Artistes wage war of letters

Two groups are locked in a debate over mob lynchings and ‘selective outrage.’ This is how Bengaluru is looking at it

Last week, 49 distinguished citizens wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to put an end to hate crimes and targeting of dissenters.

The signatories to the letter, dated July 23, include writers, artistes, film actors and directors and social scientists. Among the big names from the film industry are Mani Ratnam, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Anurag Kashyap, Aparna Sen, Konkona Sen Sharma, and Soumitra Chatterjee.

The open letter asks Modi to stop mob lynchings and branding of dissenters as ‘urban Naxals’.

Soon after the letter hit the headlines, 61 others, from the film and arts fraternity, wrote a counter-letter, accusing signatories of the first letter of “selective outrage and false narratives.”

The second letter was signed by Kangana Ranaut, Prasoon Joshi, Sonal Mansingh, Madhur Bhandarkar and Vivek Agnihotri, among others.

Historian Ramachandra Guha has signed the first letter, but otherwise, Bengaluru is not represented in a big way in either letter.

Metrolife spoke to film and arts personalities in Bengaluru about their perspectives, and this is what they said. 

Wear your liberal hat all the time

Prakash Belawadi, Theatre, film and media personality



“Instead of writing a letter to Modi and asking him to speak out, why not write a letter to the chief ministers and the law and order authorities? Observe where the lynchings are happening and write to the respective authorities. This whole new trend of blaming the prime minister for everything was there five years ago too. When (rationalist) Narendra Dabolkar died, there was a UPA government in Maharashtra and at the Centre, but did anyone outrage against Manmohan Singh? When (communist leader) Pansare was killed, in a similar fashion there was no outrage. When (scholar) M M Kalburgi was killed, a Congress government ruled Karnataka and Modi was the PM, and immediately ‘award wapsi’ started happening. The charge of selective outrage is true. It is shameful that lynchings are happening. I believe the prime minister, the chief ministers, their home ministers and the police chiefs should be held accountable. One should not bring out a liberal hat selectively only for Modi. Sport it all the time.”

Glad they included ‘urban Naxal’ in letter

K M Chaitanya, Film maker and theatre person



"The first letter is powerful and well-worded. The way the government has addressed the letter is by not even responding to it. Instead, others tried to address it. Thankfully, the artistes who wrote the first letter have so much credibility, it’s not easy to ignore them. The situation currently is that anyone who speaks against the system is trolled and targeted. It is a surprise that these artistes have come out at such a time; it has not been a year since Modi got re-elected. The dilution of the RTI law also needs to be talked about. I am glad they included the term ‘urban Naxal’ in the letter. People having a couple of books on Marx are dubbed ‘urban Naxals’ and it makes no sense. Anyone interested in the social sciences would have them.”

Does it make any difference?

S G Vasudev, Artist



“Does appealing to the prime minister make any difference? He has not spoken a word about it, and he has rarely approached subjects such as mob-lynching. The approach taken towards the artistes is deplorable, especially comments telling Adoor Gopalakrishnan to go to the moon. I absolutely support the intention behind the appeal. But for the movement to go ahead, these issues should not just be restricted to social media. They should be taken up and heard in Parliament.”

Reflects a sorry state

Shinie Antony, Fiction writer



“It is unfortunate that these two letters had to be written at all. Ideally, the law of a land takes care of basic freedoms, and there is no violence to report.”

Respect freedom of expression

Mansore (Manjunatha Somashekara Reddy), Award-winning film director



"Whether one is an artiste or a commoner, one should be able to express oneself freely. Right-wing or left-wing, their freedom must be respected. Both groups have the right to voice their opinions. But what is the need for Madhur Bhandarkar to comment on Anurag Kashyap taking government subsidies? What about the comment asking Adoor Gopalakrishnan to shift to the moon? There needs to be a more conversation-friendly environment in the country. There is no justification for killing people in the name of Ram. Though there have been mob lynchings in the past, the mobs feel no fear now as they feel they have support from the ruling party.”

Letter 1
Appeal to end hate crimes, targeting dissenters

The first letter stated that the signatories were concerned about a number of tragic events that had been happening in recent times.

The appeal submitted that ‘lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities must be stopped immediately’. It went on to add that the signatories 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.’

It said that ‘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.indatabase, October 30, 2018). The Citizen’s Religious Hate-Crime Watch recorded that Muslims (14 per cent of India’s population) were the victims in 62 per cent of cases, and Christians (two per cent of the population), in 14 per cent of cases.’

The letter stated that a majority of these attacks were reported after May 2014, after the Modi government had assumed power nationally.

It went on to add that offences like mob lynching should ‘be declared non-bailable, and that exemplary punishment should be meted out swiftly and surely’ and that ‘Jai Shri Ram’ has become a provocative ‘war-cry’ today that leads to law and order problems, and many lynchings take place in its name.’

The letter also said that ‘there is no democracy without dissent. People should not be branded ‘anti-national’ or ‘urban Naxal’ and incarcerated because of dissent against the government.’ It moved on to state that ‘an open environment where dissent is not crushed, only makes for a stronger nation.’

Letter 2
Against selective outrage, false narratives

The second letter stated that the first letter was written by ‘self-styled guardians and conscience keepers of the nation and of
democratic values who had a clear political bias and motive.’

It alleged that the signatories of the first letter were silent ‘when the demand for dismembering India, for making pieces of her — Tukde Tukde — were made’, when those who chanted ‘Jai Shree Ram’ were imprisoned, after violence during Lok Sabha elections, when temples were vandalised and ‘when there was a concerted conspiracy by a certain section, taking advantage of the Sabrimala Temple entry movement, to disguise themselves and try and enter the temple and thus hurt the sentiments of millions of devotees’.

The letter added that during the Modi regime, there had been ‘maximum liberty to differ, to criticise and to abuse the government and the dispensation in power — the spirit of dissent has never been stronger.’

And on Twitter...

Yogendra Yadav, @_YogendraYadav

The two letters on lynching help us separate two types of artists:

  • Those who sing peans to power
  • Those who speak truth to power

I admire the latter. And you?

Anurag Kashyap, @anuragkashyap72

If one letter can impact them so much that they need an entire troll army to keep digging out false narratives & throw various accusations continuously at signatories to counter the truth, imagine what would happen if we start questioning every self serving action of the regime.

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