PM Bhargava: India scientist to return award in protest at 'intolerance'

PM Bhargava
Image caption PM Bhargava says religious beliefs are personal choices and must remain that

One of India's top scientists has said he will return a prestigious government award to protest against the "growing intolerance in the country".

PM Bhargava said he would meet the home secretary and return the Padma Bhushan he was awarded in 1986.

On Wednesday, a group of 10 filmmakers returned their national awards in protest at what they called a rising climate of intolerance.

Several writers have also returned awards in protest in recent weeks.

They point to the killings of rationalists such as Malleshappa Kalburgi and Govind Pansare this year as evidence that there is a growing assault on free speech in India.

Many are also anguished over the lynching of a 50-year-old Muslim man in northern India by a mob allegedly over rumours that his family had been storing and consuming beef at home.

Critics of India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government say it has not done enough to counter extremists and protect freedom of expression.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The killing of scholar and writer Malleshappa Kalburgi is cited by those saying freedom of speech is under threat in India (file image)

On Thursday, announcing his decision to return the Padma Bhushan, Mr Bhargava, founder-director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad, said religious beliefs were personal choices and should not interfere in politics.

"This award was very dear to me, I've received over 100 awards but this is the only one I received from the government, but I'm giving it away without any hesitation because at this moment the climate is such that we have many concerns," he told BBC Hindi.

"The government is moving away from the path of democracy and moving on a path of religion and making the country into a Hindu religious autocracy.

"Our constitution demands that we possess scientific temper and a commitment to reason, but our government is now moving away from scientific temper and reason," he added.

Mr Bhargava, who is also a recipient of the French Legion of Honour, is the latest addition to the long list of filmmakers and authors who have returned official awards in recent weeks.

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