Civil society leaders against lynching and Hindutva extremism

A group of intellectuals comes out in favour of critics of Prime Minister Modi. The latter were indicted for sedition. In less than 10 years, 254 hate crimes based on religion have been recorded, over 90 per cent since Modi came to power.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – More than 180 Indian celebrities have come out in support of 49 intellectuals and artists charged with sedition after they wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in which they condemned minority lynching and Hindutva extremism.

The celebrities slammed such harassment, insisting that they “will speak every day. Against mob lynching. Against the silencing of people’s voices. Against the misuse of courts to harass citizens.”

The group of 185 supporters include writers (Ashok Vajpeyi, Nayantara Sahgal, Shashi Deshpande, Maria Aurora Couto), historians (Romila Thapar), artists (Vivan Sundaram), dancers (Mallika Sarabhai) and members of non-profit organisations (Arundhati Ghosh).

They are against the First information report filed in a Bihar court against the 49 on the grounds of sedition, disturbing the peace, hurting religious sentiments and insulting with the intent of breaking the peace.

The action undertaken by the accused intellectuals occurred July. In a letter to Prime Minister Modi, they criticised the use of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Hail Lord Rama) chant because it has become a “provocative war cry” and underpins acts of mass violence.

Coincidentally, another lynching was reported, in Jharkhand, in which a man, Tabrez Ansari, was tied to a stake and tortured. The victim, a Muslim, was forced to chant Jai Shri Ram and later died from his injuries.

The police shut the case claiming the death was due to a simple “cardiac arrest". This sparked outrage among Christian activists and leaders.

In their July letter, the 49 accused write: "Our Constitution describes India as a secular socialist democratic republic where citizens of all religions, ethnicities, gender and castes are equal.”

They explain that 254 religious identity-based hate crimes were reported between 1 January 2009 and 29 October 2018, with at least 91 persons killed and 579 injured. Muslims were the victims in 62 per cent of the cases; Christians, in 14 per cent.

“About 90% of these attacks were reported after May 2014, when your [Modi’s] Government assumed power nationally,” the letter says. This is followed by the demand that “The lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities [. . .] be stopped immediately.”

For the 185 celebrities, “A FIR has been lodged against forty-nine of our colleagues in the cultural community, simply because they performed their duty as respected members of civil society.”

Mohan Bhagwat, head of the ultra-nationalist paramilitary Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) reacted yesterday to the stance taken by the celebrities.

He branded lynching as a western thing, saying that word does not belong in Indian culture, and that the accusations are used to defame India, Hindus society, and create fear among communities.