for the poor and downtrodden is totally wrong.

“The government says the letter damages the name of the country and prime minister but had they been serious about helping the poor and suppressed, the issue may not have arisen.

“The government does not want its name to be damaged internationally but what good has it ever done that can be appreciated by other countries?”

Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum, said: “It is very unfortunate and sad that those who think and love their country are charged with sedition. It is very dangerous for a democratic country like India because if a person can’t express his views, what else can you expect from the government?”

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