Politics by Other Means: Why I Am Returning My Award

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The Indian Express (India)

Politics by Other Means: Why I Am Returning My Award

Arundhati Roy in 2011. (Photo: Francesco Alesi)

Although I do not believe that awards are a measure of the work we do, I would like to add the National Award for the Best Screenplay that I won in 1989 to the growing pile of returned awards. Also, I want to make it clear that I am not returning this award because I am “shocked” by what is being called the “growing intolerance” being fostered by the present government.

First of all, “intolerance” is the wrong word to use for the lynching, shooting, burning, and mass murder of fellow human beings. Second, we had plenty of advance notice of what lay in store for us — so I cannot claim to be shocked by what has happened after this government was enthusiastically voted into office with an overwhelming majority*. Third, these horrific murders are only a symptom of a deeper malaise. Life is hell for the living too. Whole populations — millions of Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, and Christians — are being forced to live in terror, unsure of when and from where the assault will come.

Today we live in a country in which, when the thugs and apparatchiks of the New Order talk of “illegal slaughter” they mean the imaginary cow that was killed — not the real man that was murdered. When they talk of taking “evidence for forensic examination” from the scene of the crime, they mean the food in the fridge, not the body of the lynched man.

We say we have “progressed” — but when Dalits are butchered and their children burned alive, which writer today can freely say, like Babasaheb Ambedkar once did, that “To the Untouchables, Hinduism is a veritable chamber of horrors,” without getting attacked, lynched, shot, or jailed? Which writer can write what Saadat Hassan Manto wrote in his “Letter to Uncle Sam”?

It doesn’t matter whether we agree or disagree with what is being said. If we do not have the right to speak freely we will turn into a society that suffers from intellectual malnutrition, a nation of fools. Across the subcontinent it has become a race to the bottom — one that the New India has enthusiastically joined. Here too now, censorship has been outsourced to the mob.

I am very pleased to have found (from somewhere way back in my past) a National Award that I can return, because it allows me to be a part of a political movement initiated by writers, filmmakers, and academics in this country who have risen up 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 do not stand up to it now.

I believe what artists and intellectuals are doing right now is unprecedented and does not have a historical parallel. It is politics by other means. I am so proud to be part of it. And so ashamed of what is going on in this country today.

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy was born in 1959 in Shillong, India. She studied architecture in New Delhi, where she now lives, and has worked as a film designer, actor, and screenplay writer in India. Her latest book, Listening to Grasshoppers: Fields Notes on Democracy, is a collection of recent essays. A tenth anniversary edition of her novel, The God of Small Things (Random House), for which she received the 1997 Booker Prize, was recently released. She is also the author of numerous nonfiction titles, including An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire.

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