The second term of the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government has witnessed a series of attacks on minorities, especially Muslims. Such incidents — that have been a fixture in the news almost every day since 2014, when the party came to power — have led celebrities from various fields to write an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking for this spate of violence to end.
The letter, written by 49 eminent personalities, including filmmakers Shyam Benegal, Aparna Sen, Anurag Kashyap and Mani Ratnam, singer Shubha Mudgal and historian Ramchandra Guha, called for “exemplary punishment” to be meted out “swiftly and surely” in cases of mob violence and lynchings.
They questioned the PM on what action had been taken against the perpetrators. “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 lynching, which are even more heinous? No citizen should have to live in fear in his/her own country.”
The letter noted that the chant “Jai Shri Ram” has been reduced to a “provocative war cry”, adding, “Ram is sacred for the majority community, stop defiling the name of Ram.”
“We, as peace-loving and proud Indians, are deeply concerned about a number of tragic events that have been happening in recent times in our beloved country,” read the letter.
It further added, “The lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities must be stopped immediately. We were shocked to learn from the NCRB 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. Further, 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. 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. About 90 per cent of these attacks were reported after May 2014, when your government assumed power nationally.”
They criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi heavily on his inaction: “You have criticised such lynchings in Parliament Mr Prime Minister, but that is not enough! What action has actually been taken against the perpetrators?”
Touching upon the matter of dissent and how activists have been and continue to be hounded by the state, the letter reads: “There is no democracy without dissent. People should not be branded anti-national or urban Naxal and incarcerated because of dissent against the government.”
The letter concluded, “We hope our suggestions will be taken in the spirit that they are meant — as Indians genuinely concerned with, and anxious about, the fate of our nation.”