National awards have always meant a lot to me. They were more precious than International awards and awards from private institutions precisely they represented those rare moments when the Government of India became willing to uphold the spirit of our secular, socialist and democratic Constitution.
Today this spirit is evaporating. Our nation is at a crossroads. On one side is the secular path that our freedom fighters laid out for us and on the other, the path towards majoritarian fascism that the present regime seems bent upon. I am not saying we are already a fascist state. I am saying that the early warning signs are unmistakable.
It is the duty of all thinking citizens to speak out before it becomes too late. Filmmakers are thinking citizens who cannot look away. When the government attempted to foist unqualified saffron administrators on the FTII, students there went on strike. The strike has lasted an unprecedented 4 months. In this period people from all walks of life began to wake up to the unmistakable reality that the India they knew was on a dangerous new path. The killing of rationalists, the hounding of whistleblowers like Teesta Setalvad and Sanjiv Bhatt, the denial of justice to victims of religious pogroms and caste based massacres, the emboldening of the religio-lunatic fringe and the impunity of those who kill or advocate killing in the name of religion is accompanied by the wholesale rewriting of history, the denial of scientific enquiry and the consequent production of a generation of dumbed down consumers for whom having an enemy to hate replaces their thirst for knowledge.
So it is with a heavy heart I am returning my very first National award for “Bombay Our City”. Back in 1985 even as we won this award the homes of people I had filmed were demolished. I did not go to receive the award. Instead Vimal Dinkar Hedau whose home in Bandra had just been demolished went to Delhi to receive this award and distributed leaflets about the cause of the homeless. The prize money went to the slumdwellers movement. Today I am returning the medal.
What do we want from this government? Not much. Just its resignation. Will that happen any time soon? Not likely. What do we want from the people of India? Not much. Just eternal vigilance.