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Theatre Artist Raghunandana Turns Down Sangeet Natak Akademi Award To Protest Lynchings

Acclaimed theatre artist, S Raghunandana has declined the Sangeet Natak Akademi award for 2018, in protest against incidents of “mob lynching in the name of God and religion” and the frequent attempts to stifle dissenting views of public intellectuals and activists.

The Sangeet Natak Akademi is the national level academy for performing arts set up by the Government of India.

“The Sangeet Natak Akademi is an autonomous institution and has been, on the whole, upholding its principles of autonomy through the years,” the director said, thanking it for giving him the award. “However, today there is mob lynching and violence in the name of God and religion, and even in the matter of what one eats. The powers-that-be are directly, or indirectly, responsible for these deadly acts of murder and violence.”

Raghunandana said the hate campaign “uses all means, including those offered by internet technology, to fulfil its unholy aims”. He claimed that an attempt was being made to establish systems that “will teach lessons of hate and irrationality to students everywhere, from those in institutions of the highest education to those in schools and colleges”.

The director alleged the country’s rulers had decided to silence the poor and the powerless by throttling the voices of conscientious intellectuals and activists. “This has always been so, regardless of the party, or parties, in power,” he added.

“This is not a protest,” said Raghunandana. “It comes out of despair, a helpless inability to accept the award. I respect the Akademi and all those who have received this award, now and in the past. I thank the members of the Akademi, and apologise.”

Expressed their solidarity with Raghunandana, Writers K Satchidanandan, Keki Daruwalla, Ganesh Devy, Ashok Vajpeyi, Nayantara Sahgal and Githa Hariharan have issued a statement “saluting” this “act of protest”.

Raghunandana won the 2018 Sangeet Natak Akademi award, which carried prize money of Rs 1 lakh, for direction.

Raghunandana’s full statement has been reproduced below.

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The Sangeet Natak Akademi is an autonomous institution and has been, on the whole, upholding its principles of autonomy through the years. I thank the Akademi for giving me, along with others, its award for the year 2018.

However, today there is mob lynching and violence in the name of God and religion, and even in the matter of what one eats. The powers-that-be are directly, or indirectly, responsible for these deadly acts of murder and violence. They are directly, or indirectly, supporting the hate campaign that uses all means, including those offered by internet technology, to fulfil its unholy aims.

An attempt is being made to put in place systems that will teach lessons of hate and irrationality to students everywhere, from those in institutions of the highest education to those in schools and colleges. The very meaning of what it is to be an Indian, and the adage Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, are being distorted, and erased. But, is not hybridity Shivam indeed? Crores of people like me can only lament: Cry, the Beloved Country.

Young people such as Kanhaiya Kumar who should shape the future of India and the world at large are facing charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy. Others – intellectuals and social activists – are facing trial under UAPA. Most of them have not even got bail and are spending time in prison. These are people who have always stood up for the cause of the most exploited and downtrodden of our country and everywhere else.

They have argued on behalf of the exploited in the courts, have written books and articles about their suffering, have guided them to fight non-violently, have always followed the tenets prescribed by the Constitution of India, and have upheld its spirit and values. They have waged their righteous struggle with not a thought for themselves. Yet they are in prison.

Our rulers have decided that the best way to silence the poor and the powerless is to throttle the voices of these conscientious intellectuals and activists. This has always been so, regardless of the party, or parties, in power.

These wonderful men and women, young and old, are our truest patriots. They tread the path of true dharma and uphold its values. They want, work for, and live for nothing but the good of all beings, sentient and non-sentient. I cannot, as a theatre artist, poet and playwright, accept this award when such injustice is being done to these dharmamargis in my country, in the name of my country. My atmasakshi, my antaryami does not permit me to.

This is not a protest. It comes out of despair, a helpless inability to accept the award. I respect the Akademi, and all those who have received this award, now and in the past. I thank the members of the Akademi, and apologise.

May there be Shivakarunya.

Raghunandana

July 17, 2019

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