Sahitaya Akademi Award returnees; Intellectuals’ or Fraudsters?


(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)

Is the decision to return of Sahitaya Akademi Awards by few recipients justified?  Or committing  truly intellectual fraud?

By the time this report appears, over 20 award winning writers may have returned their awards in protest against the organizations silence on the recent killing of a man in Dadri over cow slaughter rumor and the murder of rationalists MM Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar.

Hindi writer Uday Prakash first did so last month over the killing of Kalburgi. Also, Kannada author Aravind Malagatti submitted his resignation from the Akademi’s General Council followed by Shashi Deshpande, Ganesh Davy and Nayantara Sahgal, niece of Nehru, and Ashok Vajpeyi.

Hindi poets Mangalesh Dabral and Rajesh Joshi; Vadodara-based Ganesh Devy; Konkani writer N Shivdas; Kannada writer Kum Veerabhadrappa; and Gurbachan Singh Bhullar, Ajmer Singh Aulakh, Atamjit Singh and Waryam Singh Sandhu from Punjab.

All of them claim their resignation to be “an expression of solidarity with several eminent writers who have recently returned their awards to highlight their anxiety over the shrinking space for free expression and growing intolerance towards difference of opinion”. “We clearly see a threat to our democracy, secularism and freedom”. Few among them believe that “whatever is happening in the country is really painful”.

In the past, left leaning writers eulogizing Congress Party leadership were dictating terms in the field of literature and culture. Quite a few among them adopted muted or silent mode when emergency was imposed or when Operation Blue star or mass massacre of Sikhs in national capital after prime minister Indira Gandhi’s killing.  Where were they and why didn’t take such a decision then?  Weren’t such incidents took place in the past?  Is it a new phenomenon that they discovered now?

Crying foul or hoarse now over the right wing elements dictating terms in the field of literature and culture is nothing but their dishonesty.  It also exposes how deeply biased they are against the majority in the country only to get some cheap and unworthy publicity.

Not only author Nayantara Sahgal, daughter of Vijayalakshmi Pandit and niece of Nehru, has returned her award, but also sent a cheque of Rs. One lakh rupees representing the current value of Rs.25,000/- given in 1986 and the profits made from time to time. Whom is she trying to fool?  Can there be any bigger fraud than this?

If genuinely, she wants to repay the award money alone, forgetting profits, she needs to return minimum Rs. 12-15 lakhs based on the criteria of doubling every five years.

Writers and authors are no angels devoid of feeling and attachments. If anyone thinks so, they are living in fool’s paradise.  None of them command any more respect in the present competitive world.  They too are biased in their writings twisting facts to please the section they chose to satisfy.

If a few of them among over 1200 awardees consider that freedom and democracy stands threatened today, they are blatantly spreading falsehood.

Think of it, there is no surfeit of freedom of expression without responsibility and accountability on grand display day in and day out on the visual media channels. Anyone can say anything and get away with it.

Writers must take a look into the social media or the comments made on news articles published in print media.

Instead of gaining sympathy and support, majority of them include aspersions on the motives behind the return of awards.

If the writers care to look around them only, they can experience it by themselves.  All those returning the awards are up in arms against their President for his “silence”.

Rationalist writers may lay claims to par excellent intellectualism.  But, their failure to realize that India is a nation with majority believing in religion and thousands of Gods to bale themselves out of their misery and uncertainty is really baffling.

Rationalists too must be sensitive to such an environment.  Otherwise, they are to be blamed for their own intellectual moorings.

Some in the social media have questioned the credentials of those who have returned their awards as left leaning writers who were the admirers of Congress Party. Others have even pointed their communal origins.

Of utmost relevance is few among them have questioned the wisdom or relevance of continuing with the institution of Sahitya Akademi to promote literature and culture.

To recount, the Sahitya Akademi was formally inaugurated by the Government of India on 12 March 1954. Its role is to work actively for the development of Indian letters and to set high literary standards, to foster and co-ordinate literary activities in all the Indian languages and to promote through them all the cultural unity of the country.

From Rs.5,000/- award money in 1955, the amount has been increased to Rs.1,00,000/- as on date. Writers of all languages are eligible for the award. Also, “Fellowships”, which are more remunerative, are given to their followers.  Finally, they lavishly foot the bill annually for organizing the ‘Award” presentation ceremony.

Is it fair to burden the taxpayer with such lavish expenditure for a purpose which has lost its relevance in the “globalized” world of today inhabited by “Netizens”.

Be that as it may, the Sahitya Akademi has failed to promote cultural unity. Tolerance, many invoke, as India’s historically inherited cultural heritage, which is also quite controversial. In the past, there had been outrageous communal carnage perpetrated in times of Aurangazeb or by Ghori and Ghazni raiders.

None can deny that promotion of cultural unity is of paramount importance to consolidate national unity and integration. But, it is only possible if there is political unity at the end of the elections.  In the ongoing highly cantankerous and adversarial politics, before and after elections and in the parliamentary forums, cultural unity per se cannot be promoted in isolation. In sum, cultural unity remains a mirage; the closer one seems to get to it, the farther away the image drifts.

“Information revolution and Instant coverage” is rapidly altering the ways people look and think.  No more the youth has time to read books preoccupied with TVs and Ipods. They want instant knowledge power; not laborious reading.

Today’s youth has little time to read books and imbibe true values promoting cultural unity. They are living and groomed in an atmosphere of “cut throat competition” and “jumping the queue” in a no holds barred manner.

The emerging environment is strewn with many challenges due to dynamic social, political and economic changes. Writers must be sensitive and positive in covering events and show the path for promotion and consolidation of cultural unity through literature.

Even all religions too represent many strands of opinions. Both intra and inter religious contradictions and controversies exist. India is sitting on religious ‘tinder box’ out to explode at any time with horrendous fallout.

Rationalists and writers must, therefore, avoid traversing the negative path if they want to remain relevant in the emerging India. If any, they may advise and guide political leaders and parties to follow the path of non-violence which is also a myth as mankind’s history abundantly reflects.