Return of awards triggered a debate on intolerance: President

New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee has said that the return of awards by writers and intellectuals was “evidently spontaneous” and a way of protest that has triggered a nation-wide debate on the issue of intolerance, a release issued on Thursday by a group of intellectuals has claimed.

A three-member delegation comprising Ashok Vajpeyi (poet), Vivan Sundaram (painter) and Om Thanvi (journalist) had called on the President yesterday and submitted a memorandum on behalf of writers, artists, scientists and academics.

They sought his intervention to persuade the Central and state governments to ensure tolerance, freedom of expression and mutual cooperation, the release said.

“The President expressed the view that ‘award-vapasi’ is a way of protest and it has been evidently spontaneous. He feels that the reason India has survived, though many more ancient civilisations have disappeared, is due to its pluralism over millenia.

“The recent protests by writers, artists, scientists and academics have made the issue of intolerance a matter of nation-wide debate,” the President was quoted as having told the three-member delegation.

The delegation thanked the President for speaking repeatedly against growing intolerance and also requested him ‘as the head of the nation’ to do all that is possible to advise and persuade states and central governments, political parties and all others to act decisively to end the incidents of intolerance.

They should ensure that the ethos of tolerance, mutual cooperation, respect for plurality and difference, scope for dissent and dialogue, freedom of expression are all ensured and given full and free expression both in deeds and words, the release said.

The delegation also submitted a memorandum adopted at a convention ‘Pratirodh’ on November one by various intellectuals to the President.

The memorandum said that they were “deeply disturbed” by the growing trends of violence, intolerance, undermining of the age-long plurality of faiths, belief, value, viewpoint and the “almost daily assault on amity and mutual trust.”

“We believe that at this juncture of our democratic existence and growth, there is, unfortunately, increasing evidence of emergence of an ethos of bans and disruptions, physical assault and suppression of dissent and difference,” it said.

The said that the Indian tradition, democratic polity and its complex social structure has been sustained and nourished by an innate and deeply rooted sense of multiplicity, mutual respect and trust amongst communities and values of cooperation, social amity and harmony.

“We are witnessing a socio-political climate in which minorities, whether of faith, belief, opinion or ideas, are feeling threatened. We see that voices of dissent and differences are being increasingly subjected to unethical attacks, character assassinations, mud slinging etc.

“We also watch that some of the most important national institutions of culture and education are being meddled with, their stature and vision being systematically diluted and devalued,” they said, adding that they were “forced” to conclude that the “liberal space, both of thought and action is fast shrinking.”

“We request the President of India that as the constitutional head he should direct and suitably advise the Governments to act decisively and ensure freedom of life, faith and expression,” it said.