Renowned actor and activist Girish Karnad passed away on Monday after a long illness. According to his family, he died at a hospital in Bengaluru at 6.30 am. Girish Karnad followed the leftist ideology and fought against many atrocities recently. He led the protests after the murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh. He had said that the right wing did not have the intellectual calibre of the left. He was also known as a writer, film director, and playwright. His contribution to Kannada playwriting parallels that of Mohan Rakesh in Hindi, Vijay Tendulkar in Marathi, and Badal Sarkar in Bengali.
Social Activist Medha Patkar told Afternoon Voice, “After the murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh, I also participated with him in the protest. He was a supporter of the Narmada movement. Girish Karnad was very a progressive and sincere actor and writer. Karnad was fearless and his entire life was full of social commitment. He was kind to all those who face discrimination. He was against all dividing forces. It was Arundhati Roy who introduced him to me. Girish Karnad was very firm on his remarks and values, and he was committed to humanitarian values.”
Girish Karnad was born on May 19, 1938, in Matheran, Maharashtra, in a Konkani-speaking family. Girish Karnad graduated from Karnataka University in Dharwar in 1958. After this, he went to England as a Rhodes Scholar, where he received a Master’s degree in Philosophy, Political Science, and Economics from Lincoln and Magdalen College of Oxford. He had also been a Visiting Professor at Fulbright College, University of Chicago.
Social activist and CPI (M) leader Ajit Abhyankar said, “Girish Karnad was a very progressive theatre personality and art person. His contribution to the progressive movement in the field of art is very valuable and enormous.”
Karnad was a strong critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and was among the more than 200 writers who had signed a letter ahead of the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls appealing people to vote BJP and its allies out of power. He said that the ideas of India and its Constitution were under threat. He was a voice that championed the freedom of expression, used his stature to stand and fight for what he believed in despite failing health and numerous threats to his life. In September 2018, Girish Karnad carried a placard that read ‘Me Too Urban Naxal’ at an event organised to mark the first death anniversary of Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru. With a tube in his nose, Girish wore the placard around his neck. Speaking to the gathering on the first death anniversary of Gauri Lankesh, Girish Karnad had spoken up against the house arrests of activists in the entire country.
Renowned author Sadanand More said, “I met Girish Karnad in Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan (in 1997) in Ahmadnagar. He was the Guest of Honour. He was a very excellent human being. He inspired the young generation by his exemplary deeds.”
Girish Karnad had once said, “What is horrifying now is not what the Naxals or terrorists are doing but what the police are saying. The accusations against rationalists are complete hogwash. It is not a rational talk. It’s scary because they believe they can do what they want. Someone in Pune is investigating the case and someone in Delhi is directing them. This is grim. If speaking up means being a Naxal then I am an Urban Naxal. I am proud to be a part of the hit list.”
Comparing Congress and BJP-led governments, Karnad had said in 2018, “When we spoke about politics we used to speak of Lanchavatara (corruption’s dance) and now we are talking about Lynch-avatara (dance of lynchings).” He had said this while participating in a memorial session to mark the first anniversary of the death of Gauri Lankesh.
In response to his utterances at the function, an FIR was lodged against Karnad. The right-wing identified the veteran actor as an ‘urban Naxal’ following the event. NP Amruthesh, a member of the Hindu Vidhidnya Parishat, had complained in the FIR that Karnad had Maoist links.
Even liberals questioned him when he blasted VS Naipaul for the latter’s antipathy towards Indian Muslims at the Tata Literary Festival in 2012. Subsequently, he called Rabindranath Tagore a second-rate playwright and said that Gurudev’s plays were unbearable.
His plays, written in Kannada, have been translated into English and several Indian languages. Karnad was one of the most prominent artistic voices of his generation. He was an eminent playwright with works such as “Nagmandala”, “Yayati” and “Tughlaq”. He was part of the parallel film movement and acted in movies such as “Swami”, and “Nishant”. His TV credits include “Malgudi Days” in which he played Swami’s father and a hosting stint in the science magazine “Turning Point” on Doordarshan in the early 1990s. Girish Karnad was last seen by Hindi film viewers in Salman Khan’s film Ek Tha Tiger and its sequel Tiger Zinda Hai. Eminent directors including Ibrahim Alkazi, Prasanna, Arvind Gaud, and BV Karant had directed plays and films featuring Karnad. The Indian performing arts industry mourned the death.