Freedom of expression under threat: Nandita Das on activists’ arrests by Pune Police

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Actor-filmmaker Nandita Das has expressed her anguish on the arrests of five Dalit rights activists by the Pune Police last month for their alleged involvement in the Bhima-Koregaon violence in January this year.

Nandita Das

Among those arrested were five known Dalit rights activists namely Varavara Rao, lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves.

They are currently under house arrest as their petitions challenging the transit remand of the Pune Police is being heard by the Supreme Court.

Speaking about their arrests, Nandita said that these activists were like modern day’s Manto ‘doing such a good job.’ She also said that freedom of expression was being threatened in India today.

She told Bollywood Hungama, “Look at the activists, who are doing such a good job on the ground. While we are busy with our own priorities in life, they are risking their lives. India is full of Mantos. They don’t have lights shining on them, but there are lots of Mantos. These people are being jailed just because they speak their mind.”

Nandita’s next film Manto, a biographical drama on the revolutionary Pakistani writer, Saadat Hasan Manto, is scheduled to release on 21 September. Nawazuddin Siddiqui will be seen playing the character of Manto.

Talking about the Hindutva brigade’s attempts to malign anyone who criticised the BJP government, Nandita said, “People are called anti-nationals, urban naxals. Even I’ve been subjected to trolling. But, if you bleieve in something, then you learn to ignore it because they try to scare you.

“These people (right-wing trolls) also changed information on my Wikipedia page. Earlier I used to get angry also. When my son was six-year-old, they started write bad things about him. On such occasions, the mother in you become stronger and you become tigress. On those occasions, I started to wonder if I was making child vulnerable. Then I realised that they were trying to frighten me and I shouldn’t fall in their trap. Then you start to ignore and develop thick skin.”

Violence had erupted during the Elgaar Parishad event, organised to mark the 200th year of the Battle of Koregaon. The date is observed by Dalit groups in memory of what they consider was their  victory over the upper caste Peshwas.

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