Why Are Indian Filmmakers And Writers Returning Their National Awards?

Renowned Indian author Arundhati Roy and veteran filmmaker Saeed Mirza have joined 100 other public figures in a long string of symbolic protests.

Indian Filmmakers

It looks like writers, intellectuals, filmmakers, artists and scientists from all across India are taking a concrete stand against the growing climate of religious violence and intolerance in the country.

While interfaith tensions, particularly between the majority Hindu population and the Muslim minority, are nothing new in the world’s second most populous country, the condition seems to be worsening with every passing day.

Many have come to attribute the rise of Hindu nationalism with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ascent to power. In fact, the surge in violence has sparked an international debate over whether Modi’s India is as secular as he wants the world to believe.

Despite all the criticism, the government is maintaining a deafening silence over the recent wave of killings. However, it seems like the literary society of India has taking it upon itself to draw the government's attention to their fact that their “robust democracy might be coming apart.”

Two dozen filmmakers, writers and cinematographers, including Booker prize-winning author Arundhati Roy and veteran filmmaker Saeed Mirza, have announced to return their national awards to protest against “the threat to the academic culture at the Film and Television Institute of India,” and to express “the horror at people being attacked and killed for their beliefs.”

So far, more than 100 public figures have returned their prestigious accolades.

“It allows me to be a part of a political movement initiated by writers, film-makers and academics in this country who have risen up against a kind of ideological viciousness,” Roy wrote in an op-ed. “I am so proud to be part of it. And so ashamed of what is going on in this country today.”

Indian Filmmakers

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These symbolic protests come in the lieu of tragic incidents, including the lynching of a Muslim man for allegedly eating beef, the gruesome murder of a Dalit family and the shooting of an atheist who criticized idol worshipping.

“First of all, ‘intolerance’ is the wrong word to use for the lynching, shooting, burning and mass murder of fellow human beings,” Roy, who won a national award in 1989, explained. “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.”

Meanwhile, when the 24 award winners were returning their accolades, Muslims in the northeastern state of Manipur were staging a general strike to protest yet another lynching of a Muslim man accused of trying to steal a cow.

This political movement started by the writers and filmmakers has garnered a lot of support on social media. However, some believe that the entire movement is just another political means to an end.

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