“I am more afraid today than I was during the emergency because now there are roving gangs looking to do violence against anyone who speaks out. If you don’t believe in armed struggle, then what do you do? This is what we have. We want to be a part of the awakening that is happening around the country, like the scientists and artists and writers returning their awards,” said eminent documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan on Wednesday while returning his National Award along with 9 others, including Dibakar Banerjee, Nishtha Jain and Rakesh Sharma.
Expressing solidarity with the FTII students who ended their 139 day strike on Wednesday, the filmmakers, in a joint statement, said that they see the ‘government’s stonewalling of the FTII students’ protest’ within a larger context of appointments of ‘people with narrow visions’ in other institutions such as the Children’s Film Society and Central Board of Film certification. They also said, “we stand firmly with the students of FTII and are determined to not let them shoulder the entire burden of their protests. They have mounted a historic struggle and we urge others within our fraternity to come forward.”
Citing the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq and the murders of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M M Kaburgi, the group voiced concern over the rising intolerance in the country. “People are being murdered for their beliefs and opinions. There has been no official condemnation of these groups (by the government) and we question this silence.”
Speaking at the press conference, Nishtha Jain, whose documentary Gulabi Gang was judged the best film on social issues at the 61st National Awards in 2014, said, “With much sadness I give up my only national award. It has meant a lot to me as it helped to gain recognition for my film Gulabi Gang and the issues it raised about gender discrimination in our country. But today this award has become a daily reminder of the the gap between the way the state looks at us as filmmakers and how they treat us as citizens who dare to dissent.” Dibakar Banerjee added, “This is not politically motivated. It is motivated by my conscience. I am not here out of anger or outrage. Those emotions have been exhausted. I am here to draw attention. Returning my national award for Khosla Ka Ghosla is not easy. It was my first film, and for many, my most loved. I am here to draw attention of the people.” He went on to add, the FTII students are asking for the right shikshparampara. They are not asking for money or more equipment or less exams or quotas or privileges. Why should they suffer months of indecision, stress and harassment to go through this?”
Commenting on the decision by the FTII students to return to classes, Banerjee said, “What more do you expect the students to do? They didn’t burn buses to register their protest. The student union has two duties – to fight for students rights and to make sure that the student community does not suffer. They have been extremely mature.” The group stressed that their appeal is to the people and not the government.
The filmmakers join a growing cohort of intellectuals expressing concern over the rise of intolerance in the country. The first were writers who began returning their Sahitya Akademi Awards in early September following the cold blooded execution, at his home, of 77 year old rationalist, scholar and Kannada writer, M M Kalburgi. Himself a Sahitya Akademi award winner, Dr Kalburgi’s murder formed a pattern of killings; those of Govind Pansare in February 2015 and that of Narendra Dabholkar in August 2014. Common to all of these murders, apart from their premeditated nature, was the fact that all three victims were noted rationalists and scholars, who had attracted the ire of right wing Hindu groups. The writers began returning their awards in protest of the Akademi’s silence in the face of these killings.
The FTII strike began on June 11, following the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan, as the Chairperson of the institute, and four others nominations made to the eight member FTII society, that has much say in the running of the institute. The appointments surprised many in the film fraternity since the people selected to head the premier film institute are virtual unknowns in the film fraternity. Common however to all the appointments are right wing political affiliations. The students have since questioned the process by which these appointments were made and demanded that all future processes be made transparent. The strike lasted a total of 139 days ending on Wednesday despite no resolution to the crisis.
Government of India must urgently reveal its committment to protect the freedom of expression of each citizen.
We, the undersigned, stand alongside the writers who have returned the country’s highest literary honour, and hereby return our National Awards.
As filmmakers, we stand firmly with the students of FTII and are determined not to let them shoulder the entire burden of the protests. They have mounted a historic struggle and we urge others within our fraternity to come forward and carry this protest forward.
Khosla Ka Ghosla (2007)
Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye (2009)
Bombay Our City (1984)
Gulaabi Gang (2014)
Lost & Found (2008)
Sham’s Vision (1997)
Final Solution (2006)
Aamar Katha, Story of Binodhini (2014)
Lipika Singh Darai
Eka Gachha Eka Mainsha Eka Samudra (a tree a man a sea) (2012)
Kankee O Saapo (dragonfly and snake) (2013)
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