Jharkhand’s first national award winning filmmaker returned the honour on Thursday to protest the “growing intolerance” in the country, joining a lengthy list of artistes and intellectuals dissenting against an alleged attempt to muzzle free speech and individual rights.
Filmmaker Shri Prakash announced his decision on a day a group of more than 50 historians criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his alleged silence on a spate of attacks on free-thinkers and rationalists besides people of the minority communities over their eating habits.
“I am very sad to return the National Award, which was the first for Jharkhand. I still remember the day when then President (Pratibha Patil) had handed over the award. But I have no other way to lodge my protest but to return the award,” Prakash told Hindustan Times.
Prakash had won the national award for the best film on social issues in 2008 for ‘Buru Garra’ (The Wild Rivulet), a sensitive tale on two women achievers of the state.
In a letter to President Pranab Mukherjee, the filmmaker said, “People are being murdered for their beliefs and opinions. Democratic protest is unheard. In such situation, how will an artist(e) lodge their protest?”
On Wednesday, 12 celebrated filmmakers, including Dibakar Banerjee and Anand Patwardhan, too had returned their national awards as a mark of protest against the vitiated atmosphere in the country and also to express solidarity with the agitating students of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) students.
Prakash, a former student of FTII, also mentioned the impasse in his letter.
“My grievance is only that the government is not ready to even listen to the demand of the students. It is not a democratic process but a dictatorship,” said Prakash, who has eight other international awards against his name.
FTII students had called off their 139-day strike against the “political appointment” of Gajendra Chauhan as the chairman but said that their protest and demonstrations will continue.
A visiting faculty of National School of Design (NSD), Prakash said that the artiste fraternity has some responsibility towards society, to rouse the people about the situation in the country.
“It is not easy to return an award. The national award was a dream honour for me,” he said.