Rising up against intolerance Returning awards is a decent way to say that something is seriously wrong

Nayantara Sahgal, niece of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, was among the first to return the state honors to Sahitya Akademi in protest, stating ‘ secularism was under threat like never before’. The lynching of Akhlak Ahmad in Dadri (UP) on the rumor of consuming and storing beef in the fridge was too much to hold on the simmering lava that was piling up. It provided the vent to burp it up. And started the chain reaction, where writer after writer was returning the award of recognition.  The protest by writers, academics, artists, film makers against the ruling BJP for imposing pernicious Hindutva ideology  and encouraging Hindu fanatics to vitiate the atmosphere is transforming in a sustained campaign and gaining more credibility. Over 50 historians—including leading names like Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, MJS Narayanan, KN Panikar, BD Chatropadya, Upinder Sing—have on 29 October expressed concern about, what they said, ‘highly vitiated atmosphere prevailing in India’. In a statement jointly signed by them they questioned on the Modi’s silence. They said instead of commenting on the reasons that caused the protest, government called it a manufactured paper revolution. It said: ‘we can join the dots and see the kind of re-engineering being attempted by replacing heads of different institutions… we have already experienced attempts to ban our books and expunge statements of history.

What the regime seems to want is a kind of legislated history, a manufactured image of the past, glorifying certain aspects of it and denigrating others’. The protest is spreading. More than a hundred senior scientists from across India have signed an online statement to join the protest. A veteran scientist PM Bhargava has now announced his decision to return his Padma Bhushan award to protest against ‘ the government’s attack on rationalism reasoning and science’. Bhargava, who was the founder director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, accused Modi government of ‘ giving room to communalism and fringe groups to divide the country based on religion’.  Calling the scientific community to feel the nuances of the alarming situation he said ‘ scientists cannot be silent or ignore things happenings around them. Padma Bhushan or any such award will have no value if the government giving the award stands to institutionalize a religion and hatred against others’ 


Winner of Booker Prize for ‘ God of small things’ , a celebrated author and social activist, Arundhati Roy is the latest to join the list of people who stood up against growing intolerance promoted at government level. She returned the 1989 National Film Award for Best Screenplay for documentary ‘ In Which Annie Gives It To Those Ones’. Returning the honor Roy said: ‘  I am pleased to return the award as it allows me to be part of a political movement initiated by writers , film makers, academics who have risen against a kind of ideological viciousness and an assault on our collective IQ that will tear us apart and bury us very deep if we don’t stand up to it now’. She termed the horrific murders ‘symptoms of deeper malaise’ where millions of Dalits. Adivasis, Muslims and Christians are ‘forced to live on terror unsure of when and where the assault will come’. Broadening the rationality canvass, she cautioned that ‘Intolerance is a wrong word to use for lynching, shooting, burning and mass murder of fellow human beings, also we had plenty of advance notice of what lay in store for us, so I cannot claim to be shocked by what happened after this.’ Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan too raised his voice against the ‘ climate of extreme intolerance’.


The huge and spontaneous response by persons of immense has rattled the Sang parivar, BJP is the front of. It says those returning awards are ‘playing politics’. ‘ As far as I can understand, it’s happening for political reasons’( Rajnath Singh, Home Minister). Finance  Minister, Arun Jaitley, called it ‘a manufactured rebellion’ by ‘ rabid anti-BJP elements’. The frustration has so heavily overtaken the communal party that it even did not feel ashamed of labeling scientist Bhargava as ‘ beneficiary of Congress-era’, stating  he was awarded for his ‘political temperament rather than his scientific temperament’. SRK for his being Muslim was the easy target  and Saffron brigade, questioning his patriotism, called him a Pakistani  ‘by soul’. Not only this, the popular star was described by BJP MP Yogi Adityanath Pakistani Hafiz Sayed. 


What I have referred above leaves little space for me to comment on. Nonetheless a few points have to be made in brief. Congress today is most vocal in condemning the RSS and BJP for their divisive and communal politics. But forgets its own tacit communalism it resorted to for reaping its electoral fortunes when the occasion demanded.  What BJP does in broad daylight Congress does it surreptitiously under the veil of darkness. Nonetheless the kind of social and political climate that exists today, where government has given a free leeway to Hindu fanatic forces, and on most occasions is seen brazenly defending them, is unprecedented. That is the reason for writers’ returning awards to arrest the menacing  over-reach of RSS’. It is RSS which in real sense is in power in India today. And it has left no doubt that in its rule there is no future for minorities, in particular Muslims.  Thankfully the wake-up flashed by the writers has started evoking adequate response. People in Bihar have slapped a big no to the politics of hate, telling Modi and the RSS that cows can give milk but not votes.