Arundhati Roy Returns Her National Award

05/11/2015 9:52 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy gets showered by flower petals as she visits Parthrad village in central India, Saturday July 31, 1999. The writer is lending her support against the Narmada Dam project which is likely to displace over 60 villages including Parthrad. The dam on the 1300kms long Narmada river has been opposed for the last 14 years. (AP Photo/Sherwin Crasto)

NEW DELHI -- Returning her National Award for Best Screenplay, which she won in 1989, Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy said that she was "so proud" to join the writers, filmmakers and academics, who have returned their awards to protest against attacks on minorities, murder of rationalists, threats to free speech, enforcement of beef bans, and the vicious remarks bandied about by leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Roy, the author of The God of Small Things, said that this "political movement" by artists and intellectuals "is unprecedented, and does not have a historical parallel." Her National Award was for the film - In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones.

"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," Roy said, writing in The Indian Express.

"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," she wrote.

Pointing out that she had returned her Sahitya Akademi Award in 2005 when the Congress was in power, Roy asked to be spared of the "old Congress-versus-BJP debate."

"It has gone way beyond all that," she wrote in The Express.

The 55-year-old political activist also said that "intolerance" is not the right word to describe events unfolding in the country.

"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 who 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”, without getting attacked, lynched, shot or jailed? Which writer can write what Saadat Hasan Manto wrote in his “Letters 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." - Arundhati Roy, The Indian Express

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