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49 celebrities write open letter to PM Modi, demand strict action against hate crimes

The letter appealed the PM to make hate crime a non-bailable offense and condemned the term 'urban naxal'.

Our Correspondent

As many as 49 celebrities, including filmmakers, activists and scholars, have written an open letter to India’s prime minister Narendra Modi to take action against lynchings and other hate crimes against minorities. Some of the signatories include Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Mani Ratnam, Anurag Kashyap, Aparna Sen, Konkona Sensharma, Riddhi Sen, historian Ramchandra Guha and scholar Ashis Nandy. 

“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,” said an excerpt from the letter. 

Modi had criticized lynchings by cow vigilante groups but according to the signatories, doing just that isn’t enough. “You have criticised such lynchings in parliament Mr Prime Minister, but that is not enough. We strongly feel that such offences should be declared non-bailable,” the letter further said. 

Videos of lynching have surfaced online with mobs forcing the victims to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ while thrashing them. The letter specifically highlighted this. “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. It is shocking that so much violence should be perpetrated in the name of religion! 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,” the letter read. 

The letter also discussed the term 'Urban Naxal', increasingly used to refer to a person who speaks against the government. The term became famous after filmmaker Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri began using it for anyone who spoke against the Bharatiya Janata Party. The letter called for understanding the difference between being anti-government and anti-national, demanding an environment where dissent is not crushed but heard.

“There is no democracy without dissent. People should not be branded ‘anti-national’ or ‘urban naxal’ and incarcerated because of dissent against the government. Criticizing the ruling party does not imply criticizing 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,” said the letter.