NEW DELHI (Reuters) – 5 days after a suicide bomber killed 40 CRPF personnel in February within the Kashmir Valley, playwright and director Abhishek Majumdar was compelled to cancel a play trying on the behaviour of Indian safety forces within the disputed area.

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A person takes an image of an artwork set up at an occasion titled “Artists Unite”, throughout which varied artists signed to register their concern towards hate and intolerance, at a public park in New Delhi, March 2, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/Recordsdata

The play, which was scheduled to be staged on February 19 in Jaipur, was stopped by police but when they hadn’t stepped in, hardline Hindu activists had made it clear they’d have bodily compelled it off the stage. The activists mentioned Majumdar was “anti-national” or unpatriotic.

Hours earlier than the present was on account of begin, the crew mentioned they had been compelled to flee the venue as a mob had gathered. They mentioned they ran down again alleys and needed to take aspect roads to keep away from being attacked on a most important highway.

“It wasn’t that individuals didn’t like our play, expressed their dismay and left. No. We had been being hunted throughout town,” mentioned Ashwath Bhatt, an actor within the play.

A number of playwrights, filmmakers, musicians, and comedians say their work has been censored or cancelled following stress, typically backed up by bodily threats, from Hindu hardline teams which have multiplied since Prime Minister Narendra Modi got here to energy in 2014.

    Many of those artists say they concern that if Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Social gathering (BJP) are elected to a second time period within the present basic election it is going to result in additional restraints on freedom of expression. Most political strategists say they count on Modi to be ready to kind the following authorities when votes are counted on Could 23.

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Reuters interviewed 21 actors, playwrights, musicians and comedians for this story and came upon that a minimum of 15 of them have been subjected to questioning by occasion organizers or the authorities if their works explored contentious points, akin to secularism and non secular intolerance, or ridiculed Modi’s choices.

BJP leaders have dismissed allegations that the occasion is illiberal of dissent.

In Jaipur, Reuters spoke to 3 cops who went to the venue, and all three mentioned they simply didn’t really feel the timing was proper to indicate Majumdar’s play, which offers with the psychological state of civilians and safety forces after years of unrest in Kashmir. Not one of the three had learn the script.

“We had been knowledgeable of potential violence. So to keep away from any violence and any hurt from taking place, we took motion,” mentioned sub-inspector Mukesh Kumar.


Hindu activist Suraj Soni mentioned he filed a police grievance towards the play and joined the protests as a result of it was “mocking” and “insulting” the nation’s armed forces at a time when India was mourning these killed within the suicide assault.

“We informed them the night earlier than to not go forward with it for the reason that nation’s sentiments are on a boil. Majumdar ji didn’t wish to hearken to us,” Soni mentioned, utilizing an honorific to explain the playwright.

Majumdar mentioned he had by no means met Soni. “What a liar,” the 38-year-old playwright mentioned. “He’s half of a bigger nexus of the illness that the BJP has unfold in our nation.”

Lalitha Kumaramangalam, a BJP chief, mentioned the allegations by artists that the federal government and the ruling occasion had been clamping down on free speech had been “all of their thoughts”.

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The variety of verbal assaults on the BJP and its allies was illustrative of how a lot freedom the critics had, she mentioned. Kumaramangalam in contrast it with India’s 21-month state of emergency in 1975-77 when then prime minister Indira Gandhi suspended civil liberties. A whole lot of journalists, artists and intellectuals had been amongst these arrested on the time.

    “That was actual censorship. I don’t suppose anybody has come wherever close to that. You wouldn’t even be speaking to me about it if there was actual curtailment proper now,” Kumaramangalam mentioned.

Clearly the Hindu teams aren’t the one restraint on freedom of expression in usually ultra-conservative India. Hardly a month goes by and not using a film being challenged as a result of a plotline offends one faith, ethnic group, caste, or one other.

However it’s the depth of the assaults on something that challenges the Modi authorities or the Indian army’s view of the world that’s horrifying artists. And extra direct involvement of native police in deciding whether or not a efficiency can proceed is including to these considerations.

“There’s a sort of legitimacy this authorities has supplied to violence. It’s okay to assault artists as of late, solely as a result of their work doesn’t swimsuit the narrative being peddled for electoral good points,” mentioned Majumdar.


In January when a Tamil-language band ‘The Casteless Collective’ sang in Chennai, a police officer stopped the band quickly after it began enjoying.

“Within the first line of the track the phrases ‘Modi Mastan’ had been heard, and a panicked cop got here working to me to cease the present,” mentioned Carnatic singer T.M. Krishna, an organiser of the competition. The phrases roughly imply ‘mystical fraudster’ in Tamil language slang and don’t essentially consult with the prime minister.

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Police Sub-Inspector A. Selvakumar, who was on obligation on the seaside competition, denied in a telephone interview that the band was interrupted due to the lyrics, saying his superior had informed him the efficiency had exceeded its time restrict and needed to be stopped.

Actor-director Amol Palekar was interrupted throughout a speech on the Nationwide Gallery of Trendy Artwork (NGMA) in Mumbai in February this 12 months by the establishment’s officers. He was talking about authorities interference in artwork and assaults on freedom of expression and needed to wind up abruptly.

“The NGMA episode was despicable and was consultant of the gagging that has unfold over all fields of expression,” Palekar mentioned in an e-mail response to questions.

Quickly after that, greater than 800 writers and artists from throughout the nation protested and signed the ‘Artists Unite’ declaration to register concern towards hate and intolerance.

Moloyashree Hashmi, an actor for greater than 4 a long time, says whereas teams have been bodily attacked, there was additionally a hidden clampdown on dissent.

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“It’s the unspoken, not with the ability to carry out … that’s much more insidious and all pervasive,” she mentioned.

Her husband Safdar Hashmi, a playwright and a member of the Communist Social gathering (Marxist), was killed whereas performing a avenue play in a village exterior Delhi in 1989. Ten individuals, together with a member of the then ruling Congress occasion, had been convicted for the killing.

“It has elevated through the years. Constantly elevated,” Moloyashree Hashmi mentioned of the assaults. “They let free goons. And the authorities will simply not do something.”

Extra reporting by Rupam Jain; Modifying by Martin Howell and Raju Gopalakrishnan

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