March 4. 2024. 5:55

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Indian actor arrested for tweet criticising Hindu nationalist ideology

An Indian actor has been arrested in Bangalore for a tweet criticising Hindutva, the ideology promoted by prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its many affiliates. The BJP advocates the countrywide propagation of Hindu supremacy.

Chetan Kumar, who tweeted that Hindutva was “built on lies”, was arrested following a complaint by an activist from the militant Hindu nationalist organisation Bajrang Dal, who accused the actor of “hurting” Hindu religious sentiments. The Dal is closely linked to the BJP, which is also in power in Karnataka state, of which Bangalore is the capital.

A local court remanded Kumar (40) to a fortnight’s judicial custody on charges under the Indian Penal Code of “deliberately and maliciously intending to outrage religious sentiment” and for “promoting enmity, hatred and ill-will between classes”.

If convicted, Mr Kumar faces a three-year jail sentence and a fine. His bail application is due for hearing on Thursday.

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In his tweet on Monday, Mr Kumar, who was raised in Chicago and returned home to Bangalore in 2005 to begin his acting career and to fight against India’s discriminatory caste system, questioned Hindutva’s fundamental historical thesis regarding the genesis of the Hindu state some 5,000 year ago under Rama, the Hindu God.

He directly challenged the BJP’s convictions, and those of its numerous associated Hindu organisations, that the temple town of Ayodhya in north India was indeed Rama’s birthplace, by terming it a “lie”.

Over the past four decades Ayodhya has been the principal focus of BJP’s sectarian politics aimed at India’s majority Hindu voters, and a massive temple, dedicated to Rama, is scheduled for inauguration there in early 2024, weeks ahead of general elections.

The temple is being built on the site where a 16th century mosque was demolished by Hindu zealots in 1992, triggering countrywide riots in which more than 2,000 people died.

The demolition had followed a sustained BJP campaign that the mosque was built by a Mughal king over the exact spot of Rama’s birthplace, and in 2019 it secured judicial endorsement of its stand and began the temple’s construction.

Mr Kumar said the falsehoods propagated by Hindutva proponents could only be defeated by the truth. “Truth,” he said in his tweet, “is equality”.

Scores of people have been similarly arrested over the past nine years that the BJP has been in office for either criticising its Hindutva viewpoint, its related anti-Muslim stance or Mr Modi, and have been in jail for extended periods.

In 2020, the New York-based non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch said the Indian authorities were “increasingly bringing politically motivated cases” against its critics under severe sedition and terrorism laws.

The NGO said dozens of human rights defenders, activists, and academics were already in jail on “politically motivated” charges that were largely the “handiwork” of BJP supporters.

“By arbitrarily arresting outspoken activists, the government is not only attempting to silence dissent, but also sending a message to [its] supporters that they have free rein to commit abuses against minority communities” Meenakshi Ganguly, the NGO’s South Asia head, then stated.

Other analysts and commentators, all of whom declined to be named for fear of repercussions, claimed that the BJP’s political ideology advocating Hindu supremacy was aimed at “transforming” India, constitutionally a secular state, into an “ethno-religious theocracy”, known as the Hindu Rashtra or nation.