A leader of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has announced that he would pay a reward roughly equivalent to $1.5 million to anyone who would behead an Indian actress and a film director.
Surajpal Singh Amu, a member of the BJP in northern Haryana state, is apparently upset about an upcoming movie, Padmavati, starring actress Deepika Padukone as the 14th-century Hindu queen Padmini.
The movie is directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
Amu alleged that the movie is misleading, not based on truth and offends Hindu sentiments in the country.
"We will reward the ones beheading them, with 10 crore rupees, and also take care of their family's needs," Amu said in an interview with India's Asia's Premier News (ANI) earlier this week.
Threats against movie
Amu also vowed not to allow the release of the movie and warned movie theaters to avoid playing the movie or risk being torched.
The movie was set to be released during the first week of December.
Rights activists have reacted strongly to the threats and urged the government to take action.
"This is pretty outrageous that you announce publicly and no action takes place at a time when people are being arrested for most trivial reasons in this country," Gotum Naulakha, an Indian-based civil liberties activist, told VOA.
An official complaint has been registered against Amu, but many are criticizing the stance of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party — which controls the central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi — on the matter.
"I've not heard any official stance from the central government or the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting," Vinod Sharma, an Indian-based analyst, told VOA.
Anil Jain, a local BJP spokesperson, told ANI that the law applies to everyone in the state of Haryana and no one can threaten others. The central government has yet to react, however.
Bollywood actress Padukone stood her ground and said the movie would be released despite the threats.
"Where have we reached as a nation? We have regressed. The only people we are answerable to is the censor board, and I know and I believe that nothing can stop the release of this film," Padukone told Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) last week.
Padmavati was controversial right from the start. Opponents of the movie stormed the filming of one scene and destroyed the film sets. They were upset that the director of the movie was distorting facts by alleging romance between the Hindu queen and the Muslim invader Alauddin Khilji.
Film director Bhansali, however, denies the allegations and maintains the story is based on a Sufi and medieval-era poem written about the Hindu queen. In the poem, the Hindu queen chooses death before the Muslim conqueror could capture her.
Some experts say the poem is centuries old and there is a possibility the Hindu queen might be purely a fictional character found only in folklore.
"There's a lot of debate in India whether Padmavati was actually a living being many, many years ago or whether she was just an imagined person in a poem," analyst Sharma said.
Rights activists maintain that if government fails to draw clear lines around the threat made by the politician, and discourage a growing sense of impunity for some, incidents like this will only increase and threaten the freedom of expression in the world's biggest democracy.
"By letting loose and giving [a] sense of impunity to the goons of the ruling party or people who're connected or close to the ruling party, we're paving the ground for much bigger and [worse] things to happen in the near future," Naulakha told VOA.
The movie is awaiting approval from India's Central Board of Film Certification.