Over 180 members of the cultural community, including actor Naseeruddin Shah, cinematographer Anand Pradhan, historian Romila Thapar and activist Harsh Mander among others, condemned the FIR lodged against 49 celebrities for an open letter they wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Last week, an FIR was filed in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur against personalities, including directors Aparna Sen, Adoor Gopalakrishnan and writer-columnist Ramchandra Guha for alleged sedition over a letter they wrote to the PM in July, voicing concern over growing incidents of mob lynching.
In separate letters to the Prime Minister, Congress MPs M V Rajeev Gowda and Shashi Tharoor also expressed strong disapproval over the FIR. Tamil film icon and Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) president Kamal Haasan also joined the chorus, taking to Twitter to express solidarity with the 49 personalities.
In a new letter issued on Monday, October 7, the eminent personalities questioned how writing an open letter to the prime minister could be called “an act of sedition”.
“An FIR has been lodged against 49 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 PM, 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?”
The signatories, which also included writers Ashok Vajpeyi and Jerry Pinto, academician Ira Bhaskar, poet Jeet Thayil, author Shamsul Islam, musician T M Krishna and filmmaker-activist Saba Dewan, promised they will continue to speak up against 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.
“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.
In his two-page letter to Modi, Gowda, a former IIM Bengaluru professor, stated, “Since when has writing a letter of concern to the elected leader of the country — who is responsible for the welfare of each of its citizens irrespective of their caste, creed, gender, religion or political opinion — become the trigger for an FIR?
“In the ‘Naya Bharat’ that you have promised the nation, are FIRs going to be filed every time a citizen is critical of the government or its policies?” Gowda said.
“We urge you to take a public stand welcoming dissent and assure the nation of your commitment to upholding freedom of expression when it involves disagreement with you or your government,” Gowda said.
Tharoor, in his letter dated October 7, also said those criticising the prime minister should not be considered “anti-nationals”.
“We would like to believe that you too would support the right to Freedom of Expression so that the ‘mann ki baat’ of the well-meaning citizens of India does
not turn into a ‘maun ki baat,” he said.
(With inputs from PTI)