Finally the police in Muzaffarpur district in Bihar have done well to close a sedition case against 49 intellectuals for sending an open letter to the Prime Minister on the need to stop hate crimes against minorities and mob lynching. However, the moot question remains as to how long individuals would be on the radar of authorities for expressing unpopular views. In the very first place, the registration of an FIR against 49 renowned personalities including filmmakers Shyam Benegal and Mani Ratnam, and vocalist Shubha Mudgal who had written the open letter is nothing short of threatening those who dare to raise their voice. It is a grim reminder of the growing intolerance in the country. How society has been polarized can be seen from the fact that immediately after the letter to PM was released to media, 61 personalities including classical dancer and Rajya Sabha MP, Sonal Mansingh, actor Kangana Ranaut, and lyricist Prasoon Joshi, had come out with a counter statement against the dissenters. With the registration of an FIR at Muzaffarpur police station in Bihar, all those who had pointed out that there is no democracy without dissent, were in the dock. These public figures, much respected in their respective fields, had been booked on charges of sedition, creating a public nuisance and hurting religious feelings.
Any attempt to muzzle, the voice of reason poses a grave threat to democracy. Naturally, the registration of a case for writing an open letter to Prime Minister in July had caused outrage. Criminal proceedings against personalities like Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Konkona Sen Sharma, Aparna Sen, and Ramachandra Guha for signing the open letter on a matter of public concern show the ugly face of intolerance. The criminal disregard for public opinion and blatant use of the sedition provision is not in keeping with pluralism and tolerance.
In another twist to the controversy, as many as 185 personalities including historian Romila Thapar, writer K. Satchidanandan, actor Naseeruddin Shah, and author Saba Dewan has pledged their support to 49 celebrities who had written the open letter, raising concerns over intolerance in India, rising cases of mob lynching and the need to allow dissent to protect the country’s democracy. It may be recalled that the open letter had reminded the Prime Minister that he had rightly criticized lynching in Parliament, but that was not enough. There was a need to make such offenses declared as non-bailable, and that exemplary punishment should be meted out swiftly and surely. Finding the letter offensive, a lawyer Sudhir Kumar Ojha had filed an FIR against 49 intellectuals. Instead of muzzling the voice of reason, there is a need to put an end to malicious prosecutions because there can’t be democracy without the right to express an opinion.