Another 24 filmmakers including Kundan Shah of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro fame and Saeed Mirza and writer Arundhati Roy today returned their National Awards over "growing intolerance", voicing fears that the country's robust democracy might be "coming apart" in the current atmosphere.
With this, at least 75 members of the intelligentsia have either returned national or literary awards, in an escalation of protests by writers, historians, filmmakers and scientists even as writer Nayantara Sahgal reiterated that "secularism was under threat" like never before. Sahgal was among the first to return the honours when she gave back the Sahitya Akademi award in October.
The filmmakers also strongly rallied behind students of the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India(FTII) who recently called of their 136-day strike, saying their battle went beyond the manipulation of education to include "intolerance, divisiveness and hate".
While returning their awards, the 24 filmmakers in a letter addressed to the President and Prime Minister have said, "We 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."
As they added to the voice against the "growing disregard" for freedom of speech and the murder of three intellectuals, Roy, a Booker prize winner, was quoted as having said that she was returning the honour in protest against "ideological viciousness". She had received the 1989 National Film Award for Best Screenplay for the documentary In which Annie Gives it to those Ones.
Other prominent names in the list of those who have returned the awards today included documentary filmmaker Anwar Jamal, director Virendra Saini, Pradip Krishnen, Manoj Lobo, sound designers Vivek Sachidanand, P M Satheesh, Ajay Raina, director Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti, editor Irene Dhar Malik, cinematographer Satya Rai Nagpaul, director Amitabh Chakraborty, filmmaker Tapan Bose and Madhusree Dutta.
Shah, an FTII alumnus, said to give up his only National Award which he received for cult film Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro was very sad but was a necessary decision to protest against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the chairman of FTII.
"This is the only National Award I have for Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro am I feel very sad to part with it. I owe this award to my alma mater FTII- there would've been no JBDY if I had not studied at FTII," Shah said.
Mirza, a former chairman of FTII and known for his films like Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai and TV show Nukkad, said the protest started by the students has become bigger to turn into movement against "intolerance, divisiveness and hate".
Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu hit back at those who had returned their awards at a "Know the Truth" briefing in Delhi stating that " efforts are being made to derail the Modi government's development agenda."
The "award wapasi" campaign has faced criticism from some quarters, who call it selective protest but Shah countered the argument saying his films were against the then ruling government, Congress too.
"This is not a protest against BJP only--we've protested through our work against the Congress government too," he said, adding the award money will be donated to charity, while the trophy will be given to the representatives of the I&B ministry.
In their joint statement to the President and the Prime Minister, the filmmakers said they were responding to the FTII students' call to the fraternity.
"Rather than see our fellow filmmakers mocked, we have decided to stand with them and yet again bring public attention back to the manner in which the current government is responding to dissent and debate," said the filmmakers.
The artistes emphasised that returning the National Film Award was "not a rejection of the recognition" on their part.
"We are concerned citizens of this country, whose work has been recognised by the Government of India. That is a great honour for us, and in returning this award, we are not rejecting the recognition that the jury has bestowed on us.
"Neither are we belittling the honour given to us by the people of our country in the form of the National Award. We are using the one possibility we have of making you pay attention to our plea, resolve the crisis at FTII, ensure that our precious right to Freedom of Speech is unambiguously protected."