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Sushant Singh: The price for speaking the truth in India

Photo by Chris Line
Sushant Singh (on video screen) was given FFRF’s Avijit Roy Courage Award for speaking out against Hindu nationalism in India. Watching the video is FFRF Communications Director Amit Pal, who introduced Singh.
(Photo by Chris Line)

This is an edited version of the pre-recorded video speech given by Sushant Singh at FFRF’s national convention in Boston on Nov. 20, 2021. Singh has received a memorial plaque and $5,000 as part of the award. He was introduced by FFRF Director of Communications Amit Pal.

Amit Pal: Indulge me for just a moment while I give you a mini history of independent India. India was founded in 1947 as a secular, nonaligned progressive democracy. Fast forward to 2014, when a prime minister by the name of Narendra Modi came to power and has been in power ever since. He’s attacking these pillars of India as a secular, nonaligned progressive democracy. 

Why is this relevant to our Avijit Roy Courage Award and the awardee? Because actor Sushant Singh is one of those people in India who is not letting the attack on those pillars go unchallenged. There are still many people in India who believe in India’s founding ideals. 

Sushant Singh is a famous actor. He has been in many movies in India, including “The Legend of Bhagat Singh,” which is about a radical atheist who is a hero in India. “Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar” is about the writer of the Indian Constitution. “Satya,” which is his first movie and is a classic of the mafia genre in India, is analogous to “The Godfather.” He was host of a show called “Savdhaan India” or “Beware India,” which was a true crime show with re-enactments from 2012 to 2019.

Sushant went to take part in protests against a really discriminatory citizenship law. The next day, he received a text from the show basically saying, “You’re done. We’re done with you.” 

He has taken part in farmers’ protests. Farmers are being left to the mercy of big business. Just yesterday, Sushant and his side had a victory. Those farmers laws have been repealed. So that’s great. And now we hope that we are bolstering Sushant’s courage and helping him persevere on the citizenship front, too.

It’s dangerous to speak out in India. He’s lost his job. It could be much worse. There have been things such as income tax raids, not audits. They raid your house and seize your assets. There have been people jailed. There have been people killed. In fact, a previous Avijit Roy Courage awardee was with this organization whose founder was killed by a Hindu militant group. 

So, it takes courage. And that’s why we’ve given this award to Sushant. And now Sushant himself sent us a video from India. He would have been here, but with all the weirdness and the restrictions because of the pandemic, he isn’t able to be with us in person. So here is Sushant Singh explaining what he’s been up to and why he’s so appreciative about us giving him the award. Thank you.

By Sushant Singh

Hi, everyone. Freedom From Religion Foundation, thank you so much for this honor. I’ll try my best to live up to your expectations. 

In India, our society is at a very strange and dangerous point. A couple of days back, a Muslim boy in Lucknow was picked up by police for interrogation because they suspected a case of “love jihad,” which is a cooked-up notion by the government where they think that Muslims are posing as Hindus and luring Hindu women and then converting them to Islam under the guise of love. Hence, love jihad. 

The father of that 21-year-old boy took the boy to police station because police asked him to be brought in. The next morning, the boy was found dead. Police claimed that he committed suicide in the washroom of the lockup. They say he hung himself by the rope of his hoodie from a tap that was only two-and-a-half-feet high. 

So, that’s where we are today. It all started after 2014. We have been an Islamophobic society ever since I have known, but at least people had the fear of law, so they hesitated in being openly Islamophobic.

But, now, people have actually been rewarded for acting against Muslims. There are vigilante mobs who have openly lynched people in the name of cow protection and they have been rewarded. And they are all supporters of the present government, which is the BJP government led by Narendra Modi, who is India’s prime minister. 

The government does not promote Islamophobia, but it doesn’t stop it. And, at times, the ministers reward people. So, in the steps of demonizing Muslims by terms like “ghar wapsi,” which means “welcoming back to the fold,” that means reconverting Muslims to Hinduism. 

And then there are laws against love jihad, land jihad. Anything which Muslims do is a jihad. If they’re selling fruits, they must be doing vendor jihad. There are media channels dedicated to spreading lslamophobia. 

There was another masterstroke by the government called CAA — Citizenship Amendment Act. What they did was they arbitrarily choose three neighboring countries — Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the dominant population is Muslim — and said that any illegal immigrants from these countries who have illegally come to India are eligible for Indian citizenship — as long as they are not Muslims. They can be Hindu, Christian, etc., but not Muslims. 

The law was so arbitrary and against the ethos of our Constitution. It has been more than two years when the law was enacted, passed in the Parliament by brute majority. Rules for that law have not yet been framed, so that law cannot be applied to anyone.

There were massive protests against that act throughout the country, most prominent being in Delhi, which resulted ultimately in riots by people who supported this law. You can check out the videos on YouTube. And you’ll see that police almost colluded with rioters who were rioting against Muslims. And in the aftermath, mostly Muslims were arrested, as if they rioted against themselves. 

So, I, along with a lot of other activists, was against CAA, even when it was being proposed as a bill, which was CAB — Citizenship Amendment Bill. We were against it because our Constitution says that any person within the territory of India — not just a citizen, but any person — will not be discriminated on the basis of their religion, caste, creed, sex, etc. No discrimination.

And now for the first time, I think in our history of free India, we have an amendment to the Constitution where citizenship has been linked to your being from particular religions. So, I was against this act. 

And, then, in the December 2019, I attended a protest march, which was organized by university students, to protest the police brutality on Jawaharlal Nehru University students. I attended this march because I wanted to show my solidarity. I wanted the youngsters to feel that somebody was standing with them, that they’re not alone.

I attended that march and had written something against the Citizenship Amendment Act. I read those lines at the march, also. And that night at 2 a.m., I received a message from my channel. I was hosting a show that was very popular. I had been hosting that show for almost eight years. But I received a message that my journey, that show, was about to end. My contract was still valid for another month or so. 

The theme of the show was to inspire the citizens to fight against injustice. It was called “Savdhaan India: India Fights Back.” 

I tweeted that my journey with the show had come to an end. Somebody asked me, “Is it the price you paid for speaking the truth?” I said, “So be it.” And the rest is history. That’s why I’m standing here today. 

Once again, thank you so much. Dan Barker, Annie Laurie Gaylor, my friend Amit Pal and all of you people at FFRF, thank you so much.

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