Amid protests and slogan-shouting ABVP activists, author-activist Arundhati Roy on Saturday received Mahatma Phule Samata Puraskar at a function held at Mahatma Phule Peth in the city to mark the 125th death anniversary of social reformer Mahatma Jotiba Phule on November 28.
After receiving the award, Roy slammed the “atmosphere of intolerance” prevailing in the country. “The situation in the country is such that the word intolerance is not sufficient to describe it,” she said.
Roy said though she had recently returned her award (National award for Best Screenplay 1989) in protest against the “atmosphere of intolerance”, she was happy to receive Mahatma Phule Samata Puraskar, which is given by Akhil Bhartiya Mahatma Phule Samata Parishad (ABMPSP) founded by senior NCP leader and former minister Chhagan Bhujbal.
While Roy was being given the award by Bhujbal, ABVP activists gathered at the venue began shouting slogans claiming that she had been taking an “anti-India” stand and making statements against the Indian Armed forces and so she should not be given the prestigious award.
Even as police rushed to restrain the protesters, supporters of Bhujbal thrashed a few of them. Police eventually controlled the situation, detaining some of the protesters at the Khadak police station. They were later released.
Undeterred, Roy delivered her speech and said the ABVP protest was also like an award to her as she has been working against such forces. “It is not secure for writers like us. There are chances of getting attacked… The situation in the country is such that even the word intolerance is not sufficient to describe it,” she said.
In her speech, Roy also talked about issues ranging from “ghar wapasi” to the use of armed forces against people in the North-East and Chhattishgarh and other parts of the country, who she said were mainly Muslims, Dalits and tribals.
Pradeep Gavade, who heads the Pune unit of ABVP, said, “It is wrong to drag every action into the intolerance debate. We respect the ABMPSP and the award given in the name of Mahatma Phule. They have given awards to activists like Baba Adhav and writer Bhalchandra Nemade, who later got the prestigious Jnanapeeth award. We always congratulated them. But when we got to know that Arundhati Roy had been nominated this year, we decided to protest. We called ABMPSP members, sent emails to them to protest. But they decided to go ahead and award Roy, who is known for her statements against the Army. She has been taking in favour of Kashmiri separatists and Maoists. She has written against Dr Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi. She opposed terrorist Afzal Guru’s hanging. An offence of sedition was also registered against her in 2010. So, we believe giving her the award is an insult to Mahatma Phule, who is a national hero.”
As per programme, the award was to be given by NCP chief Sharad Pawar, but he failed to turn up. Other invitees, among them BJP and Shiv Sena leaders, including Pune’s Guardian Minister Girish Bapat (BJP) also did not turn up.
Krushnakant Kudale, executive president of ABMPSP, said Sharad Pawar could not make it as he was in Mumbai and was busy with interviews for his birthday on December 12.
“BJP and Shiv Sena leaders had agreed to come. Hence, we displayed their names and photographs on cards. But they remained absent because of the protest planned by the ABVP, which is affiliated to them,” said Kudale.
In his speech, Bhujbal said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has failed to silence those who are making controversial statements. If we make any wrong statements, we get a call from our leader Sharad Pawar in few hours asking us to apologise. But Modi has not done it. What the prime minister talks about tolerance is not seen in action of his workers. We knew ABVP was going to protest. This is not the way. They should have protested in a proper manner in written. The programme is not about Arundhati Roy. It is about remembering Mahatma Phule. Arundhati Roy has made the country proud by being the first Indian woman to win the prestigious Booker Award for her book God of Small Things. She may have different views on some issues. But she should be allowed to talk about it.”