24 Artists Write To Modi To Protect the Right to Freedom of Speech

Following is the press release from the 24 artists who have returned their National Awards today to protest the ‘increasing climate of intolerance’ in the country, thus joining the nation-wide Award Wapsi movement which is being spearheaded by eminent writers, artists and academics. Though Arundhati Roy has vehemently opposed the usage of the word ‘intolerance’ in the said context and in the process have acknowledged the existence of various socio-political reasons which are though different in nature but are not unrelated. The statements released by the filmmakers have varied from dissenting against the ‘lynching, shooting, burning and mass murder of fellow human beings‘ to ‘the way the students of FTII have been treated‘.


The President and Prime Minister of India

Dear Sirs,

Last week the students of FTII withdrew their strike after a protracted struggle of 4 months. In those 4 months the students put forward their core demands of putting into place a transparent and tenable process with which key appointments are to be made at the institute. They asked for the contested society to be dissolved. We were amongst the 190 signatories who wrote to you, asking for the students’ reasonable demands to be paid heed.

The students have taken the high moral ground by retreating from the appallingly non-committal meetings with the I&B ministry and by going back to class. They have not come onto the streets, despite the huge support they garnered from student groups and civil society, and have restrained from expressing their deep frustration through anarchic action.

In response to the students’ call to the filmmaking fraternity, 12 of our colleagues lent strength to their protest, by announcing their intention last week, to return their national awards. Their gesture was a plea to the government, to take notice of the students’ demands and resolve the issue. It was also a protest against the growing intolerance in the country.

We watched with disappointment how the ruling party’s leaders and supporters abused these filmmakers and belittled their gesture. This has been the consistent response by of the powers that be, towards the writers, academics, scientists, filmmakers, historians and artists who have expressed their dismay over the increasing climate of intolerance. Rather than see our fellow filmmakers mocked, we have decided to stand with them and yet again bring public attention back to the manner in which the current government is responding to dissent and debate.

A few days ago, a film made by 4 young students of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences was stopped from being screened in Delhi, by bureaucrats of the I&B ministry. The film was on the caste politics in Maharashtra and around the issue of beef. The film was to be screened at a film festival focussing on livelihood issues. The representatives of the ministry allegedly told the festival organisers that beef was a sensitive issue, so a film discussing it could offend people. Connect this diktat from the I&B ministry, to the setting up of a Governing Council at the premier film institute of India, with people who have little to do with cinema, art and culture. The students’ apprehension about the new appointees is not misplaced at all. If a film that discusses the beef issue is blocked with ease, then we can imagine what culture of censorship will be put into place when students are learning and experimenting with the language of cinema at the FTII campus. If the learning process at FTII is in danger of being marred so brazenly, we have to speak up as members of the film fraternity.

In the last few days we have seen the police charge against the students who have been peacefully protesting against the new policies at the UGC. These new policies will thwart the ambitions of students from pursuing research in the arts and the sciences. The intellectual integrity of so many academic institutions is being eroded. The threat to the academic culture at FTII and elsewhere, is what has brought us together here. Equally, it is the horror at of people being attacked and killed for their beliefs, for the food they eat, for whom they love, for what caste they are born into, that makes it impossible for us to sit back as mere observers. We carry a sense of hurt and outrage at the events unfolding around us.

We are concerned citizens of this country, whose work has been recognised by the Government of India. That is a great honour for us, and in returning this award, we are not rejecting the recognition that the jury has bestowed on us. Neither are we belittling the honour given to us by the people of our country in the form of the National Award. We are using the one possibility we have of making you pay attention to our plea, resolve the crisis at FTII, ensure that our precious right to Freedom of Speech is unambiguously protected.

We, the undersigned, return our National Awards, and hope that this symbolic gesture urges you to pay attention to our fears, that the warp and weft of our robust democracy might be coming apart in the current atmosphere.

1.Virendra Saini

2. Saeed Mirza

3. Kundan Shah

4. Arundhati Roy

5. Ranjan Palit

6. Tapan Bose

7. Shriprakash

8. Sanjay Kak

9. Pradip Krishen

10. Tarun Bhartiya

11. Amitabh Chakraborty

12. Madhusree Dutta

13. Anwar Jamal

14. Ajay Raina

15. Irene Dhar Malik

16. PM Satheesh

17. Satya Rai Nagpaul

18. Manoj Lobo

19. Rafeeq Ellias

20. Sudheer Palsane

21. Vivek Sachidanand

22. Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti

23. Dr. Manoj Nitharwal

24. Abhimanyu Dange

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