MUMBAI (AFP) — After high-profile protests against women in pubs and an anti-Valentine's Day campaign, Hindu nationalists in India are taking aim at another target -- the unlikely figure of Charlie Chaplin.
Members of a right-wing party in the southern state of Karnataka have opposed the erection of a 67-feet (20-metre) statue of the legendary comedian for a film shoot.
They say it is disrespectful to put up the likeness of the British star near a temple in Udupi, 250 miles (400 kilometres) from Bangalore, arguing that Chaplin was a Christian and made no contribution to India.
But the move has provoked a strong backlash from fans of Chaplin, who although born into the Church of England was thought to be agnostic for most of his life.
Local Kannada-language filmmakers and cultural figures have also waded in, countering that the statue has nothing to do with religion and that banning it would set a precedent against artistic freedom.
Appeals to the state government have been made and an online petition set up urging people to save Chaplin from "these great dictators" -- a reference to his 1940 satire on Nazi leader Adolf Hitler "The Great Dictator."
"Let's not communalise art and artists," wrote one of the 100-plus signatories, Radha M. Nagraj. "Any attempt to Talibanise our land will not be tolerated."
Another, called Subid, added that Chaplin was "beyond languages, borders and religions."
Actor-director Hemant Hegde, who is behind the film, described the activists' opposition as a "rude shock" and said he feared intolerance of non-Hindus was on the increase.
"Many literary, theatre and film personalities have been shocked over this incident," Hegde's assistant, identified only as Nanda, was quoted as saying by the Indo-Asian News Service.
"They want to mark their protests against such growing intolerant tendencies."
India's minister for women and child development, Renuka Chowduri, warned in February that Karnataka was in the grip of "Talibanisation," suggesting that some Hindu groups were behaving like Afghanistan's hardline former rulers.
In January, activists from the radical Sri Ram Sena (Lord Ram's Army) attacked women in a fashionable Mangalore bar, accusing them of "debauched behaviour" for drinking and smoking.
They followed up with a warning that any couples courting on Valentine's Day risked being frog-marched to the nearest temple and forced to marry.
Hundreds of women in cities across India -- concerned at curbs to their new-found freedoms -- responded by sending the Sri Ram Sena boxes of pink "chaddis" or underwear as a Valentine's Day gift.
The Chaplin row has prompted more than a dozen people to offer private land to erect the statue, according to reports.
But local lawmaker K. Lakshminarayana, from the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was unrepentant.
"If the locals are against such a statue, I am also against it," he said.
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