Around 49 artists including the likes of Mani Ratnam, Goutam Ghose, Shyam Benegal, Anurag Kashyap, Aparna Sen, Konkona Sen Sharma, Ashish Nandi, Binayak Sen, Ram Chandra Guha, Shubha Mudgal and more, have written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing their anguish over increasing incidents of lynching and crushing of the voice of dissent across India.
In the letter dated July 23, the intellects have put forward their demand for ‘swift’ and ‘exemplary punishment’ in cases of lynching.
The letter reads, “The lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities must be stopped immediately. We 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.”
Citing various sources, the letter further reads, “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% of India’s population) were the victims in 62% of cases, and Christians (2% of the population), in 14% of cases. About 90% of these attacks were reported after May 2014, when your government assumed power nationally.”
Following which they cited PM Modi criticizing lynching in the Parliament and went on to add, “You have criticized such lynchings in Parliament Mr Prime Minister, but that is not enough!”
Questioning the actions being taken by the officials against the perpetrators of the heinous act, they wrote, “We strongly feel that such offences should be declared non-bailable and that exemplary punishment should be meted out swiftly and surely. If life imprisonment without parole can be the sentence in cases of murder, why not for lynchings, which are even more heinous? No citizen should have to live in fear in his/her own country!”
In the letter they even highlighted the recent trend of mob forcing their Muslim victims to chant Jai Sri Ram, as they lynch, the letter stated, “Regrettably “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.”
Expressing shock over violence being perpetrated in the name of religion, they added, “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 in this manner.”
In the letter, the intellects even expressed their deep concern over people being branded ‘anti-national’ or ‘urban Naxal’ for criticizing the government.
“There is no democracy without dissent. People should not be branded ‘anti-national’ or ‘urban Naxal’ and incarcerated because of dissent against the government. Article 19 of the Constitution of India protects freedom of speech and expression of which dissent is an integral part,” they wrote.
In the letter, they categorically mentioned that “Criticising the ruling party does not imply criticising the nation”. “No ruling party is synonymous with the country where it is in power. It is only one of the political parties of that country. Hence anti-government stands cannot be equated with anti-national sentiments. An open environment where dissent is not crushed only makes for a stronger nation,” reads the letter.