25 filmmakers and film professionals, including Saeed Mirza, Kundan Shah, Arundhati Roy, Ranjan Palit, Sanjay Kak, Pradeep Kishen returned their National Awards at the Press Club in Mumbai in protest of state sponsored violence and aggressive interference in academic and cultural institutions.
Below are their personal statements.
I am returning this award in sincere hope that the government will solve all the problems of the Film and Television Institute of India with an open mind.
National Film Award for Best Cinematography, “Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro” (1990); National Film Award for Best Children’s Film, “Kabhi Paas Kabhi Fail” (1999)
I received the National Award from Our former President Mr APJ Abdul Kalam for cinematography in 2005 for my F.T.I.I diploma film Girni. It still remains a most cherished and valued experience in my life. My cinematography career subsequently was in a big way influenced by the recognition I received getting this award Today, I return this award in protest of the devaluing of our academic institutions specifically F.T.I.I by appointing people without solid past commitment to cinema, culture and history of India. It is a humiliation I cannot bear. I stand for an India that’s multi culturally vibrant, secular and intellectually rich. Am awaiting my country and my award back. Jai Hind.
Director of Photography (DOP), “Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na”, “Jhootha Hi Sahi”, “Nautanki Saala”, “Shaadi ke Side Effects”.
I am an alumnus of FTII and I received a National Award in 2005 for Audiography. I have no doubt in my mind that I owe the National Award or any other award or recognition that I have received in my professional career, entirely to the time I spent in FTII and the education I received from my teachers and fellow students during that time. So for me its heart breaking to see that the posts of Chairman and Governing Council members of such a reputed institute is being filled up with people with no qualifications whatsoever. It’s indeed sad that a democratically elected government would distribute such posts, seemingly as gifts to undeserving people, for their affiliation to a political party or its wings with no transparency. What’s even more disturbing to me is that this seems to be happening with many such institutes in the country, which have built their reputation over decades. When I hear repeated instances of people in the government saying that FTII has not produced any real talent in years and that the students are ‘naxals and anti-nationals’, I feel it’s necessary to make my voice heard and return the awards that the same Indian government has given me as an ‘FTII product’. It goes without saying that this award means a lot to all of us and we are not rejecting the recognition that the jury has bestowed upon us, nor are we belittling the honour given to us by the people of our country in the form of the National Award. I don’t have any affiliation to any political party and my raising these questions at this point of time doesn’t mean no wrong has happened before under any other governments. However, past mistakes cannot be used as justification by any current government. And when artists, writers, film makers, historians, scientists and general public are speaking in support of a cause, it should not be brushed aside by calling it politically motivated. I understand that this is a democratically elected government and has the right to make appointments to government funded institutions but this cannot be without due process or transparency. I urge you to find a solution to the FTII issue at the earliest and put a system in place for the selection of such posts so that this, or any future government cannot make such arbitrary appointments.
National Award for Best Audiography for “Ksha Tra Gya” (2005).
Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti
It is very disheartening to see so many eminent scholars who have been an inspiration for the following generations had given up the honors they have received from government of India. I received a ‘Special jury National award’ For a Short film ‘EK AAKASH’ (2004) which talks about the “Communication between cultures, communities and necessary for peace and dialogue”. When I see there is no communication and dialogue happening for more than 4 months in spite of students strike at FTII and all the communities of one country are being pitted against another, I feel that any ‘opinion’ or ‘belief ‘ other than the ‘office bearers’ are not valued in this democratic country any more. Despite the High regard & respect I pay for these awards given to encourage the values imbibed in our constitution and culture, I will have to return it back to express my effort in showing solidarity to the enraged friends who are fighting for the ‘Freedom of Expression’.
Special Jury National Award, “Ek Aakash” (2004); DOP: “Deool”, “Highway” (Marathi films).
I return my National Award in support of the students of my alma mater FTII and also in solidarity with all the writers, filmmakers, artists, historians, scientists and people of eminence who have spoken up as one voice to protest the deliberate silence of the present government at the centre on the current regime of fear and intolerance being permitted against the vulnerable minorities all over the country. Given up my National Award is not an easy decision for me. My cameraman and I shot the documentary film ‘WAPSI’, for which I won the award in 2005, undercover, at grave risk and almost life-threatening circumstances in Pakistan without any official permission from the host government. In this film I revisit the events of Partition and the consequent effects of Hindu – Muslim divide upon Hindu and Sikh minorities living in Pakistan as well on the Muslim, Sikh and Kashmiri Pandit minorities in India. My earlier film in Kashmir (Golden Conch 2002, MIFF) shot in 2000 under similar circumstances of fear is about my journey home to Kashmir a decade after the forced exodus of my own community. Subsequently, all my work as a filmmaker and writer has been about documenting Kashmir and its devastation. I have never shied away from speaking up for any minority issue in my films and writings, so I feel conscience bound to speak up even now as the idea of a secular, tolerant and pluralist India seems to be under threat once again. I do this with hope that many more people will speak up now so that the present regime is compelled to rethink its agenda of ‘manufacturing hate’ among communities that have strived to pull along each other in peace and harmony despite the tragedies of the past.
Irene Dhar Malik
I’m giving up my National Award in protest against the unmistakable interference of the present government in appointments to institutions of academia and culture. I am also protesting the general atmosphere in the country where the Prime Minister does not care enough to categorically and unequivocally condemn incidents of intolerance and take clear and swift action against members of his government and party who seek to belittle or justify such incidents. It’s not been an easy decision. The National Award is very precious to me, and I have great respect and gratitude for the jury members who considered me worthy of this honour. I’m giving it up to join the group of people who are trying to get heard, a group of people who are voicing their worries about what is happening in the country, and who hope that things will change for the better. A lot of citizens had great hopes from the new government. I hope they are not let down by indifference, by attempts to justify present injustices by talk of what has happened in the past. Any wrong that happened in the past cannot justify a wrong being done in the present. The present is the time to undo wrongs. If a Gajendra Chauhan’s appointment is a mistake, as it clearly is, is it so difficult to undo this? I have thought long and hard and it has been a difficult decision to return the National Award. But as I was debating about this, my fourteen year-old daughter told me that she would be proud of me if I gave it up and joined the protest. And so, I made up my mind.
National Film Award for Best Editing, “Celluloid Man” (2013).
Satya Rai Nagpaul
I forfeit my National Award, given to me for the cinematography of Anhe Ghode Da Daan, in protest against the systematic dismantling of Indian public institutions, including the Film & Television Institute of India [FTII]. The value of this award is not only for me but for all cinematographers, who as artists, struggle daily with the ugly & inhumane levels of commercialization that has taken over our practice, with the government continuing to recede from its responsibility to promote & produce public spirited cultural works. It is not easy to give up a recognition, that means a validation from the most esteemed in the practice of our cinema. I do this in gratitude of the recognition and faith they have bestowed to such cinema, that continues to struggle and somehow sustain. I do it in solidarity with the writers, artists, fellow filmmakers, historians & scientists, who have registered their vigilance, by forfeiting to the current government, the recognitions bestowed on them. I call upon the current government to state in no uncertain terms, that the highest standards of public welfare, institutional autonomy of public bodies, freedom of expression, freedom of dissent, due process in law, right to privacy and constitutional values will be upheld. I dedicate my award money to the emerging concerns of the trans-masculine, intersex & intergender communities, who barely survive at the cross-roads of discriminations of gender identity & expression, sex, class and caste.
National Award for Director of Photography, “Anhe Ghoda Da Daan”; GRAFTII member; DOP, “Gattu”, “Zinda Bhaag”, “Chauthi Koot”, “Aligarh”.
I am returning my National Award protesting against the inappropriate appointments at the FTII, a premier academic institute of the country. The students of FTII are meticulously chosen by a panel of top most experts of the country based on merit, and the Chairman of FTII has always been an inspiration and guide to these students. It’s appalling to see that the present appointments are based on sheer political affiliations rather than credentials. Am also protesting against the larger inaction of authorities towards growing incidents of intolerance and gagging of independent voices at a scale that has never been seen before in independent India, threatening the very foundation of our secular and pluralistic nation. I evaluate the present situation in the country as alarming with the interference of the Govt. reaching the dining tables of private citizens. I hope the voices and worries of the individuals who have taken this extreme and painful step of returning the awards be heard and action be taken by the highest authorities of our country to maintain peace, and dignity of the citizens.
National Award for Best Audiography, “Kumar Talkies” (1999).
After much thought and with deep regret, I have decided to return my national award for the film ‘Legend of Fat Mama’ in solidarity with my fellow film makers, film students at FTII and with concerned citizens of my country. It is a simple, ‘unmanufactured’ protest against the current climate of intolerance, hate and violence and the curbing of the voices of dissent. It is by no means an endorsement of the actions and inactions of the previous government, whose own cynicism is well established. It is in response however to the unprecedented scale and comprehensiveness with which the values and interests of the India we believe in, are being undermined.
National Award For Best Ethnographic Film, 2005.
Today, I wish to return my National Award for Best Editor Non Fiction for “In Camera – Diaries of a Documentary cameraman”, 2009, in protest against the dark times this country is being made to go through. Times are truly dark and one must be honest to say this darkness was in the making for long: it hasn’t descended suddenly upon us. There was unease in me even when I took the Award – the Rajat Kamal – in 2009. There was enough to cry about even then. The award itself was an accident, since I never actively sought for the award by submitting the film I had edited for consideration of National Award, since that privilege is always with the producer. But I took the award anyway and even felt some pride. It meant recognition from a peer group, a sign of appreciation of my work from other film makers whose work I admired and had learnt a great deal from – a fraternity to which I belong. Today the unease has grown and examples of the truly greats – the ninety year old Krishna Sobti , for instance – returning their awards gives me a feeling that I don’t need to keep mine either. The destruction of Babri Masjid and the Gujarat genocide are not the only sores that plague this republic. In Kashmir the bullets never stop, the north-east too is an army zone with draconian AFSPA, the State is waging a war against the people in Chhattisgarh. The everyday assault on democratic rights and people’s livelihoods, the theft of their resources, the unrelenting violence on Muslims, Dalits, Christians are instances of a process by which the Republic is redefining itself. One cannot escape the realization that one is part of a nation-state that has turned against its own people, and is now rapidly moving to become a Hindutva Reich. These are not ‘aberrations’ of Indian Democracy but are being institutionalised into a vision of India supping from the chalice of majoritarian views and opinions. As a political filmmaker, I can be blamed for waking up too late to these times. Perhaps I was naïve to think that the kinds of film I make, edit, shoot, or direct and the nature of the dissenting politics I have been actively involved in are challenges enough to the nationalist consensus of this and previous Governments. This can no longer be an excuse to hold onto a recognition from the Indian state which on a daily basis makes it clear that dissenting ideas, politics, lifestyles, food choices, choices of whom to love, how to be, will have to be forcibly marshaled into a narrow mainstream. I refuse to be part of any mainstream identity. Some have told me, why give away that heavy, nice looking silvery medal. Just keep it and continue to do what you do. I am tempted, who doesn’t want to keep the bauble. But then you read that another film is being denied the permission to be screened in a festival by the ministry of Information and Broadcasting – the co-ordinating ministry for these national awards – and my acquistive temptations vanish in anger and irritation and a bit of unparliamentary swearing too. I wish to leave you with a story from the land where I live and work – The Khasi-Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya. In the Western part of these hills, there is a village of seven households called Domiasiat. Domiasiat sits atop India’s largest Uranium deposits which the Indian State covets. Kong Spelity Lyngdoh Langrin, 90 year old matriarch of Domiasiat, for many years has refused to move away from her land to allow the Indian state to mine the Uranium because she experienced the radio-active pollution created by test mining in the village. She has been offered millions in lease fees by UCIL, but she is happy in her hamlet cultivating tympew and sohmarit. I have been doing a documentary on Uranium mining issues in Meghalaya for sometime. One day when Kong Spelity was tired and complaining, I asked her why doesn’t she just give up her land and with the millions being offered to her move away to modern comforts? She looked at me and smiled, “Give up my freedom? Can money buy me the freedom which this land gives?” And Sir, I want to have my freedom back, unencumbered by any recognition from the Indian state.
With all humility and as a last resort I return my National Award to the nation. I wish to draw attention to the pogrom that is destroying the FTII. Belief in the Hindu Rashtra is the neo nationalists’ war cry. Therefore Gajendra Singh Chauhan, Dr Narendra Pathak, Anagha Ghaisas, Rahul Sholapurkar and Sailesh Gupta. And if you resist them because they are not qualified for their posts, you are anti nationals, you have to be cleansed out of the system. Gajendra and gang have been appointed to clean out the FTII and make it compatible with the Hindu Rashtra. Accept this or else…This is ‘muh mein Ram aur bagal mein churi’. I would like to appeal to the nation. I thought we were voting for development – we would all get rich quick but if I do not commit to the Hindu Rashtra then I am not part of the nation. The word secular in the Constitution has to be replaced by the word ‘Hindu’. Only then can we walk this path. The previous government stole our money and this one will steal our Constitution. Both of them have scammed us. Let us all peacefully stand up to the tyranny of the elected.
FTII alumnus; Recipient of 3 National Awards; the Special Jury National Award, “Kaal Abhirati” (1990); Best Nonfiction Film, Best Editing Award, “Bishar Blues” (2008); Latest Bengali feature film “Cosmic Sex” (February 2015).
With a heavy heart I relinquish my three national awards. I am very sad that I have to do it, for these are honours bestowed on me by the nation and adjudged by fellow filmmakers. The National Film Awards of India is a great institution that has acknowledged diverse film practices across genres, languages and scales. I am truly humbled to have received these awards. The National Award, named after the nation and not the government of the day, has nothing to do with the ideology or control exercised by ruling political parties. It is an award of excellence in the field of creativity and hence it cannot be, even by manipulation, linked with the short-sighted concerns of players in the field of electoral politics and their short-term berths of five years. The National Award is far more durable and perennial. Hence I am not returning my National Award, there is nobody to whom I can return it. I am only relinquishing my claim on it. I believe I have lost the right to hold such an award. When my fellow citizens do not have the right to food of their choice, when artists of the next generation are denied their right to a decent education, when rational thinking is declared a life-threatening activity, when parochialism and coercion become an alibi for upholding cultural traditions, I believe that I too have lost the right to an award of excellence. The National Award is not only an honour but also a responsibility – to work towards upholding the conscience of the country; to fight the dominant forms of social amnesia; to foreground the stories that are being strategically and systematically erased; to enhance the ethos of democracy in order to let creativity bloom; to toil to make this country a little healthier and richer with each film, each poem, each cuisine and each debate. In recent months we have witnessed an erosion of the space from which such initiatives can stem. I believe that the murder of Muhammed Aqlaq, M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar and others has substantially tarnished the meaning of such awards that celebrate excellence and critical thought. Yet, I also believe if we who belong to the community of artists and intellectuals continue to “keep the faith” and work hard, we shall be able to restore the honour of the National Award. We shall be able to bring about a time when all Indians can eat, love, think, debate, campaign and make films the way they want to; and then, the nation will be ready once again to honour excellence among its citizens. Resistance to intolerance is the both crucial and fundamental to bringing about that time of abundant creativity. I hope I shall receive some National Award ‘then’.
National Award for Best Film on a Social Issue, “Memories of Fear” (1996); National Award for Best Anthropological Film, “Scribbles on Akka” (1991); National Award for Best Film on Culture as Producer, “Friend Fish”, “Chicken Soup And A Premiere Show”.
I don’t work – or perhaps even think – as a filmmaker any more. But many years ago, someone in their folly or wisdom thought to give National Awards to two of the films I made. Today, in solidarity with the students of the FTII who are being bullied and humiliated into accepting third-rate people to preside over their destinies, I wish to return both these Awards to a Government that is taking this country down several wrong paths. What is happening to the FTII today is only a symptom of what this government has systematically tried to do with a large number of educational and professional institutions of excellence in India, filling them with their own appointees purely on the basis of their saffron identity. All across this country, artists and writers and academics have come together to forge this movement of protest. The government says it is ‘manufactured’ and the work of a small minority that is not in touch with reality. But it will discover soon enough that we are just the tip of the iceberg. A tsunami of resentment and anguish is building up against the tenor and policies of this government. We just happen to be the visible tip of the movement. People of many different shades of opinion have called for ‘Tolerance’. This is a sad euphemism for what we should really want and strive for. Do we simply want to “tolerate” our Muslim or Christian brothers and sisters? Of course not! We want a country where religious faith recedes into a private, individual sphere and is not a badge of identity. We wish for a country where we can trust our government to strive for peace and social justice, instead of actively fanning the fires of communal identity (because it believes this will win them elections). I work today in the sphere of the Environment, where this government’s policies are even more nakedly regressive. In sphere after sphere – forest clearance, wildlife conservation, river-linking, and the various ways in which all these aspects impact forest-dwelling adivasis – we see this government pursuing reckless policies that are crafted to suit the needs and appetites of mining companies and greedy corporates. I am returning my Awards because I am deeply concerned and ashamed of what this government is doing to this country and to its own people.
National Film Award; Best Feature Film in English, “In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones (1988); “Electric Moon” (1992).
With the recent return of awards that have been given to them by the State a range of writers, poets, scholars, artists and filmmakers have have deployed their visibility – and credibility – to articulate the growing anxiety of a vast number of Indians, those who may remain less visible but are no less perturbed at what is going on around them. In raising their voices through this symbolic act these Indians have simply done what their work enjoins them to do: join the dots, make the connections, and help us to understand what the meaning of seemingly unconnected incidents may be. It is unnecessary to repeat here the widespread fears triggered by the growing air of majoritarian menace that surrounds us, especially for those the self-appointed majority considers marginal – Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Adivasis. This cancerous fog threatens everything that makes India a place of plurality and difference. Already people have been assassinated for a disagreement with their views. And now with the lynching in Dadri of Mohammad Akhlak, even on a suspicion of what the food in their refrigerator might be. This fog affects everything: which is why the brave and historic strike by the students of the Film & Television Institute of India has revealed in all its starkness the systematic manner in which educational and research institutions are being bludgeoned under this Government. The disregard with which the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has dealt with this already enfeebled institution of national importance is very much a part of a hurried attempt to foist a narrow, reactionary and regressive ideology on us all. The ruling dispensation must be told that this will be resisted, for their view of the world does not truly belong to this land. Through this past year the deathly silence of the Government of India has been broken only to justify or condone these tragic developments, or to trivialise them. Faced with the unprecedented upsurge in public opinion represented by the return of awards, they are now suggesting that this is all part of a well thought out conspiracy. The villain is that old shadow –enemies of the people. In solidarity with these protests, and in particular to protest at the way the students of the FTII have been treated, I too join my fellow filmmakers in returning the two national awards that I have received. My own belief in the sanctity and meaning of these honours is moderated by the fact that for filmmakers to be even eligible for the National Awards our work must have first been passed by the censors, a colonial era mechanism that has not significantly changed in its essential purpose. No surprise then that this circumscribes the universe of issues on which films can be made if they are to be even acknowledged by the State, let alone be honoured by it. Thankfully an entire ecosystem of filmmaking and viewing has mushroomed autonomously, and well below the all seeing gaze of the State, which is why we can continue to contemplate making films that carry question about the holy cows of our time – the sanctity of the nation state, and issues of sexuality and difference, to take just two. The writers, poets, scholars, artists and filmmakers who have raised their voices in protest are being accused of playing politics. Now is the time for them to acknowledge that they are – and this is not an accident, it is what the times are forcing upon all of us. Our politics must now include rising in defence of our right to an India different from the one being pushed down our throats by this Government and it’s storm-troopers.
National Film Award, Best Non-Feature Film, “In the Forest Hangs a Bridge” (1999); Best Non-Feature Film on Social Welfare, “Geeli Mitti” (1984).
महामहीम राष्ट्रपति महोदय भारतिय संध के प्रतिनिधी के हाथो मिले, सिनेमा के क्षेत्र के सर्वाेच्य पुरस्कार नेशनल अर्वाड, अत्यन्त ही दुखी मन से बापस करने को मजबूर हुआ हू। सरकारो की अपने प्रियजनो को उच्च पदो पर न्युक्ति कर उपकृत करने की परम्परा कोई नई नहीं है। भारतिय फिल्म और टेलिविजन संस्थान, पूणे के छात्र पिछले पाच महीने से अधिक समय से शान्ति पुर्ण लोकतांत्रिक आंदोलन चला रहे हंै। देश के सर्वोच्चं कला संस्थान मे की गयी न्युक्तीयो पर हो रहे विरोध को अनदेखा करने और सरकारी उदासीनता क्या इसारा करती है। सत्ता मे बैठै लोगो को यह पता है कि निम्न मध्यम वर्ग से आने वाले अधिकाश छात्र, परिवार व व्यक्तिगत दबाव के आगे अन्तत टूट जायगंे या सब्र टुट जाय और कोई निरासा मे हिन्सा की कारवाई कर दे। और तब मुख्य मागो से घ्यान हटाकर आन्दोलन को एक बुरा नाम दे कर, क्रुरता से कुचल दिया जायगा। इस तरह की कुटिलता कोई नई नही है सुदूर गावो देहातेा के जल जंगल और जमीन के लिये होने वाले जन आदोलनो से लेकर आईरोम शर्मिला तक के तमाम उदाहरण हमारे सामने है। वही दुसरी ओर, लेखक, चिन्तको की दिन दहाडे हत्याये हो रही है। कौन क्या खाना खा रहा है, क्या पहन रहा है इसपर धर्मान्धो की भिड, घरो मे घूस कर हत्याये कर रही है । देश असहीशून्यता के अभूतपूर्व खतरे के सामने खडा दिखता है। जिन संस्थाओ को इन हालातो को नियत्रीत करने की जिम्मेवारी है वे या तो हाथ मे हाथ धरे बैठे है या उस उन्मादी भीड के साथ खडे दिखते है। 2004 मे मुझे लाहौर, पाकिस्तान मे एक कान्फ्रेन्स मे शामिल होने का मौका मिला। उसी दैारान तत्कालीन पाक राष्ट्रपति मुर्सरर्फ एक असफल आत्मघाती हमले से बचे थे। हमसबो को यह कहा गया कि आप जितनी जल्दी हो सके, भारत लौट जाये । लाहौर से कराची की यात्रा अकेले टै्रन के चेयर कार मे करनी थी। हालाकि यात्रीयो और मुझ मे कोई अन्तर नही था, साथ ही किसी ने मुझे कुछ भी नही कहा था, पर उस वक्त वहा के सार्वजनिक जीवन के कई रूपो मे धार्मिक कट्टता के सावजंनीक प्रर्दशन का आतन्ंक इतना था कि मै पुरी यात्रा मे अपनी पहचान नही बता सका। लाहौर के जिस घर मे मै रूका था उस घर कि एक बिटीया जो शास्त्रीय नृत्य सीखती थी उसके इस रूची के कारण, उसकी व उसके परीवार के 4 लोगो की हत्या, एक कट्टर पन्थी के ऐ के 47 के गोलीयो से हूई थी। जैसे ही मैने बााघा-अटारी वाडर पार किया और एक शान्ती की गहरी सास ली पर अगले ही छण यह दिमाग मे एक विचार कौधा कि हिन्दूत्व के ठेकेदार गंुण्डो के करतूत हमारे देश के अल्पसंख्यको पर कैसी बितती होगी। कबीर, गान्धी और भगत सिह की परम्परा वाले इस देश मे असहिसूणता के लिये कोई जगह नही है इसके लिये सभी को खडे होना होगा। पर इन परीस्थितियो मे एक सामान्य नागरीक क्या करे। अतह बडे भारी मन से एक साधारण कलाकार के रूप मे अपनी प्रिय फिल्म को मिले सर्वोच्च सम्मान को अपना विरोध प्रगट करने हेतू लौटाने को मजबुर हुॅ। श्रीप्रकाश फिल्म बुरू गाडा – पहाडी नदी,
National Film Award, Best Film on Social Issues, “Buru Garra” (The Wild Rivulet; 2008).
Fundamental freedoms, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of movement are under serious threat in our country. Never in the history of independent India, were we told what kind of food we may eat and what we cannot eat, what kind of music we may hear and what we cannot, which books we may read or not read. Groups of self-appointed cultural and religious police aligned to the ruling party are roaming the streets intimidating, threatening and killing people with impunity. This murderous spree has been continuing unabated the last 18 months as the government has done virtually nothing to reign in these fanatics. Even more frightening aspect is that several ministers of the central and state governments have been clearly encouraging these street gangs. And now, the Chief of the RSS, the chief mentor of our Prime Minister has asked the government to formulate a population policy to check the growth of the population of people belonging to “non-Bharatiya” religions – meaning Muslims and Christians. Our country has become a dangerous place for Muslims, Christians and all those who believe in freedom and democracy. Writers, artists, filmmakers, musicians, scientists and business people have been protesting against this violence, the killings and attacks on our freedom. A large number of them have returned the awards that the nation had bestowed on them in the past in recognition of their work. They had done so in the hope that the government would be motivated to take action against the murderers. The ruling party completely failed to recognise the anguish of these people. Instead of taking steps to stop the fanatics, and restore the confidence of the people, the leaders of the government turned against the writers, filmmakers, scientists and artists, blaming them for raising the bogey of intolerance when there was none. Ministers of the government abused the protesting writers, filmmakers, scientists and artists calling them agents of foreign agencies which want to denigrate India. In the latest incident, responding to Shah Rukh Khan’s comment that intolerance was a crime against patriotism, a BJP leaders suggested Shah Rukh’s “soul lives in Pakistan”. I am most amazed by Mr. Arun Jaitly’s assertion that it is the writers, filmmakers, scientists and artists who were intolerant and there was no intolerance in India. Self-righteousness is a serious disease. It afflicts the victim’s vision, hearing and his mental faculties. I hope that he would soon recover from the ailment. I have decided to join my peers who have been anguished by the spreading culture of intolerance and return the two National Awards that I received for my films during the 80s. The films are, “An Indian Story” a documentary on the blinding of the under trial prisoners by the police in Bhagalpur during 1979-80 and “Bhopal: Beyond Genocide” a documentary on the world’s biggest industrial disaster which killed nearly 2500 people in 1984 and the victims struggle for justice. Both these films were virtually banned by the governments of the day. We got the censor certificates through lengthy process of litigation. The fact that these two films received the National Awards for “Best Non-Fiction Film” shows that the members of the National Award jury in those days were free to exercise their judgement and were not afraid of incurring the displeasure of the government. Clearly such freedom does not exist today. I am sure that the jury who awarded these films will appreciate my decision to return these awards as a protest against the failure of the government to end this atmosphere of fear and intolerance. I sincerely hope that the government will take steps to protect the life and liberty of all citizens. A government’s failure to protect the life and liberty of citizens raises questions about its legitimacy, and we may soon descend into chaos.
National Film Award, Best Non-Feature Film, “An Indian Story” (1982); “Bhopal – Beyond Genocide” (1987).
Although I do not believe that awards are a measure of the work we do, I would like to add the National Award for the Best Screenplay that I won in 1989 to the growing pile of returned awards. Also, 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. First of all, “intolerance” is the wrong word to use for the lynching, shooting, burning and mass murder of fellow human beings. Second, we had plenty of advance notice of what lay in store for us—so I cannot claim to be shocked by what has happened after this government was enthusiastically voted into office with an overwhelming majority. Third, 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. Today we live in a country in which, 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. We say we have “progressed”—but 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? Which writer can write what Saadat Hassan Manto wrote in his “Letter to Uncle Sam”? 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. Across the subcontinent it has become a race to the bottom—one that the New India has enthusiastically joined. Here too now, censorship has been outsourced to the mob. 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. 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.
P.S For the record, I turned down the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2005 when the Congress was in power. So please spare me that old Congress vs BJP debate. Its gone way beyond all that. Thanks.
National Film Award, Best Screenplay, “In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones” (1988).
Friends, I sit before you because I believe we are living in a time where not to speak out would not just be mistake but a crime. When the students of the FTII rose up in revolt against the ad-hoc and arrogant imposition of the Governing Council members of their institute by the Government of India little did they realize that the cause for which they were fighting would turn out to be so much larger: Joining them were a host of eminent writers, scholars, historians, painters, film-makers, musicians, theatre personalities, scientists, professionals and even industrialists who joined in the struggle to reclaim the soul and spirit of this land. The battle that the students had begun went beyond the manipulation of education to include intolerance, divisiveness and hate. I would like to inform you that I am not an academic. I am a film-maker, television producer, writer, traveler and, hopefully, a thinker. Let me also inform you that this note of mine is written to open up a rigorous debate if we have to understand the nature of our country and where it is heading. To understand what I am getting at, I have to go a little further back in our country’s history. We have to go back to the time when India became a Constitutional Republic. It was the time when our leaders defined the nation to the people of India and to the world. We were sovereign, secular and democratic. Here was a country that was primarily feudal, caste-ridden, that was born out of incredible communal slaughter and the largest mass migration of peoples in history and yet had the courage to look into the future with a sense of purpose and, most importantly, a sense of poetry. It guaranteed freedom of expression, religion and equality and justice for all before the law of the land. Left behind in the shadows were forces, though small in number yet potent in influence, that were vehemently opposed to this ideal. They had a different agenda and a far simpler notion of what our country was all about: they had little faith in democracy and far less in freedom of expression, religion and equality before the law. And today we are well aware of what is happening in our country. How did all of this come to pass? There is a history to it Let me now begin with the role of the Congress Party which was in power in most of the country up to the mid 1970’s. What amazed me was the number of communal and caste riots that had occurred in state after state under its watch. Here was a party that professed to be secular and progressive and yet in Maharashtra, Gujarat, U.P., Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan regional party bosses were either helpless or colluded with communal forces in regular pogroms. If one calculates the numbers of people killed and the destruction of property it would shame any country in the world. And yet, no person or group was held accountable for these atrocities. This would have enormous consequences in the future. There was one movement however, that really set me thinking. It was the beginnings of a political formation that started out in the city of Mumbai. It was the birth of the Shiv Sena. Everyone knows that this movement had the blessings of the political warlords in the state of Maharashtra and also the blessings of a number of Industrialists. Mumbai, the nation’s financial and entertainment capital was held to ransom for two decades by an organization that dealt with issues by turning the streets of the city into a battleground. And, by and large, in this violent journey of theirs, the political parties in power and the law enforcing agencies looked the other way. What message did all of this send? These were the early stages when the idea of India as envisioned by our early leaders began to be dismantled. What would follow would be an onslaught on those ideals and yet nobody seemed to notice. From the 1980’s onwards that we graphically see how those broad ideals of the Constitution were being attacked. At one level we saw the Naxalite movement grow in Chhatisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, southern Bihar and Jharkhand to which the poor and marginalized had rallied because they had nowhere else to turn. The movement still exists. In the north-east of the country we saw insurrections in Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram. Though there is calm in the areas now, one has only to go below the surface to experience the sullen anger. A large-scale and violent farmers’ agitation began in western Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan demanding subsidies and economic relief. The state of Assam was in turmoil with a movement that railed against ‘outsiders.’ This movement manifested its anger in one of the most savage acts of brutality in which more than fifteen hundred old men, women and children where bludgeoned to death outside a village called Nellie. In Punjab a violent militant movement began that demanded a separate state for the Sikhs. The agitation and militancy was brought under control with the army storming the Golden Temple where hundreds of people died. The final act of this militancy unfortunately ended with the murder of a Prime Minister and then slaughter of more than three thousand innocent Sikhs in gruesome acts of revenge in Delhi and other parts of the country. Once again no one held responsible. Thanks to a botched and rigged election, militants in Kashmir, aided by Pakistan, launched a protracted armed revolt. As the slogans of the militants got shriller and more communal, hundreds of Hindus were targeted and killed and the mass migration of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir valley occurred. The people left behind were caught in the maelstrom of turmoil and retribution and thousands upon thousands have died. Adding to the unrest across North India was the release of the Mandal Commision Report. By the late 1980’s a large part of India was in an economic and social turmoil. It was now that Bhartiya Janata Party seized a political opportunity. Till then it had been on the periphery of mainstream politics. It was considered a bit player with a communal agenda. And so the BJP began whipping up a frenzied demand for the destruction of a medieval mosque saying that it was built on the ruins of a sacred temple. The movement struck a chord, specifically with large sections of middle and upper middle classes in North and Western India, because the idea was perceived as a unifying move amidst a sea of turmoil. And, the mosque became the symbol of the ‘other’ and the removal of it would be the launching pad for a proud and resurgent India. After the demolition, events culminated in the horrendous communal riots of 1993 in Mumbai, where more than a thousand five hundred people died, hundreds of homes and livelihoods were destroyed. Then followed a series of horrific bomb blasts set off by a Muslim warlord in which hundreds of innocent people died and hundreds more were injured. In a strange and macabre way, these two events faithfully served a purpose: they shocked the nation and polarized it. By the end of the last century the BJP rose from a party of almost nothing to a party of plenty. It had stepped out from the cold and into political legitimacy. There was much more happening at the academic and cultural level. We witnessed a series of attacks on seminars, art exhibitions, plays and libraries. Artists, musicians, theatre personalities and scholars were forced to retreat. Unheard of organizations suddenly appeared on the horizon to terrorize and instill fear in the minds of ordinary citizens. They were telling us what to wear, what to eat and even what to think. The Gujarat pogrom and slaughter was the final assertion of the new political and philosophical equation. How far had we, as a nation, travelled away from the ideals of the Constitution? And this is where we are today. The forces that lay in the shadows at the time of our independence have emerged into the sunlight. They are in power both at the overt and covert levels. Will my handing over a National Award change things around? Frankly I don’t know. All I know is I have to raise my voice against this state of affairs.
National Award, “Mohan Joshi Hazar Ho” (1984); “Naseem” (1996).