Friday, November 6, 2015

Shillong director Tarun Bhartiya returns award

Andrew W. Lyngdoh
Shillong, Nov. 5: Shillong-based filmmaker Tarun Bhartiya, today joined the ranks of authors and filmmakers to oppose the alleged growing "intolerance" in the country by returning his national award.
Bhartiya, in a letter to President Pranab Mukherjee, outlined the reasons that made him return the national award for best editor (non-fiction) for In Camera - Diaries of a Documentary Cameraman.
"Today, I wish to return my national award in protest against the dark times this country is being made to go through. Times are truly dark and one must be honest to say this darkness was in the making for long: it has not descended suddenly upon us. There was unease in me even when I took the award - the Rajat Kamal - in 2009. There was enough to cry about even then," the filmmaker stated in the letter.
He claimed that his "unease has grown" and examples of the 90-year-old Krishna Sobti, for instance, returning their awards, "gives me a feeling that I don't need to keep mine either".
Bhartiya also pointed out that the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the Gujarat genocide were not the only sores that plague the country.
"In Kashmir, the bullets never stop. The Northeast, too, is an army zone with the draconian AFSPA; the State is waging a war against the people in Chhattisgarh. The everyday assault on democratic rights and people's livelihoods, the theft of their resources, the unrelenting violence on Muslims, Dalits, Christians are instances of a process by which the republic is redefining itself. One cannot escape the realisation that one is part of a nation-state that has turned against its own people, and is now rapidly moving to become a Hindutva Reich," Bhartiya stated.
He claimed that these are not "aberrations" of Indian democracy, but are being "institutionalised" into a vision of India supping from the chalice of majoritarian views and opinions.
As a political filmmaker, he said he could be blamed for "waking up too late to these times".
"Perhaps, I was naïve to think that the kinds of film I make, edit, shoot, or direct and the nature of the dissenting politics I have been actively involved in are challenges enough to the nationalist consensus of this and previous governments. This can no longer be an excuse to hold on to a recognition from the Indian state which on a daily basis makes it clear that dissenting ideas, politics, lifestyles, food choices, choices of whom to love, how to be, will have to be forcibly marshalled into a narrow mainstream.
"I refuse to be part of any mainstream identity," Bhartiya added in the letter.
Bhartiya narrated the story of Spelity Lyngdoh Langrin, a 90-year-old woman living at uranium deposit-rich Domiasiat in Meghalaya's West Khasi Hills.
"Domiasiat sits atop India's largest uranium deposits which the Indian state covets. Spelity, for many years, refused to move away from her land to allow the Indian state to mine the uranium because she experienced the radioactive pollution created by test mining in the village. She has been offered millions of rupees in lease fees by UCIL, but she is happy in her hamlet," the filmmaker said.
Stating that he has been doing a documentary on uranium mining issues in Meghalaya, he said that when Spelity was asked why she doesn't give up her land for modern comforts, "She looked at me and smiled, 'Give up my freedom? Can money buy me the freedom which this land gives?'" he added.
On this note, he told the President, "I want to have my freedom back, unencumbered by any recognition from the Indian state."
Interacting with reporters, Bhartiya claimed that the alleged "intolerance" is "getting state sanction".
While stating that "intolerance" is inherent in people, he said it became dangerous when sanctioned by the state.
He also claimed that one of the reasons why he decided to return the award was that the Indian state was being "refashioned" into a "Hindutva state".
"This is not the India which our ancestors fought for. India was supposed to be plural, democratic and secular. If they are going to transform India into a Hindu India, then that is not the India I want to be part of. The intolerance is getting state sanction," the filmmaker said.
"In Kashmir and the Northeast, whether BJP or Congress come to power, both are going to be treated the same. AFSPA is going to remain. In that sense, this darkness was in the making for some time," he added.
Stating that artists cannot but be affected by what is happening, Bhartiya said, "If I choose to look away, I would be participating in that intolerance. Now is the time to speak up."
However, he agreed that returning of awards was not the solution. But it is a symptom of a certain kind of protest, he added.
"Internationally, India is being seen for what it is. It is not being seen for development. It is being seen for the intolerance this government is creating. People like Anupam Kher, Chetan Bhagat are worried. They realise that you can no longer hide intolerance by rhetoric of meeting Mark Zuckerberg. You cannot hide reality with public relations. Finally, reality has to come through," Bhartiya said.
On the solution to the alleged "intolerance", he said a public outcry against these cases of intolerance should be created. "People should not keep quiet. If people start speaking, which they have, even the government is forced to take note."

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