Insulting the Institution

Avanti Sopory
I am an apolitical person and do not align myself with any political party or theory. Any political establishment which works for the growth and development of India has my appreciation and support. But what triggered me to write this piece was this comment by Taslima Nasreen in the Hindustan Times newspaper dated 19th October 2015 and I quote “There is nothing wrong with it (writers returning their awards)… most writers were banned when my book was banned in West Bengal, when five fatwas were issued against me in India, when I was thrown out of West Bengal…and was forced to leave India…not only were they silent, famous writers appealed to the then West Bengal CM to ban my book”.
Informed, as we all would be about the recent spate of returning awards and appreciation by many authors and writers from the elitist literary academy of India; I fiddle in my ignorance how easy it was for them to return an honour?
Sahitya Kala Academy is the largest body formed by the Government of India to recognize and applaud exceptional literary works done by writers, essayist and authors in India. This institution has been celebrating excellent literature since 1954 and has been the epitome of extraordinary reads.  Every upcoming creative mind cherishes to earn an appreciation or a reward from the institution.
In recent past at least 75 writers and artists of different languages from across India have returned their awards as a mark of protest. But what are they protesting against?  George Orwell had written in his essay ‘Shooting an Elephant’: a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes’.  As one reads deep into the plot of these “award surrenders” their reason becomes clear but vague – they want the Academy to speak against the misruling of the existing Government with respect to creative autonomy. These creative geniuse’s think that their creative freedom is getting strangled. On closer observations the reasons that these grieving authors have given has left me with a bad after taste. Really? Can the literary glitterati of India be so selfish and think only when their counterparts and peers are in trouble?  Are they living in an India where the regular woes and worries don’t bother them or are they insulated against all the societal disorders? Why didn’t they express such camaraderie in remonstration when many burning issues where blemishing the image of India across the world.
My next question to them is about the timing of the complaint.  Why does it look planned and fabricated? Everyone is following a herd mentality and returning their rewards in no time. Why didn’t anyone from their fraternity react when in the past there were incidences of social unrest in the country?  My opponents may defy and say that after General Dyer’s ruthless killing of people in the enclosed Jallianwala Bagh, the great poet, Mr Tagore returned his Knighthood and even Mahatma Gandhi did not keep the Kaier-i-Hind medal.  The honours to these illustrious personalities were given to them by the British Government.  But the difference here is that Mr Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi rose against atrocious foreign rulers who had forcefully turned India into their colony.
Haven’t they insulted the very existence of the institution by disrespecting the judgment and the credentials of the selectors?  The establishment is not run by a militia but it holds foot because of the creative minds. Aren’t the authors and writers who have returned their awards aware that by doing so they have disrespected their own Academy seniors?
Another question that is bubbling in my mind is why didn’t anyone stand with late Khushwant Singh when he returned his Sahitya Academy award when he was upset over the bullets and weapons barging into the holy shrine during the Operation Blue Star?  No one from the literary faculty showed any sympathy in the late author’s actions as they are doing now by standing in solidarity with Nayantara Sahgal.
Their actions only speak of their selfishness; otherwise why didn’t they resent when the Khalistan movement was at its prime, when there is unrest in the North-East, when millions are getting plundered through  various scams, when the institution of Democracy the Parliament house was attacked, when Mumbai was burning in 1992 and 2008, when there was selective culling in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and 4 lakh minorities were displaced from their homeland, when mafia is spreading across the country like a termite, when the Parliamentarians are wasting  time and money during the  sessions, when minors as young as two years are getting raped in the capital of the nation. Why didn’t they speak for Nirbhaya, when even the world media made a documentary film on the incidence?
Since the times of Kings and Kingdoms; authors, poets, lyricist and literary giants have been honoured and respected.  Sometimes certain poets or singers would get an edge over the others because of the special status that the King would give to him. The poet or singer reaped the benefits of these special favours and in return praised the King for his good governance through his literary works. But this is history now. In a transparent and democratic set-up, personal favours don’t work but excellent work does.
I don’t dispute their freedom to express but I disagree with their partial attitude. It is a pity that they thought to express their anger in this form and on an issue of their choice. If the custodians of liberated creativity are choosy about the issues that they think are hampering the sentiments of the nation, then I seriously think that they all should do some major brain storming.