In 2008, noted activist Shabnam Hashmi was conferred the National Minority Rights Award for her exemplary work for victims of communal violence, especially after Gujarat riots of 2002.
But 9 years later, Hashmi, who has been working for the rights of the minorities, feels that she cannot keep the award anymore. Her feelings have been triggered by the ongoing episodes of lynchings of Muslims across the county.
In an interview with HuffPost India, Hashmi says that returning is the only way she could express her disagreement with the prevailing scenario of the country.
"It is the most peaceful way to protest. Also since the award was for minority rights, I don't feel right about having it now... It is a symbolic gesture."
The last few months have witnessed rising number of cases of lynching of Muslims. The people lynched are almost always suspected beef eaters, illegal cow traders, and always Muslim. The victims are killed without proof, by vigilante mobs.
In a letter to National Commission for Minorities, Hashmi said:
"I am returning it in the memory of the innumerable innocent victims lynched by marauding mobs. Even before the Muslims can mourn its dead, the next incidents take place."
Read her full statement here.
This is not the first time that artists and activists have expressed their displeasure against the increasing intolerance in the country against certain minorities.
In October 2015, around 44 Indian writers returned their prestigious awards citing that incidents like the Dadri lynching and the killing of Kannada writer M.M. Kalburgi, had increased under the leadership of the Modi government.
Eminent writers such as Nayantara Sahgal, Ashok Vajpeyi, Aravind Malagatti, Mangalesh Dabral, Rajesh Joshi and Uday Prakash returned their Sahitya Akademi Awards over the murder of author MM Kalburgi.
"I can't fight these communal forces physically so I have decided to lodge a silent protest by returning the award," Kashmiri writer and poet, Ghulam Nabi Khaya had reportedly said after returning his Sahitya Akademi award in 2015.
However, Arun Jaitley had criticised those who returned their awards, terming it 'manufactured revolt.'
In a Facebook post, he had said, "The new strategy of anti–Modi, anti–BJP sections appears to be to resort to politics by other means. The easiest way is to manufacture a crisis and subsequently manufacture a paper rebellion against the Government in the wake of a manufactured crisis,"
Hashmi has the same complains that the writers had in 2015. Criticising the central government for its silence over these lynchings, Hashmi says, "His government will still not say anything."
"The best they are doing today is controlling the media and using social media platforms to troll people who are raising their voice against them."
"It is their agenda to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra. The country is step by step moving towards fascism, with the chief ministers of the nation openly accepting and saying that Hinduism is their ideology."
Stating that there is an atmosphere of fear all over the country, she also said that it is not just the Muslims who are living in fear but the entire country. "People are scared to raise their voice against any mishappening."
Replying to a question about what people need to do in such a situation of crisis, she said, "It is time for Hindus of the country to get up and say that no one should be killed in the name of Hindus."
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