NEW DELHI: Filmmaker Anand Patwardhan who returned the award he had received with a “heavy heart” did so in support of the students of the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune who had to return to their studies after a four and a half month long strike, and against the intolerance evident across India. Reputed historian Professor Romila Thapar signed a statement with 50 other leading Indian historians to say, “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, without any regard for chronology, sources or methods of enquiry that are the building blocks of the edifice of history.”

Intellectuals across India are joining the protest with the government continuing to turn a blind eye to the growing concerns being expressed by varied sections of society even as heads of African nations on Delhi recall the struggle against apartheid and the contribution of leaders like Nelson Mandela.

The FTII students who had been protesting against the appointments of RSS/BJP persons on the Governing Council and as Chairperson have withdrawn the strike as their studies were severely impacted. But they have done this with an assurance from senior filmmakers that they would come out in open support and continue the struggle outside, even as the students work in ‘protest’ within the Institute. The filmmakers who returned their national awards includes directors Dibakar Bannerjee (Khosla ka Ghosla) and Harshwardhan Kulkarni (Hunterr), documentary filmmakers Anand Patwardhan (Jai Bhim Comrade), Rakesh Sharma (Final Solution) and Nishtha Jain (Gulaabi Gang), editor Kirti Nakhwa (Hunterr).

Anand Patwardhan spoke to The Citizen from Mumbai. He said that national awards had always more meaning for him than international acclaim, particularly as his own was that ‘rare moment’ when the system had honoured the spirit of the Constitution by recognising what was seen by many as a controversial work. So the decision to return the national award, he said, was “very painful” and was certainly not a critique of those who had conferred the award but of the system as it was today.

Patwardhan’s response to those who were asking why the awards were being returned today and not earlier was, “look around, ask yourself, why are we doing this now?” He said that the country was being pushed towards fascism “but we are not there yet, so we have a chance, and need to step out and speak out.”

He said that unlike the allegations being made by some vested interests, he along with many others had taken strong positions over the years against intolerance and injustice. He said that he had protested through film against the excesses of Congress rule as in the Emergency and all along.

The filmmaker said that one of the reasons of course, was the support they all extended to the FTII students, and the second was the growing intolerance in the country visible in a series of continuous incidents. He said it was as if the intellectuals had “reached a moment of awakening in the country , across the board people are standing up and speaking out.”

Patwardhan said that while it was difficult to pinpoint one incident, the Dadri lynching was perhaps a turning point for many . “This Machiavellian murder where they go into a temple, force an announcement of beef being consumed in a particular house, and then go there and kill an innocent man” he said probably led to this nation wide realisation that “we cannot remain silent any longer.” And that this “nascent fascism” has to be resisted before it is too late.

Several leading historians also issued a statement against the growing intolerance, They wrote:

“Concerned about the highly vitiated atmosphere prevailing in the country, characterized by various forms of intolerance, we, as academic historians and as responsible citizens of a democracy that has greatly valued its inherited traditions of tolerance, wish to express our anguish and protest about the prevailing condition.

Differences of opinion are being sought to be settled by using physical violence. Arguments are met not with counter arguments but with bullets. When a poor man is suspected to have kept a food item that certain sections do not approve of, his fate is nothing short of death by lynching. At the launch of a book whose author happens to be from a country disapproved of by certain groups, the organizer is disfigured with ink thrown on his face. And when it is hoped that the Head of Government will make a statement about improving the prevailing conditions, he chooses to speak only about general poverty; and it takes the Head of the State to make the required reassuring statement, not once but twice. When writer after writer is returning their award of recognition in protest, no comment is made about the conditions that caused the protest; instead the ministers call it a paper revolution and advise the writers to stop writing. This is as good as saying that intellectuals will be silenced if they protest.

This is particularly worrying for us as historians as we have already experienced attempts to ban our books and expunge statements of history despite the fact that they are supported by sources and the interpretation is transparent. 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, without any regard for chronology, sources or methods of enquiry that are the building blocks of the edifice of history.

We would therefore urge the state to ensure an atmosphere that is conducive to free and fearless expression, security for all sections of society and the safe-guarding of the values and traditions of plurality that India had always cherished in the past. It is easy to trample them down, but it is important to remember that it will take too long and will be beyond the capacity of those who are currently at the helm of affairs, to rebuild it once it is destroyed.”

Signed by:

1. Professors Romila Thapar (New Delhi),

2. Irfan Habib (Aligarh Muslim University),

3. M.G.S.Narayanan (Kozhikode),

4. K.N.Panikkar (Thiruvananthapuram),

5. Y.Subbarayalu (Pondicherry),

6. B. D. Chattopadhyaya (Kolkota),

7. D.N. Jha (Delhi),

8. B.B. Chaudhuri (Kolkota),

9. J. V. Naik (Mumbai),

10. K.M. Shrimali (Delhi),

11. Neeladri Bhattacharya (JNU),

12. Kumkum Roy (JNU),

13. Shireen Moosvi (Aligarh),

14. Indu Banga (Chandigarh),

15. Rajan Gurukkal (Bangalore),

16. B. Surendra Rao (Mangalore),

17. A.R.Venkatachalapathy (Chennai),

18. M.R.Raghava Varier (Tirur),

19. Arun Bandopadhyaya (Calcutta Univ.),

20. K.L. Tuteja (Kurukshetra),

21. Sanjay Subodh (Hyderabad Univ.),

22. Nayanjot Lahiri (DU),

23. Upinder Singh (DU),

24. Amar Farooqui (DU),

25. Gopinath Ravindran (Jamia Milia Islamia),

26. Farhat Hasan (DU),

27. Sunil Kumar (DU),

28. R.P. Bahuguna (Jamia Milia Islamia),

29. Ruby Maloni (Bombay Univ.),

30. Kesavan Veluthat (DU),

31. B.P. Sahu (DU),

32. Manjiri Kamat (Bombay Univ.),

33. Anshu Malhotra (DU),

34. Aditya Mukherjee (JNU),

35. Mridula Mukherjee (JNU),

36. Rakesh Batabyal (JNU),

37. R. Mahalakshmi (JNU),

38. Radhika Singha (JNU),

39. Biswamoy Pati (DU),

40. Suchandra Ghosh (Calcutta Univ.),

41. Sushmita Basu Majumdar (Calcutta Univ.),

42. Bishnupriya Basak (Calcutta Univ.),

43. Radhika Seshan (Pune Univ.),

44. Prabhu Mohapatra (DU),

45. Charu Gupta (DU),

46. Sanghamitra Mishra (DU),

47. Aparna Balachandran (DU),

48. Rahul Govind (DU),

49. Yasser Arafat (DU),

50. Manu V.Devadevan (Mandi),

51. Ranabir Chakrabarti (JNU),

52. Rajat Datta (JNU),

53. Umesh Ashok Kadam (JNU).