Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy returned her national award on Thursday, joining a growing list of writers, thinkers, filmmakers and academics who have spoken out against a slew of violent incidents and growing intolerance in the country.
In a column for the Indian Express, the writer announced she was returning her 1989 National Award for Best Screenplay for the film In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones, saying she was “proud” to be a part of what artists and intellectuals had started. “I am very pleased to have found a National Award that I can return, because it allows me to be a part of a political movement by writers, filmmakers and academics who have risen up against ideological viciousness and an assault on our collective IQ that will tear us apart and bury us deep if we do not stand up to it,” she wrote in the newspaper.
“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.”
Roy, who won the Booker for The God of Small Things, joins a swirling debate over rising intolerance in the country after the mob lynching of Mohammad Ikhlaq in Uttar Pradesh over beef consumption rumours and the killing of rationalists. Activists and the Opposition allege BJP leaders willfully stoke communal passions for political benefit and accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi of turning a deaf ear to the growing chorus of controversialists.
Several Union ministers have hit the headlines over their remarks, including VK Singh, who allegedly compared the killing of two Dalit children in Faridabad to stones thrown at a dog. This week, some BJP leaders have also hit out at actor Shah Rukh Khan for his comments on intolerance and likened him to a Pakistani agent, drawing widespread flak. An embarrassed government has tried to rein in the motormouths, aware of the damage the free-flow of controversy was causing, but hasn’t met with much success.
In the past two months, over 50 writers and filmmakers have returned top government awards and prominent scientists have signed petitions against rising sectarianism and the muzzling of dissent.
In her column, Roy also said the issue was much bigger than a Congress-vs-BJP debate, responding to criticism that the intellectuals were insincere in their protest as they didn’t speak out against riots during the Congress rule. “I turned down the Sahitya Akademi award in 2005 when the Congress was in power,” she said.
“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?”