A group of filmmakers, activists and academics have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the “number of tragic events in recent times”, particularly incidents of lynching, NDTV reported on Wednesday.

The letter said that the slogan “Jai Shri Ram” had become a “provocative war cry” and the reason behind many lynchings in the country.

“The lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities must be stopped immediately,” the letter said. “We were shocked to learn from the NCRB [National Crime Records Bureau] reports that there have been no less than 840 instances of atrocities against Dalits in the year 2016, and a definite decline in the percentage of convictions... You have criticised such lynchings in parliament Mr Prime Minister, but that is not enough... We strongly feel that such offences should be declared non-bailable...”

The 49 signatories of the letter include filmmakers Aparna Sen, Anurag Kashyap, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Mani Ratnam, Shyam Benegal, historian Ramachandra Guha, author Amit Chaudhuri, scholar Ashis Nandy and actor Konkona Sen Sharma.

The letter said: “Regrettably ‘Jai Shri Ram’ has become a provocative ‘war-cry’ today that leads to law and order problems, and many lynchings take place in its name. It is shocking that so much violence should be perpetrated in the name of religion! These are not the Middle Ages! The name of Ram is sacred to many in the majority community of India. As the highest Executive of this country, you must put a stop to the name of Ram being defiled in this manner.”

The signatories said there is no democracy without dissent, and therefore people should not be branded “anti-national” or “urban Naxal” and incarcerated. “Criticising the ruling party does not imply criticising the nation,” the letter said. “No ruling party is synonymous with the country where it is in power. It is only one of the political parties of that country. Hence anti-government stands cannot be equated with anti-national sentiments. An open environment where dissent is not crushed, only makes for a stronger nation.”

There have been a series of lynching incidents across the country, where victims were attacked for allegedly not chanting “Jai Shri Ram”. In the most recent incident, two Muslim men in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad city were allegedly threatened and forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram” by unidentified people on July 21.

On June 18, a Muslim man identified as Tabrez Ansari was beaten up in Jharkhand’s Seraikela Kharsawan district for allegedly attempting to steal a motorcycle. The FIR said that the mob had also forced Ansari to chant “Jai Shri Ram” and “Jai Hanuman”. He died four days later.