With J&K State writers like Gulam Nabi Khayal and Marghoob Banihali, joining the bandwagon of over 34 writers of different languages across the country, who have returned their Sahitya Akademi Awards in protest against the so called spread of ‘communal poison’ and ‘rising intolerance’—the award ‘vapsi’ tamasha has literally arrived home. The so-called ‘literary revolt’ by creative writers lapped up by media channels to hold kangaroo courts with self styled jury members comprising of glib spokespersons and ideologues of political parties sharing podium with so-called rationalists, secularists, democrats and right wing fundamentalists and the cultural elite—has raised many questions about the real intention of ‘protest’ by award winning writers.
Since the Kashmiri writer Gulam Nabi Khayal connected his ‘protest’ with delayed government reaction on ‘Dadari lynching incident and Banihali linked his returning of award to attack at Udhampur on a truck driver from Kashmir among other things, the question that arises is that why this sudden stirring of the conscience and why these writers did not raise their voice when in past decades, the aftermath of gruesome acts of violence by extremists against innocent citizens led to large scale massacres and subsequent displacements of communities including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.
Though veteran celebrated Kashmiri writer Akhtar Mohi-ud-din, was the first awardee to return his award, he won in 1958, to protest Maqbool Bhat’s hanging in Tihar in the year 1984. He returned his Padma Shree award later in the wake of violence in 1990s. One is left to wonder, whether the recent ‘protest’ by Khayal and Banihali like other writers in the country is really a case of intellectuals ‘finding’ better late than never much needed strength to voice dissidence against the so-called prevailing political situation that allegedly tends to play havoc with the composite fabric of the country or it is just an act of careerism or simply to hog ‘fifteen minutes of fame’.
In the light of blame game by so-called ‘secularists’ writers who hold responsible the present BJP government for failure in protecting the minorities, one is tempted to place the recent spate of ‘award vapsi’ as a ‘manufactured revolt’ to malign the incumbent government.
As a sheer look at chronological shortlist of places which were subject to communal clashes and killings during ‘secular times’ of Congress led government—such as Turkman Gate, Marichjhapi, Moradabad, Mandai, Nellie, Delhi, Malliana, Hashimpura, Bhagalpur, Gawakadal, Bombay, Bijbehara, Sopore, Godhra, Naroda Patiya—one cannot but see clearly that the ‘secular’ ‘award vapsi’ individual writers are votaries of a particular political ideology who in past never had the conviction as well as gumption to lodge protest.
Darshan Darshi, a Dogri poet and writer and 2006 Sahitya Akademi awardee, warns writers to not to become a fool twice: Firstly by accepting the award and secondly by returning it! Clearing the air about Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, he said the organization is an autonomous body which gives the Sahitya Akademi Award every year to writers who write in 24 different languages it supports. It also provides Sahitya Akademi Fellowship for lifetime achievement.
The award, apart from being the national recognition of a writer/poet for his outstanding contribution to the language and literature to which his book belongs, also helps the winning writers as their award winning books are translated into different Indian languages.
Om Goswami, well known Dogri writer and 1986 Sahitya Akademi awardee, opines that writers are just getting sentimental. “It is an award given by body of writers to other writers in recognition of their contributions in literature”. He further said that writers by nature are humanists who believe in equality and equanimity. “Their views automatically find expression in their works, then what’s the need to trumpeter one’s views in a non-literary fashion when can express his idea in writing”.
Mohan Singh, the celebrated Dogri poet and 1991 Sahitya Akademi awardee said that writers have to be vigilant about happenings in society and it is good that writers are raising their voice against recent incidents but returning Sahitya Akademi awards seems to be a misplaced act. He said unlike J&K State Cultural Academy where Chief Minister is its president and Governor the patron, the Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, is an autonomous literary body and its award is not a government award. If the writers have any grievance with the government they should register their protest by returning awards given by the government like State awards and Padma awards.
Padma Sachdev, well known Dogri poet and second Sahitya Akademi awardee, who got the national honour in 1971 at the thirty of age, said that every day there are many reasons to return one’s awards. But recent spate of award vapsi was a wrong way of lodging one’s dissidence. She asked where these writers were when 1984 riots happened. Why writers are silent now when small girls are being raped on streets and when day in, day out women are being subjected to domestic violence. She said linking Sahitya Akademi awards to with a protest against the government, is belittling one of the nation’s highest literary honours.
Shiv Nirmohi, writer of more than 30 books on various aspects of Jammu’s culture, who has also been bestowed with many national awards, says that such an act by writers smacks of some kind of conspiracy to malign the present government. The writers are towing the line which is often associated with super- intellectual class who thinking themselves to be above everyone including the politicians, take pride in espousing an international outlook and are often dismissive of indigenous cultural moorings. He also blamed media for being biased and becoming mouth pieces of different political ideologies.
Khalid Hussain, acclaimed short story writer of Punjabi and winner of 2104 Punjab Shiromani Sahitya Award, said that writers are erring in connecting Sahitya Akademi Award with politics. Decrying the recent spurt in the acts of intolerance, he said such an atmosphere is instilling fear in minorities. All efforts must be made to curb right wing Hindu fundamentalists from destabilizing the country’s composite fabric. Writers are gifted with the power of pen and they should use it to spread message of amity and tolerance.
Interestingly many Kashmiri award winning writers have also shared in media almost similar view on the award returning acts by writers. As reported in press, M Zaman Azurda, a noted Kashmiri writer who was awarded by the Akademi in 1984, while saying he was he is against the rising communal atmosphere in India, reiterated that if writers oppose the government on different issues the Sahitya Akademi has nothing to do with it. “I say you cannot return the Sahitya Akademi Award on this issue. This is no way to protest. These awards were given by writers. So what is the point of returning these awards to the Government?” he said.
“If writers are returning an award in protest against Kannada writer MM Kalburgi’s killing or against the recent Dadri incident, they should also have protested against the Godhra and Muzzafarnagar riots as well,” he added.
Farooq Nazaki, Who got a Sahitya Akademi award in 1995 for his poetry collection, said that secular forces would always “shine” in a country like India. “It’s a great country with great people; however, there are narrow-minded elements in society who create a communal atmosphere in the country. India is an amalgam of different cultures, races and people. It may look intolerant right now, but it’s great in its values,” he said.
In the words of eminent historian and columnist, Ramachander Guha, if there is one thing that the writers’ revolt has proved it is that freedom of expression in India has never been more robust. But at the same time he blames writers of inconsistency and their recent act as a case of selective outrage.
He further says the writers ‘revolt’ may have gained them more publicity than they had in their literary careers, but the irony is that they have ended up making the Prime Minister look like the victim of an unwarranted and irrational attack. They have also ended up besmirching their own credibility, except in the eyes of foreign correspondents in Delhi and Indian writers who live in New York like Salman Rushdie and Amitav Ghosh.