'We Give Back Our Awards To Protest The Ongoing Perverse Conflation Of Culture And Politics'

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Decrying the prime minister's silence on the series of violent events that underline the rise of right-wing Hindu extremist ideology in the country; 24 filmmakers, artists and technicians have chosen to return their National Awards to mark their protest.

Citing the I&B Ministry's stand towards the FTII protest as the driving force for their action and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's statements as the breaking point, the group says theirs is an individual stand on a common platform.

Read their open letter to the government.


The President and Prime Minister of India.

Dear Sirs,

Last week the students of FTII withdrew their strike after a protracted struggle of 4 months. In those 4 months the students put forward their core demands of putting into place a transparent and tenable process with which key appointments are to be made at the institute. They asked for the contested society to be dissolved. 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.

In response to the students’ call to the filmmaking fraternity, 12 of our colleagues lent strength to their protest, by announcing their intention last week, to return their national awards. Their gesture was a plea to the government, to take notice of the students’ demands and resolve the issue. It was also a protest against the growing intolerance in the country.

We watched with disappointment how the ruling party’s leaders and supporters abused these filmmakers and belittled their gesture. This has been the consistent response by of the powers that be, towards the writers, academics, scientists, filmmakers, historians and artists who have expressed their dismay over the increasing climate of intolerance. 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.

A few days ago, a film made by 4 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. If the learning process at FTII is in danger of being marred so brazenly, we have to speak up as members of the film fraternity.

In the last few days we have seen the police charge against the students who have been peacefully protesting against the new policies at the UGC. These new policies will thwart the ambitions of students from pursuing research in the arts and the sciences. The intellectual integrity of so many academic institutions is being eroded. 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 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.

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.

Hear Filmmaker Kundan Shah Of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro fame, On His Decision To Give Back His National Award:

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The List Of Names Giving Back Their National Award:

  1. [ordered_list]

    1. Saeed Mirza – Former Chairman of FTII & Filmmaker
    2. Virendra Saini – Former Dean of Films Division, FTII & Cinematographer
    3. Kundan Shah - Filmmaker
    4. Arundhati Roy – Screenplay writer & Author
    5. Madhusree Dutta – Documentary Filmmaker
    6. Ranjan Palit - Cinematographer
    7. Tapan Bose - Filmmaker
    8. Sanjay Kak - Documentary Filmmaker
    9. Rafeeq Ellias - Filmmaker
    10. Irene Dhar Malik - Editor
    11. Shriprakash – Documentary Filmmaker
    12. Pradip Krishen - Filmmaker and environmentalist
    13. Tarun Bhartiya - Filmmaker and Political activist
    14. Amitabh Chakraborty - Filmmaker
    15. Anwar Jamal – Documentary Filmmaker
    16. Ajay Raina - Filmmaker
    17. PM Satheesh – Sound Designer
    18. Satya Rai Nagpaul - Cinematographer
    19. Manoj Lobo - Cinematographer
    20. Vivek Sachidanand – Sound Designer
    21. Sudheer Palsane - Cinematographer
    22. Dr. Manoj Nitharwal - Filmmaker
    23. Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti - Cinematographer
    24. Abhimanyu Dange - Cinematographer


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