As many as 49 celebrities from different fields including singer Shubha Mudgal, actor Konkona Sen Sharma and filmmakers Shyam Benegal, Anurag Kashyap and Mani Ratnam, among others, have written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over incidents of lynching in the country.
In the letter dated July 23, the celebrities have said that "exemplary punishment" should be meted out "swiftly and surely" in such cases.
"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," the letter read.
"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 (FactChecker.indatabase (October 30, 2018). 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 (2 per cent of the July 23, 2019 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."
The celebrities went on to say that while Prime Minister Modi has criticized lynching cases in Parliament, merely that is "not enough."
"What action has actually 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 further read.
The celebrities have highlighted that 'Jai Shri Ram' has become a "provocative war-cry" in the present day 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," they said in the letter.
The celebrities in the letter also said: "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," the letter read.
"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," it added.
The celebrities concluded the letter saying, "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."
Among other names mentioned in the letter are social worker Aditi Basu, filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan, author Amit Chaudhury, filmmaker Anjan Dutt, singer Anupam Roy, social activist Anuradha Kapoor, filmmaker Aparna Sen, Asha Achy Joseph, scholar-sociologist Ashis Nandy, floral designer Baisakhi Ghosh, physician Binayak Sen, social activist Bolan Gangopadhyay, environmentalist Bonani Kakkar, designer Chitra Sirkar, Weavers Studio founder Darshan Shah, cardiologist Debal Sen, filmmaker Goutam Ghose, Calcutta Walks founder CEO Iftekhar Ahsan, artist Jayasri Burman, environmentalist Joya Mitra, actor Kani Kusruti, film and theatre personality Kaushik Sen, filmmaker Ketan Mehta, Mudar Patherya, sculptor Narayan Sinha, Seagull Publications publisher Naveen Kishore, and filmmaker Parambrata Chattopadhyay.
The names of Historian Partha Chatterjee, researcher Piya Chakraborty, PUBLIC founder Pradeep Kakkar, historian Ramchandra Guha, mental health activist Ratnaboli Ray, filmmaker Revathy Asha, actor Riddhi Sen, musician Rupam Islam, Kolkata Sukriti Foundation director Rupsha Dasgupta, theatre personality Sakti Roy Chowdhury, scholar Samik Banerjee, surgeon Shivaji Basu, actor Soumitra Chatterjee, filmmaker Suman Ghosh, historian Sumit Sarkar, historian Tanika Sarkar and cardiac surgeon Tapas Roychaudhury are also in the letter.