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Film artists and intellectuals march to Rashtrapati Bhavan, decry charges of India becoming intolerant

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New Delhi, 7 November: A large number of filmmakes, intellectuals and artists led by vetran actor Anupam Kher ? who had earlier questioned the logic of returning awards ? today marched in Rajpath to Rashtrapati Bhavan to counter the protests by those who have been alleging "rising intolerance".

Kher said the "award-wapsi" campaign was to defame the country by projecting a "wrong" picture of the situation.

A small delegation which also included Madhur Bhandarkar and some others presented a memorandum in this regard at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also meeting a small delegation this evening from amongst those who came for the march.

"India is a very tolerant country. Some people have coined the term 'growing intolerance'. They are very few. Not every Indian thinks like that. We are secular people. We do not believe in pseudo-secularism, selective outrage or selective patriotism," Kher, whose wife Kirron is a Bharatiya Janata Party member of Parliament. 

"We had a meeting with a lot of writers, artistes, filmmakers and they also believe that there is no intolerance in the country... This march is a symbolic gesture on part of a lot of people over here who say India is one and free of intolerance," the 60-year-old said.

Many filmmakers and artistes from the fraternity including Madhur Bhandarkar, Ashoke Pandit, Priyadarshan, Manoj Joshi, Abhijeet Bhattacharya, actor-director Bijoya Jena and writer Madhu Kishwar joined the march to hand over a memorandum signed by more than 40 personalities including actress Raveena Tandon.

Bhandarkar, a National Award winner, alleged that those involved in the protest over intolerance had opposed Prime Minister Narendra Modi before he was elected, which raised questions about their intention.

Kher asserted that they were not associated with any organisation or political party. "This march is led by Indians and for Indians."

Film-maker Priyadarshan said the act of returning the awards is "childish". He said these people should use the power of pen. Instances of intolerance have always been there. It is not something that happened yesterday. 

Shah Rukh Khan never said he is returning his award, Priyadarshan said, but he said he disapproved of those critical of Khan who had said that there was extreme intolerance in the country.

The march also saw some disgruntled voices. Some National Award winning filmmakers and actresses who did not want to be named told indiantelevision.com that tjey felt let down because it was initially meant to be a march of ntellectual National Award Winners and not an Anupam Kher march.

At least 75 members of the intelligentsia have returned national or literary awards in an escalation of protests by writers, historians, filmmakers and scientists over "growing intolerance", voicing fears that the country's robust democracy might be "coming apart" in the current atmosphere.

The BJP-led government has dismissed the protest as "manufactured rebellion" and "politically" motivated.

"Nobody has the right to call our country intolerant. We are secular people and don't believe in selective outrage," Mr Kher said this morning. "I have right to go to the President and say that we don't feel India is intolerant. These talks can't happen only on twitter/ Facebook, they need a personal presence," the actor has said.

The march follows the decision of a host of filmmakers, including Dibakar Banerjee and Anand Patwardhan, as well as writers and historians to raise voice against the rising intolerance under the BJP-led government and to return various government awards and honors. 

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