Indian actor Chetan Kumar arrested again for a tweet

March 22, 2023

NEW DELHI — An Indian actor who was arrested this week over a tweet criticizing Hindu nationalist ideology has often made headlines for his political views.

Chetan Kumar was arrested on Tuesday over a recent tweet where he said the Hindutva ideology promoted by Hindu nationalists "was built on lies".

Local media reports said Kumar was arrested after a police complaint from a member of a Hindu hard-line group. Police in Karnataka have charged him with "malicious intent to outrage religious sentiment" and "creating or promoting enmity".

A local court has sent the actor to judicial custody for two weeks.

This is the second time in just over a year that Kumar, 40, has been arrested for a tweet. Last February, he was arrested for tweeting against a judge who was hearing pleas against a ban on Muslim girls wearing hijabs in schools. He was later released on bail.

A US citizen and a Fulbright scholar, Kumar is a fiery anti-caste activist who has taken part in several protests in Karnataka.

His supporters say Kumar - who faces several police complaints over his remarks on caste and religion — is often targeted for his activism. He has thousands of followers across social media platforms, where he frequently posts updates about his work, as well as his views on politics.

He's also often criticized the Kannada-language film industry, where he works. In October, a police case was filed against him after he said that a performance ritual depicted in blockbuster film Kantara was not a part of Hindu traditions.

Despite the backlash, the actor has continued to express his views online.

On Tuesday, the news of Kumar's arrest for a second time sparked anger and disquiet.

"He should not have been arrested for a tweet," says Agni Sridhar, a Kannada film producer and writer. "We may disagree with someone's views but that does not mean he should be arrested."

Sridhar was instrumental in Kumar's entry into films. Kumar, who grew up in Chicago, came to India in 2005 to do research on theater as part of his Fulbright scholarship.

In 2007, he played the lead in a movie called Aa Dinagalu (Those Days), directed by KM Chaitanya. The film was based on Sridhar's book about his years in the criminal underworld of Bangalore - Karnataka's capital city - in the 1980s.

The film was a box-office success and Kumar's performance was praised by critics - he also won a popular television award in Karnataka for the best debutant of the year.

Since then, Kumar has acted in around 10 movies, including hits such as Myna.

But he is better known for his activism and social work - he works with several organizations on the welfare of farmers Dalits and tribal people.

A colleague from the Kannada film industry, who knows Kumar well, said on condition of anonymity that the actor "consciously" chose to focus more on political activism than his acting career.

In 2021, Kumar wrote in the Deccan Herald newspaper that though he often faced racism while growing up in Chicago as a person of color, he realized later that he was also the "beneficiary of the caste system back in India". The caste system dates back over 3,000 years and divides Hindu society into rigid hierarchical groups.

He added that when he came to India, he "began to see the glaring social and caste differences here", which spurred him to join anti-caste movements. — BBC

March 22, 2023
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