Writer, activist Arundhati Roy to return National Award; says India witnessing new ‘political movement’

New Delhi: Acclaimed writer and political activist Arundhati Roy seems to be the latest in a long line of intellectuals who have decided to return their awards to the government in the face of ‘growing intolerance’ in India.

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy has announced her decision via an article in the Indian Express. In the article, Roy says that “Although I do not believe that awards are a measure of the work we do, I would like to add the National Award for Best Screenplay that I won in 1989 to the growing pile of returned awards”.

She then explains her decision, claiming that “‘intolerance’ is the wrong word to use for the lynching, shooting, burning and mass murder of fellow human beings.”

Roy goes on to blame the very fact that the Modi government was voted to power in May last year, stating that ‘we had plenty of advance notice of what lay in store for us’. Then, perhaps exaggerating the problem, she says, “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.”

Arundhati then makes some reasonable points about how the focus of the right wing seems to be on ‘illegal slaughter of cows’ rather than the people who have been killed by mobs. “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”, she adds, bringing up the bizarre actions of the police in sending the meat for forensic examination.

Roy concludes that she is ‘pleased to find a National Award I can return’, and join the ‘political movement’ initiated by writers, intellectuals and filmstars. She calls their actions ‘unprecedented’, and ends by clarifying that “I turned down the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2005 when the Congress was in power. So please spare me that old Congress-versus-BJP debate. It has gone way beyond all that. Thanks.”