Voicing their concern at the number of ‘religious identity-based hate crimes’ in India, a group of eminent citizens has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying ‘Jai Shri Ram has become a provocative war cry’ and that several lynchings were taking place in its name.
The July 23 letter, which also stressed that there is ‘no democracy without dissent’, has been signed by 49 celebrities from various fields, including filmmakers Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Aparna Sen as well as vocalist Shubha Mudgal, historian Ramchandra Guha and sociologist Ashis Nandy.
‘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,’ the open letter to Modi said.
‘The lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities must be stopped immediately. We were shocked to learn from the NCRB 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,’ it continued.
Others who lent their voice include renowned filmmakers Shyam Benegal, Mani Ratnam, author Amit Chaudhury, social activist Dr Binayak Sen, singer Anupam Roy, social activist Anuradha Kapoor and social worker Aditi Basu, filmmaker Anjan Dutt, Bengal theatre personality Kaushik Sen, Bengali cinema actor Soumitra Chattopadhyay, filmmaker Goutam Ghose, Anurag Kashyap and Ketan Mehta, Mudar Patherya, south Indian filmmaker-actor Revathy.
Responding to the letter, Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi maintained that minorities and Dalits are safe in India and that criminal incidents should not be communalised.
‘About 90 per cent of these attacks were reported after May 2014, when your government assumed power nationally,’ the signatories told the prime minister. They said they regretted that ‘Jai Shri Ram’ has been reduced to a ‘provocative war cry that leads to law and order problems, and many lynchings take place in its name’.
‘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,’ the letter stated.
It also underscored the significance of dissent in a democracy.
‘There is no democracy without dissent. People should not be branded anti-national or urban Naxal and incarcerated because of dissent against the government.’ If someone criticises the ruling party, it does not imply they are against the nation, the letter said.
Aparna Sen followed up on the issues raised in the letter with a press conference in Kolkata on Wednesday.
‘This has nothing to do with Bengal, this has to do with lynchings. This is simply something done out of concern for the humanity,’ Aparna said.
Sen, whose upcoming film ‘Ghawre Baire Aaj’ takes off from the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh and examines lynching, said people are beaten to death either because they are accused of eating beef or trading cows.
Theatre and television actor Kaushik Sen, who also signed the letter, said people have forgotten that there is an option of protest in a democracy. ‘... whoever is protesting is labelled anti-national or you are marked as Pakistani or anti-Indian,’ he told a TV channel.
On Monday, the Lok Sabha passed a bill amending the Right To Information Act, amid objections by the Opposition which alleges that it is an attempt to undermine the law and make the transparency panel a ‘toothless tiger’.