Three months ago, 49 celebrities wrote an open letter to  Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Over 180 public personalities, including actor Naseeruddin Shah and historian Romila Thapar, have come out against a police complaint lodged against 49 celebrities.

On Monday, the signatories raised questioned how writing an open letter to the prime minister could amount to sedition.  “An FIR has been lodged against 49 of our colleagues in the cultural community simply because they fulfilled their duty as respected members of civil society by expressing concern about mob lynching in our country,” it questioned.

It also expressed concern over if this does not amount to “harassment by misusing the courts to silence citizens’ voices”. The main concern of the dispute was a complaint filed in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur against several personalities such as filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan and writer-columnist Ramchandra Guha over a letter they wrote to PM Modi in July over growing incidents of mob lynching in the country.

Among other offences, they were charged with sedition. The new letter was signed by academician Ira Bhaskar, poet Jeet Thayil, author Shamsul Islam, writers Ashok Vajpeyi and Jerry Pinto, musician TM Krishna and filmmaker-activist Saba Dewan. They promised to continue speaking up against the silencing of “people’s voices”.

“All of us, as members of the Indian cultural community, as citizens of conscience, condemn such harassment. We do more: we endorse every word of the letter our colleagues wrote to the Prime Minister, and that is why we share their letter here once again and appeal to cultural, academic and legal communities to do the same. This is why more of us will speak every day. Against mob lynching. Against the silencing of people’s voices. Against the misuse of courts to harass citizens,” the letter added.

On October 3, the FIR was lodged under several sections of the Indian Penal Code, along with those connected to sedition, public nuisance, hurting religious feelings with a purpose to provoke breach of peace. The 49 personalities – including filmmakers Mani Ratnam, Anurag Kashyap, Shyam Benegal, actor Soumitra Chatterjee and vocalist Shubha Mudgal – were also accused of “tarnishing the image of the country, undermining the impressive performance of the Prime Minister, and supporting secessionist tendencies”.

Bihar police chief Guptesvar Pandey stated a few days ago,  “We have taken cognizance of this matter and whatever FIR was filed, it was on the local CJM (Chief Judicial Magistrate) court’s order. I can assure you that an investigation will be done as per the order, and there’s no cause of worry or panic.”

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