Over 300 artistes in Tamil Nadu have come out in support of filmmaker Pa Ranjith saying that he was “being vehemently attacked and abused for his views” on emperor Raja Raja Chola. Ranjith had spoken about how the Dalit community had been massively oppressed under the emperor’s regime.

“We must discuss and debate the issues raised by having a meaningful and constructive dialogue,” the statement from the artistes under the collective Coalition for Artist’s Right to Speech read. “But unfortunately, the opposite is happening in the case of Pa Ranjith. He is being vehemently attacked and abused for his views. His phone number was shared by caste groups, religious fundamentalists, and racist groups on public platforms. He continues to get threats to his life.”

The statement said that the government had initiated criminal proceedings on its own, which it said points “to stifling freedom of expression by the state and non-state actors”. “As fellow creators, artists, and authors, having faith in freedom of expression and thought, we believe it is our duty to stand with the concerned artist when his right to free speech is under threat,” the statement said.

The group has also launched an online petition, addressed to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami, in order to stop legal action against Ranjith. The petition has over 6,000 signatures by Tuesday night.

A video of Ranjith speaking about the Chola emperor had emerged, following which a case was registered against him. Ranjith had said that land was taken was taken away from Dalits and the Devadasi system of dedicating girls and women to temples was prevalent during the reign of Raja Raja Chola.

Former Thanjavur District Secretary of Hindu Makkal Katchi Bala had filed a complaint against Ranjith, following which the police registered a case. Bala alleged that Ranjith’s remarks were an attempt to create divisions among castes and was against the sovereignty of the country.