Ramya: India actress refuses 'Pakistan not hell' apology

Ramya Image copyright Kashif Masood
Image caption Ramya stars in films in southern Indian languages

An Indian film actress-cum-politician has refused to withdraw remarks she made praising India's neighbour, Pakistan, even though they could lead to her being charged with sedition.

Divya Spandana, better known by her screen name Ramya, said she was only expressing her opinion.

The former Congress party MP is already facing a complaint of sedition filed against her by a lawyer in Karnataka.

Nationalist activists have denounced her remarks on India's rival.

Ramya, who stars in films in southern Indian languages, waded into controversy after visiting Islamabad with a group of young South Asian parliamentarians recently.

She said on returning that Pakistan was "not hell" - a response to the Indian Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, who had earlier said that going to Pakistan was the "same as going to hell".

Ramya even said that Pakistanis were very much like Indians, and treated the visitors very well.

"With a complaint of sedition filed against me, I stand by my remarks that Pakistan is not hell and I see no reason to withdraw or apologise for it. It's ironical that in a country where people get away with crimes such as a murder, those that seek peace are targeted," she wrote in a blog.

Ramya told BBC Hindi that people in Islamabad had been genuinely hospitable to her as a visitor and there was no reason to apologise for her remarks.

"We should be able to express ourselves freely. What I spoke of was my personal experience of the people of Pakistan who I met, that's about it."

With Indo-Pakistani relations always fraught, voicing such warm sentiments about the neighbouring country - whether in India or Pakistan - can attract strong criticism, says the BBC's South Asia editor Charles Haviland.

Activists from the governing Bharatiya Janata Party held protests, calling the actress "anti-national" and demanding that she leave India.

And a lawyer, K Vittal Gowda, has filed a private case, seeking to get her charged with sedition for "appreciating the people of Pakistan", which he described as India's traditional enemy.

A court will decide on Saturday whether to hear the sedition case.

Experts say it is likely to be dropped, as legally, the offence of sedition includes incitement to violence.

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