MUMBAI – Over 180 public personalities, including actor Naseeruddin Shah and historian Romila Thapar, have come out against a police complaint lodged against 49 celebrities over an open letter they had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi three months ago.
In the letter released on Monday, the signatories questioned how writing an open letter to the prime minister could amount to sedition. “An FIR has been lodged against 49 of our colleagues in the cultural community simply because they fulfilled their duty as respected members of civil society by expressing concern about mob lynching in our country,” it questioned, wondering if this does not amount to “harassment by misusing the courts to silence citizens’ voices”.
The object of contention was a complaint filed in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur against several personalities such as filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan and writer-columnist Ramchandra Guha over a letter they wrote to PM Modi in July over growing incidents of mob lynching in the country. They were charged with sedition, among other offences.
Signatories of the new letter, including writers Ashok Vajpeyi and Jerry Pinto, academician Ira Bhaskar, poet Jeet Thayil, author Shamsul Islam, musician TM Krishna and filmmaker-activist Saba Dewan, promised to continue speaking up against the silencing of “people’s 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, and that is why we share their letter here once again and appeal to 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 letter added.
The FIR was lodged on October 3 under several sections of the Indian Penal Code, including those related to sedition, public nuisance, hurting religious feelings with an intent to provoke breach of peace. The 49 personalities – including filmmakers Mani Ratnam, Anurag Kashyap, Shyam Benegal, actor Soumitra Chatterjee and vocalist Shubha Mudgal – were also accused of “tarnishing the image of the country, undermining the impressive performance of the Prime Minister, and supporting secessionist tendencies”.
However, Bihar police maintains that there is no reason for concern as far as the complaint is concerned. “We have taken cognizance of this matter and whatever FIR was filed, it was on the local CJM (chief Judicial Magistrate) court’s order. I can assure you that an investigation will be done as per the order, and there’s no cause of worry or panic,” Bihar police chief Guptesvar Pandey told NDTV a few days ago.