Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.Reuters

Following an order passed by Chief Judicial Magistrate Surya Kant Tiwari two months ago on a petition filed by local advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha, an FIR was lodged in Bihar against nearly 50 celebrities who had written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“The CJM had passed the order on August 20, accepting my petition upon the receipt of which an FIR was lodged today at the Sadar police station here,” Ojha said.

Nearly 50 signatories, including Ramchandra Guha, Mani Ratnam, Aparna Sen, Anurag Kashyap, Shyam Benegal, actor Soumitra Chatterjee as well as vocalist Shubha Mudgal, were named as accused in Ojha’s petition, who alleges they “tarnished the image of the country and undermined the impressive performance of the prime minister” besides “supporting secessionist tendencies”.

According to the police, 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 written by the celebrities in July said that “exemplary punishment” should be meted out “swiftly and surely” in cases of lynching.

Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap; PM Narendra ModiVarinder Chawla; Twitter

“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),” it added.

The letter went on to present data from the Citizen’s Religious Hate-Crime Watch, which 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.

The celebrities further said that while PM Modi had criticised in Parliament the cases of lynching, “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 read.

Prasoon Joshi and Kangana Ranaut with Narendra ModiTwitter

Two days after the letter, another group of celebrities, including Kangana Ranaut, Chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) and lyricist Prasoon Joshi, filmmakers Madhur Bhandarkar and Vivek Agnihotri, and Rajya Sabha member Sonal Mansingh penned a counter letter to the Prime Minister concerning over the outrageous acts in the name of religion 

The counter letter by the 62 personalities claimed that the open letter addressed to PM Modi had left them astonished and that the earlier letter was aimed at tarnishing the nation’s image. “Forty-nine self-styled ‘guardians’ and conscience keepers’ of the nation… have expressed selective concern and demonstrated clear political bias and motive,” read the letter.