A well-known freelance Telugu film critic, Kathi Mahesh, was on Monday “externed” from Hyderabad by Telangana Police for six months on charges of “vitiating” the city’s atmosphere after he expressed “controversial” views on the Ramayana during a TV show — and later engaged in a war of words through the media with a Hindu seer.
A police team escorted Mahesh to his ancestral home in Chittoor district of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh while the seer, Paripoornananda Saraswati, was placed under house detention to prevent him from taking out a yatra against the critic. The two had engaged in a heated exchange through a series of statements in the media following Mahesh’s comments last week on Ram, Sita and Ravana during a debate on TV9 news channel on a sedition case against R R Babu Gogineni, a rationalist.
The remarks led to complaints against Mahesh being registered across Hyderabad by members of the Bajrang Dal and other Hindu groups. Based on them, a case was registered against Mahesh under various IPC sections, including 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings). On July 2, Kathi Mahesh was served notice to appear before police for questioning.
The latest decision to extern Mahesh, a Dalit, has been slammed by prominent civil rights groups and activists who described the decision as “harsh”. “Banishing someone for expressing his views is ridiculous. Is Paripoornanda Saraswati dictating terms to the KCR government? Who is running the state?” Sujatha Surepally, noted academician and Dalit activist, told The Indian Express.
Speaking to reporters, Telangana DGP M Mahender Reddy said police used its powers under the Prevention of Anti-Social and Hazardous Activities Act 1930 to extern, or banish, Mahesh. “Kathi Mahesh’s comments have hurt the religious sentiments of a majority of the people who have expressed their anger in various ways. Mahesh misused his freedom of expression and speech which has caused acrimony and his comments have drawn adverse reactions from various quarters,” Reddy said.
“Over the last two weeks, the comments and counter-comments have hurt the sentiments of the people of a particular religion resulting in disharmony, feelings of enmity, hatred and ill-will between groups, castes and community… It is posing a threat to peace and harmony and may result in public law and order. In these circumstances, it has been decided to take stern action against any individual or group or groups of individuals trying to disturb peace in Hyderabad city. Nobody shall be spared for indulging in such activities,” he said.
The DGP said that a showcause notice has also been issued to TV9. “They not only conducted such a debate but also repeatedly aired Mahesh’s comments which further vitiated the atmosphere,’’ Reddy said. When contacted by The Indian Express, a TV9 editor said the channel would comment on the issue only after receiving the notice.
Mahesh, a former Big Boss contestant, had earlier tried to defend himself by claiming that he was being “victimised” because he is a Dalit, adding that the Constitution had given him the freedom of expression and speech. Mahesh, 41, started his career in parallel cinema and directed a short film in 2011 that was produced through crowdfunding. He has also co-written a film and helmed another short film, apart from playing a minor role in a 2014 movie. Currently, he reviews films for TV channels and local newspapers.
Paripoornananda Saraswati, who heads the Kakinada Sri Peetham, was prevented from coming out of his house to lead a 40-km ‘Dharmagraha Yatra’ in protest against Mahesh’s comments. Civil rights activist Prof G Hargopal hit out at the government’s decision to extern Mahesh. “Instead of protecting a person’s right to dissent and oppose ideas, the state has become a party to violating the Constitutional rights of freedom of expressions and speech. These Hindu groups are exploiting Hindu sentiments and are undermining democracy. This is very sad and very dangerous,” he said.
The Prevention of Anti-Social and Hazardous Activities Act was amended on November 7, 2017, to make it the Telangana Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Dacoits, Drug-Offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders and Land-Grabbers (Amendment) Act, 2017. It provides for jail or externment from six to 12 months.