Booker Prize-winning writer Arundhati Roy on Thursday announced that she had decided to return the National Award for Best Screenplay she had received in 1989 to protest recent incidents of caste-motivated murders and increasing intolerance.
Arundhati won that National Award was for film ‘In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones’.
Arundhati, returned her Sahitya Akademi Award in 2005 when the Congress was in power, thus joins a long list of writers, academicians, poets, and actors who have returned their national awards for the same reason — protest growing intolerance under the BJP-led NDA national government.
In a statement issued, Arundhati said, “I want to make it clear that I am not returning this award because I am ‘shocked’ by what is being called the ‘growing intolerance’ being fostered by the present government.”
She further said, “‘Intolerance’ is the wrong word to use for the lynching, shooting, burning and mass murder of fellow human beings. I cannot claim to be shocked by what has happened after this government was enthusiastically voted into office with an overwhelming majority.”
Arundhati said the malaise was deeper. “These horrific murders are only a symptom of a deeper malaise. Life is hell for the living too. Whole populations ─ millions of Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and Christians are being forced to live in terror, unsure of when and from where the assault will come,” she said.
“When the thugs and apparatchiks of the ‘New Order’ talk of ‘illegal slaughter’ they mean the imaginary cow that was killed ─ not the real man that was murdered. When they talk of taking ‘evidence for forensic examination’ from the scene of the crime, they mean the food in the fridge, not the body of the lynched man,” she said in an apparent reference to the recent Dadri lynching incident.
In Dadri, Greater Noida, a Muslim man was killed and his son injured after a mob beat them on a rumour that they had stored ‘beef’ in their home. Ten people have been arrested in connection with the attack.
Arundhati also mentioned a recent incident of caste-motivated violence.
“When Dalits are butchered and their children burned alive, which writer today can freely say, like Babasaheb Ambedkar once did that ‘To the Untouchables, Hinduism is a veritable chamber of horrors,’ [Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Volume 9, Pg 296] without getting attacked, lynched, shot or jailed?” she said.
Arundhati lamented the loss of the right to speak freely in India.
“It doesn’t matter whether we agree or disagree with what is being said. If we do not have the right to speak freely we will turn into a society that suffers from intellectual malnutrition, a nation of fools.”
Roy says ‘New India’ has “enthusiastically joined” the race to the bottom prevalent across the subcontinent.
“I am very pleased to have found (from somewhere way back in my past) a National Award that I can return, because it allows me to be a part of a political movement initiated by writers, filmmakers and academics in this country who have risen up against a kind of ideological viciousness and an assault on our collective IQ that will tear us apart and bury us very deep if we do not stand up to it now,” she said.
“I believe what artists and intellectuals are doing right now is unprecedented and does not have a historical parallel. It is politics by other means. I am so proud to be part of it. And so ashamed of what is going on in this country today.”
Arundhati also points out her refusal to accept the 2005 Sahitya Akademi Award “when the Congress was in power”, and asks to be spared the “old Congress vs BJP debate”.
The author’s decision to return her award comes as a series of Indian intellectuals and artists do the same in an effort to protest against “intolerance” in India.
In recent years, three atheist scholars who had campaigned against religious superstition have been killed.
Many Hindus, who make up more than 80 per cent of India’s population of 1.25 billion, consider cows to be sacred, and many states have banned the slaughtering of the animals.
Worries over India’s secular identity had begun even before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was elected last year in general elections.