Filmmakers Aparna Sen, Shyam Benegal and Adoor Gopalakrishnan have expressed disappointment after a Muzaffarpur court ordered an FIR for sedition to be lodged against them and the other celebrities who wrote an open letter to PM Modi regarding the growing incidents of mob lynching, police said.
“This is pure harassment, it is just harassment and nothing else,” Sen said, speaking to The Quint.
The case was lodged after Chief Judicial Magistrate Surya Kant Tiwari passed an order in response to a petition filed two months ago by local advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha.
“The CJM had passed the order on 20 August, accepting my petition upon the receipt of which an FIR was lodged today at the Sadar police station here,” Ojha said.
He said nearly 50 signatories of the letter, including historian Ramchandra Guha, actor Konkona Sen Sharma and filmmaker Mani Ratnam, were named as accused in his petition in which they allegedly “tarnished the image of the country and undermined the impressive performance of the prime minister” besides “supporting secessionist tendencies”.
‘Slowly, Our Democratic Space is Being Taken Away’
Speaking to The Quint, Aparna Sen took strong exception to the letter being considered seditious, saying:
“This is ridiculous, there is nothing seditious in the letter. These are very strange times. Slowly, our democratic space is being taken away like this. This is pure harassment, it is just harassment and nothing else.”
She pointed out that Ojha has previous when it comes to filing frivolous cases against celebrities, and dismissed concerns that the government had anything to do with this:
“This person – Sudhir Ojha – has a habit of filing cases (against celebrities). This will go to the Patna High Court after this and hopefully it will be quashed there. I don’t know who is doing this, I don’t think the government is behind this. They wouldn’t be silly enough to do something like this.”
Ojha has indeed filed numerous cases against celebrities and politicians in the Muzaffarpur district court, including former PM Manmohan Singh and Sachin Tendulkar (when the cricketer was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 2013), Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Arvind Kejriwal, and even Anna Hazare.
On 28 September, he even filed a case in the Muzaffarpur courts asking for Pakistan PM Imran Khan to be tried for waging war against the country and other ‘offences’ committed during his speech in the UN General Assembly.
Veteran director Shyam Benegal, one of the other signatories to the letter, was baffled that what they said could be considered seditious, telling The Quint:
“I don’t know what to say, I will have to look at the FIR to understand what exactly has been said. Somebody had sent me the letter saying this is an open letter to the Prime Minister and that we would like your signature on it and it seemed like the correct thing to do, because mob lynching is not something that should be acceptable in a democratic society, that was the point of it, if that is going to be considered sedition, then I don’t know, definitions have changed.”
‘Strange Things Happening in Our Country’: Adoor
Renowned Malayalam filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan, another signatory to the letter, said there are strange things happening in this country. “In our country, we have heard about people including a lady shooting at the model of Gandhiji to commemorate Nathuram Godse's shooting Gandhiji and no court has registered any case in that. And that person is now a member of Parliament,” he told IANS.
He also questioned the decision of the court to order an FIR to be filed on the basis of Ojha’s petition, saying:
“Will any court admit such a petition based on writing a letter which was meant to express ones fears about the happenings in the country? And, if the news is true that a court has admitted it, then one will have to really suspect the legal system.”
Rahul Gandhi Reacts to FIR
“Anyone who says anything against the Prime Minister or government is put in jail,” said former Congress President Rahul Gandhi, addressing media in Wayanad, when asked about the FIR against celebrities who wrote letter to Modi on mob lynching.
The police said the FIR was lodged under sections of the Indian Penal Code, including those relating to sedition, public nuisance, hurting religious feelings and insulting with an intent to provoke breach of peace.
The letter was written by 49 eminent personalities, including filmmakers such as Mani Ratnam, Anurag Kashyap, Shyam Benegal, actor Soumitra Chatterjee as well as vocalist Shubha Mudgal in July this year.
It had said that the lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities must be stopped immediately, while stressing that there was “no democracy without dissent”.
It also noted that Jai Shri Ram had been reduced to a “provocative war cry”.
(With inputs from PTI.)