The organisers of the Ajmer Literature Festival on Friday cancelled a session that was to be addressed by actor Naseeruddin Shah after protests against his comments about mob violence in India, PTI reported. One of the protestors hurled black ink on a poster of Shah.

Shah had on Monday said that the death of a cow is accorded more importance than that of a police officer in today’s India. The remark was made with reference to the violence in Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh on December 3, in which a police inspector was killed following the discovery of cow carcasses in a field. Shah’s comment triggered outrage from Hindu nationalist groups.

On Friday, Shah was scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the fifth edition of the three-day Ajmer Literature Festival and to launch a book. “Shah was scheduled to inaugurate the festival but he did not come because of the protest by some locals over his comments,” Raas Bihari Gaur, coordinator of the festival, told PTI.

Somratan Arya, a member of the event’s organising committee, said they were concerned about their “guests’ safety” after the vandalism, reported the Hindustan Times.

Earlier on Friday, Shah defended his remarks and said he had made them as a concerned Indian citizen. “What did I say this time that I am being termed as a traitor?” Shah asked. “I am expressing concerns about the country I love, the country that is my home. How is that a crime?”

Ticket for Karachi

Meanwhile, the head of a group called the Uttar Pradesh Navnirman Sena told The Times of India that he had booked a ticket for Naseeruddin Shah to travel to Karachi on August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day. “If Naseeruddin Shah is scared in India, he should not delay leaving for Pakistan,” Amit Jani said. He said Shah’s departure to Pakistan would leave India “with one less traitor”.

He added: “But if Naseeruddin Shah doesn’t want to go to Pakistan, he should read Hanuman Chalisa, because after all BJP’s MLC Bukkal Nawab has said that Hanuman is Muslim.” Nawab had on Thursday claimed that the Hindu god was a Muslim and that names in Islam are “almost similar” to those of the deity.

The Uttar Pradesh Navnirman Sena had in September said it would field Shambhulal Regar, who is accused of killing a Muslim labourer, from Agra in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. Regar, currently lodged in the Jodhpur jail, had committed the crime on camera and allegedly burnt the body. The incident had taken place in Rajasthan’s Rajsamand town in December 2017.

Naseeruddin Shah’s remarks

Shah had made his comments on Monday during an interview with Karwan-e-Mohabbat, a civil society initiative that aims to foster harmony between religious groups. “The poison has already spread,” Shah had said. “There is complete impunity for those who take the law into their own hands. In many regions we are witnessing that the death of a cow has more significance than that of a police officer.”

The actor had said that he feels anxious for his children in present day India, and that he was not scared, but angry. “And I feel that every right-thinking person should feel angry, not scared,” he added. “This [India] is our home. Who can dare to evict us from here?”

On December 3, a mob allegedly led by members of the Bajrang Dal clashed with police officials and set fire to a police post in Chingrawathi village of Bulandshahr. The violence involved rioting, burning of vehicles and later gunfire that killed police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh and a student named Sumit Kumar. The violence started after the residents of a neighbouring village, Mahaw, claimed that they had found the carcasses of three cows in a sugarcane field.

Two weeks ago, a police officer said the police would focus on the alleged incident of cow slaughter and not the murder of a police inspector and a civilian. Additional Superintendent of Police (Rural) Raees Akhtar said that the “cow killers are our top priority” and that “the murder and rioting case is on the backburner for now”.

Earlier, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath claimed that the death of inspector Singh was merely an accident. On December 19, the Uttar Pradesh Police moved a local court claiming that four men they had arrested in connection with the alleged cow slaughter appeared to be innocent.