Kannada actor and social activist, Chetan Kumar alias Chetan Ahimsa, who was recently arrested for his anti-Hindutva tweet, is no stranger to controversy. Neither is it the first time that he finds himself behind bars for his outspoken tweets.
Chetan was arrested in February 2022 too for a tweet on Justice Krishna S Dixit, a judge in the Karnataka high court, who had heard the hijab case. He later secured bail in that case. He has a host of cases against him, for expressing his views against Brahminism to the Kannada superhit film, ‘Kantara’.
The 40-year-old actor-activist, who is a vocal critic of communal politics or is quick to fight against any injustice to Dalits and tribals, has often crossed swords with the ruling government in Karnataka, be it the Congress or the BJP. And, he has riled political leaders of all hues from Congress state party chief Siddaramaiah to JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy.
But, he has come under the radar of the Hindu right wing groups for his outspoken views on the Hindu ideologue Veer Savarkar and on the latest Uri Gowda-Nanje Gowda controversy. The right wings groups are actively working behind the scenes to get the actor, who has American citizenship to be deported back to the US.
Chetan’s most recent tweet stating that ‘Hindutva is built on lies’, however, is proving to be costly for the actor.
Also read: Kannada actor Chetan Kumar arrested for controversial tweet on Hindutva
Who is Chetan Kumar?
He describes himself as a human being, actor and activist fighting for art, equality, justice, rationality and non-violence and a political activist. He calls himself Chetan Ahimsa because he follows the path of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence in his protests.
An American citizen born in the USA, he completed his schooling in Marist High School and did his post-graduation at Yale University, USA.
He came to Karnataka under The Fulbright Programme and also underwent training in the National School of Drama and started acting in movies in 2007. Hailing from a Lingayat family from the Chitradurga district, Chetan believes in the ideology of social reformist Basavanna, who created the Lingayat religion.
Besides being an expert in modern dance, he is also proficient in dance training and dance direction. He is also a jazz musician and has learnt Indian classical music and the saxophone.
Chetan married his friend Megha in 2020 and it was a much-talked about wedding since his marriage was held in an orphanage. The wedding invitation card was a nature-friendly card, which was distributed along with seeds to grow plants. A person from the LGBT community presided over the marriage function and gifted the Indian Constitution to the guests.
Chetan made his film debut in 2007 with ‘Aa Dinagalu’ (Those days), a movie on former gangster and writer Agni Sridhar’s life in the underworld. He went on to act in twelve films, which included ‘Ram’, ‘Birugali’ and ‘Dashamukha’.
Slew of court cases
Chetan is facing a slew of court cases against him for his tweets not just on Hindutva, but also on the Kannada film’Kantara’. In October 2022, Chetan was booked for stating that ‘Bhoota Kola’, which was depicted in the film was not part of a Hindu custom. There are two FIRs filed against him for his remarks on Brahminism in June 2021. “Brahminism is negation of the spirit of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. We must uproot Brahminism- #Ambedkar. ‘While all are born as equals, to say that Brahmins alone are highest and all others are low as untouchables is sheer nonsense. It is a big hoax’ – #Periyar”, he had tweeted.
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Chetan, a follower of Che Guevara became a ‘left voice’ in Karnataka, as he has been associated with movements for the rehabilitation of endosulfan victims in 2013 and, for a separate religious status for Lingayats. He participated in Dalit and Adivasi movements in Karnataka to fight for their demands.
He fought against the Siddaramaiah government for not building homes for the forest-evicted tribals of Dhidalli in the Kodagu district. He backed the rights of the Kadu Golla community. Chetan also became an active member of the “I Am Gauri’ movement, after journalist-writer Gauri Lankesh was killed for her statement and activism against ‘Hindutva’.
However, he waded into deeper waters when he later identified himself as an anti-RSS activist.
Chetan has been actively fighting against superstitions as well. He had participated in a movement to raise awareness on the injustices being meted out to the Koraga community in Dakshina Kannada district. The community had been particularly facing an inhuman castiest practice called the ‘Ajalu paddathi’, where Koragas were made to consume hair and nails of the so-called upper caste women. (this was later banned under in 2000)
Former chair of Kannada language, Centre of Indian Languages, JNU, Delhi, Prof Purushottam Bilimale believed that Chetan who is born and brought up in the US harbours “beautiful dreams” about India. “He returned to India from the US to do good. But idealism and realism are different. Chetan is a person who may be confused after seeing the reality in India,” he pointed out.
Unwilling to comment on the current case for which Chetain is in jail, the professor said, “I cannot comment on the particular case, as it is in court. But as far as I understand, democracy gives us the right to express our opinions. If you tell ‘This is right,’ I can say ‘you are wrong’ and democracy has given us the right to question. No one can impose their ideology in a democracy.”
The tweet that resulted in Chetan’s latest arrest was made on March 20. Tweeting in English and Kannada, the actor criticised Hindutva for “speaking lies”. In particular, he referred to the BJP’s efforts to project Urigowda and Nanjegowda as Tipu Sultan’s killers. The two men are believed to be fictional characters, however, BJP leaders insist that the two men existed and killed Tipu Sultan at Srirangapatna on May 4, 1799, during the fourth Anglo-Mysore War.
In the tweet in question, Ahimsa listed several falsehoods that he believed Hindutva was built upon. He concluded by asserting that the only way to counter this ideology was through the truth, which he defined as equality.
The Bajrang Dal, a right-wing Hindu nationalist organization, filed a complaint against him and Chetan was picked up by the Bengaluru city police on March 21 on the charge of hurting religious sentiments with his tweet on Hindutva. This was his second arrest in the last year over his Twitter posts. The court has remanded him to judicial custody for 14 days.