Twenty four more winners of National film awards returned them on November 5 to protest against the “threat to academic culture” and the “horror of people being attacked and killed for their beliefs.” They follow the 12 winners who had returned their awards on October 28.
Among those who signed a letter to the President and the Prime Minister are Saeed Mirza, Arundhati Roy, Pradeep Kishen, Virender Saini, Kundan Shah and Tapan Bose. Each one also gave a short personal reason for their decision, pointing to the growing intolerance in the country and the systematic dismantling of institutions in the country. Shah was quoted as saying in The Indian Express that he could not have made his film Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, with its climax Mahabharat scene, in today’s political and cultural environment.
The letter referred to the four month strike of the students of the Film and Television Institute of India and said the signatories had “watched with disappointment how the ruling party’s leaders and supporters abused these filmmakers and belittled their gesture.”
“We were amongst the 190 signatories who wrote to you, asking for the students’ reasonable demands to be paid heed. The students have taken the high moral ground by retreating from the appallingly non-committal meetings with the I&B ministry and by going back to class. They have not come onto the streets, despite the huge support they garnered from student groups and civil society, and have restrained from expressing their deep frustration through anarchic action.”
“A few days ago, a film made by four young students of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences was stopped from being screened in Delhi, by bureaucrats of the I&B ministry. The film was on the caste politics in Maharashtra and around the issue of beef. The film was to be screened at a film festival focussing on livelihood issues. The representatives of the ministry allegedly told the festival organisers that beef was a sensitive issue, so a film discussing it could offend people.
“Connect this diktat from the I&B ministry, to the setting up of a Governing Council at the premier film institute of India, with people who have little to do with cinema, art and culture. The students’ apprehension about the new appointees is not misplaced at all. If a film that discusses the beef issue is blocked with ease, then we can imagine what culture of censorship will be put into place when students are learning and experimenting with the language of cinema at the FTII campus. “
The signatories also mentioned the lathi charge on students protesting against the UGC’s decision to cancel scholarship. “The threat to the academic culture at FTII and elsewhere, is what has brought us together here. Equally, it is the horror at of people being attacked and killed for their beliefs, for the food they eat, for whom they love, for what caste they are born into, that makes it impossible for us to sit back as mere observers. We carry a sense of hurt and outrage at the events unfolding around us.”
“We, the undersigned, return our National Awards, and hope that this symbolic gesture urges you to pay attention to our fears, that the warp and weft of our robust democracy might be coming apart in the current atmosphere.”
The letter was signed by Virendra Saini, Saeed Mirza, Kundan Shah, Arundhati Roy, Ranjan Palit, Tapan Bose, Shriprakash, Sanjay Kak, Pradip Krishen, Tarun Bhartiya, Amitabh Chakraborty, Madhusree Dutta Anwar Jamal, Ajay Raina, Irene Dhar Malik, PM Satheesh, Satya Rai Nagpaul, Manoj Lobo, Rafeeq Ellias, Sudheer Palsane, Vivek Sachidanand, Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti, Dr. Manoj Nitharwal, Abhimanyu Dang.