NEW DELHI: Leading Indian historians and filmmakers have been slapped with sedition charges for writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stop lynching of Muslims and Dalits, reports said on Friday.

According to Indian channel NDTV, an FIR (First Information Report) was lodged in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur on Thursday against nearly 50 celebrities who had written an open letter to Mr Modi raising concern over the growing incidents of mob lynching.

The letter was written by 49 eminent personalities, including filmmakers Mani Ratnam, Aparna Sen, Anurag Kashyap, Shyam Benegal, actor Soumitra Chatterjee, historian Ramachandra Guha as well as vocalist Shubha Mudgal in July.

The case was lodged after an order was passed by Chief Judicial Magistrate Surya Kant Tiwari two months ago on a petition filed by local advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha. “The CJM had passed the order on August 20, accepting my petition upon the receipt of which an FIR was lodged today (Thursday) at the Sadar police station,” Mr Ojha said.

The reports on alleged sedition follow another curious event whereby five judges of India’s Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, have recused themselves from hearing a case concerning human rights activist Gautam Navlakha.

Mr Nauvlakha was among a clutch of men and women who were sent to jail to face investigations into a case pertaining to “urban naxals”. He alone managed to get bail from a Delhi court, which has now been cancelled by the Bombay High Court. His appeal is pending in the Supreme Court, where five judges have so far recused themselves from the case without giving an explanation.

Eminent historian Romila Thapar had earlier filed a petition with the SC against the arrest of the alleged “uranium naxals” but her appeal was turned down.

The accused in that case included leading intellectual-activists like Sudha Bharadwaj, a woman lawyer-activist who gave up her US citizenship to give legal aid to the poor in central India’s tribal areas. Prof Thapar last week asked the government to describe what they meant by “urban naxals”, since it appeared to be a way to throttle debate and dissent.

In the latest case of alleged sedition, the signatories of the letter to Mr Modi were named as accused as they allegedly “tarnished the image of the country and undermined the impressive performance of the Prime Minister” besides “supporting secessionist tendencies”.

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 had said that the mob killing 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”.

Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2019