BY Staff Reporter
Booker Prize author and activist Arundhati Roy joins a list of Indian scholars, intellectuals and filmmakers who have returned their awards, or resigned from their organizations, to protest “the growing intolerance” in the country.
The prize winning author of “God of Small Things” Roy said she would be returning her National Award for Best Screenplay in 1989 for “In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones” to protest the murders and threats to free speech in India, she wrote in her column in The Indian Express on Thursday.
Roy was referring to the murders of the scholar Malleshappa M. Kalburgi—killed allegedly for his criticism of idol worship—and intellectual Govind Pansare, as well as hate crimes against minorities, acts she called “only a symptom of a deeper malaise.” Kalburgi was recipient of the Sahitya Akademi and fellow award winners returned the prize after his murder, saying they were disappointed the body awarding the prize did not speak out for him.
The spate of hate crimes against Muslims, under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have caused concern, as has his seeming silence on the issue. A Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh province was lynched on the suspicion of eating beef, an act that created a furor. Last month, a truck belonging to a Kashmiri Muslim was hit by a petrol bomb on the suspicion that it was carrying beef.
“First of all, ‘intolerance’ is the wrong word to use for the lynching, shooting, burning and mass murder of fellow human beings,” writes Roy in her column. “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.”
Roy joins a group of eminent Indians who have returned their awards as an act of protest. Pushpa Mittra Bhargava, a scientist and recipient of India’s third highest civilian award, returned the prize on Sunday saying that the intolerance for freedom of speech threatened the country’s democracy. The author, Nayantara Sehgal, niece of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, returned her Sahitya Akademi award to protest a “reign of terror” reported Al Jazeera.
Those returning their awards have also received support from British Indians like the artist Anish Kapoor and writer Salman Rushdie who, in October, coined the term “Modi Toadies” for the prime minister’s online supporters who had been attacking the protesting writers. He tweeted on Oct. 12: Here come the Modi Toadies. FYI, Toadies: I support no Indian political party & oppose all attacks on free speech. Liberty is my only party.”
The Indian government seems unfazed by the protesting writers, many of Modi’s ministers and allies have described their moves as mere attempts to voice disapproval of the ruling party. The culture minister Mahesh Sharma was quoted by the Telegraph last week as saying “If [protesting writers/artists] say they are unable to write, let them first stop writing … We will then see.”
The Hindu right wing political party, BJP’s national secretary Siddharth Nath Singh, rejected the allegation that his government was not addressing the issue of rising intolerance. “The argument is baseless,” he told Press Trust of India on Oct. 13. “We have taken measures, whatever needs to be taken. We feel that the ideological inclinations of the writers who have either resigned or have returned their awards should be looked into. You will get the answer.”
But Roy disagrees. “I believe what artists and intellectuals are doing right now is unprecedented, and does not have a historical parallel,” she wrote. “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.”