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“It is Politics by Other Means”: Arundhati Roy On Returning Her National Award

5th November, New Delhi: Author of The God of Small Things and Booker Prize winner, Arundhati Roy along with another 23 filmmakers from across the country has joined the growing movement of returning awards, saying that, “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.”

What started as retorts to the “Unmaking of India“, as noticed by writer Nayantara Sehgal, soon gained momentum and turned into a nation-wide protest movement spearheaded by eminent writers, filmmakers and academics of the country. 4 Padma Bhushan Awards, 40 Sahitya Akademi Awards, 36 National Film Awards have already been returned by the esteemed awardees to the Modi government in protest of the ‘growing intolerance’ in the country.

All this has taken place within 18 months of BJP rule.

However, Roy has made it clear in her statement that she is not at all “shocked” by the turn of events as they are taking place one after the other in the country, since “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.”

Very recently rationalists and writers Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar and M.M. Kalburgi were murdered in broad daylight by armed assailants– no arrest has been made thus far.

In another instance of extreme intolerance practiced by the Hinduttva forces in the country, Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh was lynched to death by a hysterical mob upon the ‘suspicion’ of him storing beef in his house.
Another report reveals that in Himachal Pradesh, a man named Noman was beaten to death in the very presence of police over the rumours of him transporting cows.
Yet another report tells us that Zahid Rasool Bhat in Kashmir was petrol bombed over the rumour of cow slaughter.

Following this trend of sporadic yet consistent communal violence are the reports of rampant casteism being practiced in the country by caste Hindus. In October, a 90-year old Dalit named Chimma was killed for entering a temple. A Dalit girl was beaten up in Uttar Pradesh in June, because her shadow fell on an upper-caste man. Another Dalit woman was beaten up and forced to consumer urine in Madhya Pradesh.

Roy refuses to call these instances ‘intolerance’ as it “is the wrong word to use for the lynching, shooting, burning and mass murder of fellow human beings.”

Here’s her statement in full:

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.

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Report by Debarati Sarkar

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