A man in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, has lodged a First Information Report (FIR) against almost 50 prominent personalities at the Sadar Police Station. On Thursday, Sudhir Kumar Ojha, a local advocate, filed the complaint under the sections of Indian Penal Code on charges of sedition, public nuisance and hurting religious feelings against people like historian Ramchandra Guha, filmmakers Anurag Kashyap and Mani Ratnam and even actor-director Aparna Sen, among others. The bone of contention was an open letter these personalities had written to Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi a few months ago, in which they raised concerns over increasing incidents of mob lynching in the country.
The FIR came through after the order from Chief Judicial Magistrate Surya Kant Tiwari, who accepted the petition that had been filed by Ojha two months ago. The FIR named the people in his petition who had signed the open letter, and claimed that the group "tarnished the image of the country and undermined the impressive performance of the prime minister" while also "supporting secessionist tendencies".
Ojha’s letter said, “A total of 49 intellectuals had written a letter to PM regarding frenzied violence under his government. What transpired from reporting from newspapers and TV news channels was that there was an attempt to defame the image of the country with false allegations…such can cause ill-will in the country”.
The open letter to PM Modi had gained immense attention on July 23, and expressed concerns over the number of “religious identity-based hate crimes” in India, and the rise of “Jai Shri Ram (Long live Ram)” as the battle cry for those who carry out mob lynchings in the name of Hindu God Ram. Citing data that highlights religion-based hate crimes rising in the last nine years, and states that 62 percent of the victims belong to the minority Muslim community, the letter also urged PM Modi to take action by making such offences non-bailable and allow for punishment to be meted out immediately.
“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,” the letter read.
While Ojha thinks everyone has the right to write to the prime minister, taking it straight to the media is not cool. “Everyone has the right to write to PM on anything but going to media with its content was fraught with nefarious design to cause an atmosphere of ill will. They wanted to raise concerns over mob lynching. They could have waited for the government response before trying to give their verdict,” he told The Indian Express.
However, this is not his first grouse with public figures. In the past, he has also lodged complaints against politicians such as Sonia Gandhi, Raj Thackerey and Arvind Kejriwal, among others.
Over the last few years, India’s controversial sedition laws have been used quite liberally. But it’s essential to note how much will the idea of dissent be tried and tested at the cost of free speech and expression.
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