The charges against writer Kancha Ilaiah, a staunch critic of the caste system, are an "absurd assault" on the right to freedom of expression, Amnesty International India said on Tuesday.
Kancha Ilaiah's latest book, titled "Samajika Smugglerlu Komatollu" (Social smugglers - Komatis), challenges the caste system in India and criticizes the social and economic capital enjoyed by dominant castes that allows discrimination to prevail.
On October 12, a complaint was filed in a court in Telangana stating that the book had hurt the sentiments of the Vyasa community.
On instructions of the court, a case was registered against Kancha Ilaiah. The charges include accusations of promoting enmity between different social groups and trying to maliciously outrage religious beliefs.
He has also been charged under Section 3 of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. If convicted, he could face up to five years in jail.
"The charges brought against Kancha Ilaiah expose the dangerous environment that academics and other human rights defenders face in India, in which the right to freedom of expression is constantly under attack", said Asmita Basu, Programmes Director, Amnesty International India.
"The Supreme Court had already dismissed a petition to ban his book and reaffirmed the right to freedom of expression. The authorities must drop these charges against Kancha Ilaiah and refrain from pursuing further cases that stem solely from the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression."
Kancha Ilaiah has previously faced charges that stemmed solely from the exercise of his right to freedom of expression, Amnesty said. In September 2017, a case was filed under similar accusations.
The publishing of his book has also sparked a range of threats and attacks against him.
"The authorities have an obligation to protect freedom of expression and should thoroughly investigate these threats and attacks, bringing those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice", said Basu.
Other writers had faced similar threats and harassment, some have even been killed, Amnesty said.
Early in August, the Jharkhand state government banned a book by activist and writer Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar. Gauri Lankesh, MM Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar were killed in recent years following threats and attacks.
"Threats and harassment against those who write against the caste system cannot become the order of the day. The authorities must put an end to the atmosphere of fear and impunity by effectively protecting the right to freedom of expression," said Basu.