PEN Delhi and PEN South India centres join more than 180 writers, academics, artists, musicians, judges and activists in condemning the harassment being faced by musicians of the Carnatic tradition such as T M Krishna, O S Arun and Nithyashree Mahadevan from fringe groups in India and the US for performing songs on Christian and purportedly ‘non-Hindu’ themes.

According to reports, many musicians have received threats from right wing organisations claiming to be ‘Hindu’ organizations, merely for bringing people and religions together on a musical platform. Some of them have been bullied into apologising and have had to cancel concerts. OS Arun, who was invited by T. Samuel Joseph, a long time student and teacher of Carnatic music, to render Carnatic compositions on Christ, was attacked online and pressurised to cancel. Within days, WhatsApp and social media clippings of Nithyashree Mahadevan rendering a Christian song was circulated with disapproving comments. Also, T M Krishna was invited to sing at the SSVT Temple in Washington DC. This was cancelled, according to reports, at the behest of self appointed ‘Hindu’ gatekeepers.

Musician T M Krishna, rejecting all such attempts at coercion, has said, “Considering the vile comments and threats issued by many on social media regarding Carnatic compositions on Jesus, I announce here that I will be releasing one Carnatic song every month on Jesus or Allah.”

PEN Delhi and PEN South India stand in solidarity and express their support for creative artistes who refuse to let their voices be silenced.

PEN Delhi and South India also condemn the arrest of defence analyst and writer Abhijit Iyer Mitra from New Delhi and demand that charges against him be dropped.

Mitra was arrested on September 20 by the Odisha Police, days after his comments on the Konark Temple led to an uproar in the Odisha State Assembly. According to reports, he was granted bail on a surety of Rs 100,000 and has been asked to join the investigation in Bhubaneshwar by September 28.

On September 16, Mitra had posted a video from the temple on Twitter. Pointing to the erotic sculptures of couples in various stages of intimacy at the temple complex, Mitra said: “Can this be a holy place? Not at all. This is a conspiracy against Hindus by Muslims who want to keep us down. Jai Sriram. In our new Ram temple, such obscene sculptures will not be there.” Soon after, in another tweet he clarified that it was a joke. “Jokes aside this temple is just mindblowing,” he wrote. “The sculptures are exquisite & it has a great sense of symmetry & gravitas.” Following the uproar over the remarks, both in the Odisha Assembly as well as outside, he tweeted: “Happy to answer to anyone for my allegedly ‘distasteful’ remarks. Says a lot about the abysmal intellectual Calibre of @Naveen_Odisha’s MLA’s the(y) cant tell satire from seriousness.”

Mitra has been charged under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion), 295A and 298 (criminalising acts or words uttered intended to outrage or wound the religious feelings of any individual or class), and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.

Mitra’s arrest comes on the heels of an FIR being filed against another journalist in Kolkata ostensibly for tweeting that an upcoming film starring Bengali actor and Trinamool Congress Member of Parliament Deepak Adhikari has been copied from a Pakistani film. For this, Indranil Roy, a film journalist with Sangbad Pratidin, was booked under sections 43 and 66 of the Information Technology Act and Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code on September 13.

PEN Delhi  and PEN South India centres express their concerns at such laws being used freely by random individuals and groups and by the state to intimidate and harass journalists, writers and creative artists to curb free expression in India. It reiterates that the enormous wealth of India’s many creative traditions must find expression in the works of different people, no matter what their religion, nationality or background. In India, a thousand – and more – flowers must bloom.

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