Police in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur Thursday filed an FIR under a number of sections, including IPC 124A (sedition), against 49 celebrities who had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July against mob lynchings. The FIR has named Ramachandra Guha, Aparna Sen, Shyam Benegal, Mani Ratnam, Konkona Sen Sharma among others.
ThePrint asks: FIR against celebrities for criticising lynching: Does impact matter or is speaking up enough?
Legal harassment & intimidation proof of that otherwise immeasurable thing – impact of speaking up
Contributing editor, ThePrint
The fact that the Narendra Modi government and the Hindutva forces at large are so busy silencing dissent shows that just the act of speaking up matters. In fact, it matters a lot. When people don’t speak up, when they choose silence out of fear or favour, the result is manufacturing of consent.
When there are no dissenting voices, people in power are able to say that their decisions have popular support. Former finance minister Arun Jaitley, for instance, said unemployment couldn’t be on a 45-year high because there were no “major social and political agitations” in the last five years.
That is why silence is complicity. Merely speaking up can impact public opinion. It is, however, often immeasurable. Lynchings may continue despite all the outrage over them, but there would perhaps be even more lynchings without the outrage. Without the outrage, PM Modi wouldn’t even need to distance himself from these incidents. And that would be worse, it would give greater impunity to lynch mobs.
Some public figures wrote a joint open letter to the Prime Minister against lynching. It’s absurd to say that it is sedition, but in a mockery of Supreme Court judgments on sedition, a magistrate has entertained an FIR against the signatories. The legal harassment and intimidation are proof of that otherwise immeasurable thing, the impact of speaking up. The truth must have hurt to invite legal harassment. Truth must always be used like a weapon because it is one.
Instead of just writing to Modi, celebrities should help the families of those lynched
Chief producer, ThePrint
What we really need are long-pending changes in our archaic laws to define what a hate crime is and how it should be penalised.
The act of celebrities writing a letter to the Prime Minister and now the police filing an FIR against them has not really changed anything on the ground for the victims of hate crimes. In fact, just writing to the PM against lynching looks like a publicity stunt.
How many of these celebrities have moved courts against organisations and individuals accused of lynchings? Have they assisted the families of the victims to fight their cases in court? I haven’t seen or heard of any such gesture. So, in my ‘letter’ to these personalities, I’d like to tell Ramachandra Guha, Aparna Sen, Mani Ratnam and company to leave the secure confines of their metro cities and at least take the effort to console the families of those lynched because ‘actions speak louder than words’.
Celebs were speaking up about a matter that caused them concern. Every Indian has the right to do so
Associate editor, ThePrint
It’s strange that when we should be focusing on the wisdom of a petition against those who merely wrote a letter and the subsequent FIR against them — and the utter waste of time this means for the police and judicial machinery — we are debating whether the celebrities’ letter had an impact at all.
To my mind, this is not really relevant, given that these celebrities — Mani Ratnam, Aparna Sen, Anurag Kashyap and tens more — are not bound by any law to create an impact. The government and the Prime Minister they wrote to, however, are constitutionally bound to ensure that peace prevails, which is what this letter was about.
These celebrities were merely speaking up, peacefully, about a matter that caused them concern. This is something that every citizen of this country has the right to do and, frankly, I wish more people did.
And clearly, their voices were heard, and clearly, their voices did have an impact, which is why someone was bothered enough to file a petition in the first place, and why the court ordered this ridiculous FIR.
Criticism of govt policy or its absence is not seditious. Speaking out is important
Snehesh Alex Philip
Senior associate editor, ThePrint
It is a travesty that an FIR has been filed against historian Ramachandra Guha, actor Konkona Sen Sharma, and directors Aparna Sen and Shyam Benegal besides 45 other celebrities for writing an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on rising intolerance in India.
Charges as stringent as sedition have been invoked in the FIR. Only the State should have the right to decide on sedition charges against anyone, and those should be pressed only after proper checks.
Of course, impact matters. But then it is important to speak up to bring about any real impact.
One of the rights guaranteed in a democracy is free speech. Of course, every right comes with some responsibility. Free speech does not mean calling for an armed rebellion against the government or spreading hatred along communal and caste lines.
It is important to speak up on issues, especially those that affect people at large. Criticism of a government’s policy or its absence is not seditious.
Across the world and in India, positive changes have happened because people chose to speak up.
India needs powerful voices who can deploy better tactics to make Modi govt listen to them
It is disgraceful that a government that won a massive mandate in 2014 and 2019 on the plank of “development” has not cracked the whip on lynching.
So, even when personalities like Ramachandra Guha, Anurag Kashyap, Aparna Sen, Binayak Sen and Ashis Nandy write to PM Modi, the establishment hardly takes note.
One possible reason is that all these personalities have a niche following and don’t command the mass popularity of a Salman Khan or an Amitabh Bachchan. That also explains why most people would not be bothered about such an open letter.
Also, in times like these, just writing a letter to the PM is not enough — even mass protests have failed to bring about the desired change.
Celebrities, if they are really serious about social responsibility, should do more.
This government is infamous for its high-handed decisions and has, so far, not come down heavily on mob lynchings. India needs powerful voices who can deploy better tactics to make the Modi government listen to them.