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 who 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 Hasan Manto wrote in his “Letters 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.
Postscript: For the record, 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.
- Arundhati Roy, activist, writer and winner of the Man Booker Prize for her novel “The God of Small Things.”