Nagpur: Litterateurs (Sahityakars) including novelists and poets are returning their life-time prestigious Sahitya Akademi Puraskars and other awards in protest against various intolerable incidents, like, social atrocities and annihilation of artists, such as, Kalburgi (killed for condemning idol worship) and other intellectuals, journalists and the whole mankind in general, and more recently the Dadri incident (a blot on humanity divided in communal hatred). There may be innumerable such incidents to cite wherein the humanity has been suffering and being crushed to annihilation.
There have been more than a dozen such litterateurs who have surrendered their awards to the award bestowing agencies. The first to take such a step in the month of October (6th) this year was Nayantara Sahgal (niece of Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India in 70’s). Her step was followed by Ashok Vajpeyi, Sarrah Joseph, Kanti Narayan and others from various quarters of vernacular literatures. It was on Wednesday when the most controversial writer Salman Rushdie too stood for the dissident writers’ stand.
Here, Nobel Prize winner Rabindra Nath Tagore might be recalled for his similar gesture of returning the award. Much dejected over Jaliyanwala Bagh massacre in year 1919, Tagore wrote a letter on May 31, 1919 to the then British Viceroy of India, Lord Chelmsford, camping at Delhi, in protest, and returned the title of ‘Sir’ conferred on him by British Queen Victoria. Tagore’s letter was published in the then The Statesman, Calcutta edition and Jaliyanwala Bagh incident was widely condemned, bringing Viceroy’s head down with dishonour. Tagore’s decision of surrendering the title (Sir) was much hailed by the writers of that era across the world. The trend still continues.
The writers are regarded as highly sensitive intellectuals in the society of humans and they draw on their canvas of creative thinking the social reality pertaining to good and evil, rewards and punishment, exploitation or sexploitation, atrocities and genocide, self-respect and humiliation, customs and modernity, human rights or whatever pricks them under the sun. The awards are actually rewards for their meritorious works, the appropriate honour they deserve for their attempts for social change or reformation in the interest of human society. This is what was attempted by Mulkraj Anand, Bhabhani Bhattacharya, Manohar Malgaonkar, Khushwant Singh, R K Narayan, Raja Rao, Raja Manmohan Ray and a host of others. The writers keep dangling between hope and expected transformation, as this is what always appeals to them to write untiringly and spread around the fragrance of their ideologies or bent of mind. Even Dadri incident may appeal to the conscience of some writers or dramatists or film makers to reflect the social reality and again hope for a transformation, a continuous process.
The life-cycle of a writer or creator of literature is bound to ‘hope against hope’ and not to get demoralized in his attempts. Unfortunately, the writers’ recent trend of surrendering their awards (Sahitya Akademi Puraskar et.al.) seems to be charged with democratic privilege as well as rights. After Dadri incident, when Padma awardee Shashi Deshpande resigned from the council of Sahitya Akademi, and also Nayan Tara Sahgal as well as Ashok Vajpeyi followed the trend, Sahitya Akademi chief Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari reacted that writers should not take such an stand of returning the awards conferred on them. Even Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma criticized the writers surrendering their awards, and went to the extent of saying, “Writers should look into their backgrounds first.”
Agreeing with Tiwari or Mahesh Sharma, I personally feel that returning the wards is not the solution to the problem. The society will continue with various types of ailments, which are ultimately highlighted by writers looking for a change. The phenomena of joys and sorrows (kabhi khushi klabhi gham) on the part of humanity are inevitable, and these are what make life worth living if one looks at them from philosophical or psychological angle, and ‘more the heat, more the crying expression or outburst’ has been a famous base-line for writers to experience and come out forcefully in their writings. And, this how the creative writers are born.
Any award is an ‘honour’ of the work. Writers get awards for the work they create and when it appeals to award-giving agency. Writers must dissolve themselves in the work of their creation or art; they must not dissolved themselves with award or citation given to them. There are other ways to express their resentment or dissent by joining the sufferers in society and launching a movement, but returning of awards is a meaningless exercise, which can bear no fruit. Writers become attached to the tragedies emotionally, and not physically. A painter draws on his canvas his inner feelings, becomes intrinsic part of the feelings, but after he finishes his brush he retrieves to his physical entity to which he is an independent individual, and no more intrinsic part of feelings.
Social atrocities would keep continuing their recurrence by natural law of happening. Let us not give it a democratic or political colour. It is like talking of eradication of poverty, which is impossible by nature’s law, however much political or democratic tall claims might be made in this regard. The law of disparity cannot be done away with, be it any culture or civilization on any part of the earth. Writers are expected to portray the social realities, and suggest remedies if possible, but the removal of the problem is the role of administration and the individuals collectively.
You may be surprised to note that the cycle of returning the award and again conferring award is an incessant process. For example, Veteran Marathi theatre actor and also Hindi film actor, Vikram Gokhale, is going to get Vishnudas Bhave Award at a ceremony next month (November 5, Marathi Rangbhumi Din).
What I wish to say that returning the award is not the solution to the social crisis. Many a time the government becomes helpless, at times individuals stand helpless to escape tragedies. Blame-game is of no avail. For social co-existence and peaceful environment we should not poison the air, we may only go by the course of law against social crimes, and bear with the pathos caused by natural calamities.
—-I P Singh