Indian actor jailed for tweet saying Hindutva is ‘full of lies’

Indian actor jailed for tweet saying Hindutva is ‘full of lies’

Police in southern India’s Bengaluru city have arrested an actor for a tweet in which he said the Hindutva ideology propagated by hardline Hindu nationalists in the country was “based on lies”.

Chetan Kumar was arrested on Tuesday by the Bengaluru police in Karnataka state and subsequently remanded by a local court to 14 days in judicial custody.

The actor, who is also an anti-caste activist, has been charged under sections including promoting enmity and outraging religious feelings, reported news agency Press Trust of India.

Police said the action against the 40-year-old actor was on the basis of a complaint filed by a member of the hardline Bajrang Dal group, reported the Deccan Herald newspaper.

Bajrang Dal is the youth wing of a group affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) organisation, which is considered the ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

In a tweet on 20 March, the actor said: “Hindutva is built on lies and it can be defeated by truth, and that truth is equality.”

Mr Kumar also listed out the “example of lies” – Hindutva ideologue VD Savarkar’s statement that the Indian ‘nation’ began when Rama defeated Ravana and returned to Ayodhya, that the Babri masjid (mosque) site is the birth place of Hindu god Rama, and the narrative that Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda killed Tipu Sultan.

While historians have said that the 18th century leader Tipu Sultan was killed during the fourth Anglo-Mysore War in 1799, leaders from India’s ruling Hindu nationalist BJP have recently made claims that the ruler was instead killed by Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda, two Vokkaliga warriors.

Historians have also claimed that both Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda are fictional characters, with no official evidence available to support these claims, according to a report in The Hindu. The Supreme Court in 2019 handed Hindu groups control of the contested site where the 16th-century Babri mosque was razed over two decades ago, paving the way for the construction of a temple there that has long been an election promise of BJP.

The controversial site in Uttar Pradesh state has been one of the most explosive issues in the nation of 1.3 billion, where Muslims constitute about 14 per cent of the population.

In 1992, a rally led by the BJP and affiliate organizations spiralled out of control and a Hindu mob destroyed the Babri mosque in the city of Ayodhya. That triggered riots in which about 2,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed across the country.

The actor’s arrest has been criticised by his supporters.

“He should not have been arrested for a tweet,” Agni Sridhar, a Kannada film producer and writer was quoted as saying to BBC.

“We may disagree with someone’s views but that does not mean he should be arrested.”

He also received support on social media from commentators who condemned his arrest.

Author and journalist Anna M Vetticad wrote: “Chetan Kumar keeps risking his life by challenging fundamentalists. He needs our support now.”

Journalist Pamela Philipose wrote: “Is it because of the Karnataka elections that they have arrested Kannada actor Chetan Kumar for an innocuous tweet?”

Kerala legislator PA Mohamed Riyas said in a tweet: “This is a blatant violation of freedom of speech.”

In a tweet, the Centre for Inquiry wrote: "It is simply unacceptable that a person can face arrest and imprisonment for "insulting a religion or religious beliefs."

This is a deeply troubling example of what happens when laws are used to protect the hurt feelings of religious communities."

The actor had been arrested in February last year for a tweet on Justice Krishna S Dixit, a judge in the Karnataka high court who had heard the case relating to the ban on Muslim students wearing headscarves in schools and colleges in the state.

He was later released on bail in the case.