A top Indian scientist has decided to return his Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award in India, joining a growing chorus of voices raised to protest "the government's attack on rationalism, reasoning and science." This comes hours after a group of filmamkers returned their National Awards to rally around the striking students of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) protesting a political appointment for the respected film body.
PM Bhargava, the founder-director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), told the Times of India that he feels "no sentimental attachment" to his award "when the government tries to institutionalise religion and curtail freedom and scientific spirit".
"I, however, hope young scientists too will raise their voice," TOI quoted Bhargava as saying.
Dibakar Banerjee, Anand Patwardhan, Paresh Kamdar, Harshavardhan Kulkarni, Hari Nair, Rakesh Sharma, Indraneel Lahiri and Lipika Singh Darai are among those who returned their awards yesterday.
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Eminent filmmakers Dibakar Banerjee, Anand Patwardhan and eight others on Wednesday returned their National Awards in solidarity with the protesting FTII students and against growing intolerance in the country.
Banerjee said their decision stemmed out of the alleged apathy displayed by the government in addressing the issues of the FTII students and the general environment of intolerance against debate.
"I am not here out of anger, outrage. Those emotions have long been exhausted. I am here to draw attention. Returning my very first National Award which I received for 'Khosla Ka Ghosla' is not easy. It was my first film and for many my most loved," Banerjee, who won his National Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi in 2006 for 'Khosla Ka Ghosla', said.
"If there is intolerance of debate, of questioning and usually intolerance of a student body wanting to have a better teaching environment and that intolerance manifests in apathy, then that is what we are protesting against," he said.
Documentary filmmaker Patwardhan said the government has encouraged "extreme right wings". "I haven't seen so many incidents happen at the same time. This is a sign of what is beginning to happen and I think that is why people are responding all over the country in different ways," he said.
The FTII students on Wednesday ended their 139-day-old strike to return to the classes against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan, but said they will continue to seek his removal. Banerjee said the decision of the students to resume classes is pragmatic as they are merely being responsible towards their colleagues and juniors.
They have issued a letter to President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
A group of over 100 scientists, some of them Padma awardees, have written to the President to protest a "climate of intolerance" in the country.
"The scientific community is deeply concerned with the climate of intolerance, and the ways in which science and reason are being eroded in the country. It is the same climate of intolerance and rejection of reason that led to the lynching in Dadri of Mohammad Akhlaq and the assassinations of Prof (M M) Kalburgi, Dr Narendra Dabholkar and Shri Govind Pansare. All three fought against superstition and obscurantism to build a scientific temper in our society,” they said in a statement.
Apart from Bhargava, among those who signed the statement are P Balram, former director of Indian Institute of Science; Ashoke Sen of the Harish-Chandra Research Institute, Allahabad; A Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board; B Ravindran of the Institute of Life Sciences, Bhubaneswar; Partha Pratim Majumdar of the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics in Kalyani and Satyajit Rath of the National Institute of Immunology in Delhi, reported the Indian Express.
A spate of incidents across the nation -- from vigilante crowds violently enforcing a beef ban to killing of rationalists by suspected far right groups -- have sparked wide condemnation of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government. Dozens of eminent writers have given up their awards in protest against curbs on free speech.
There have been a fierce debate both on and offline on whether the stand taken by the writers is justified, with pro-government lobbies arguing that the awards were won under the patronage of the Congress government.
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