Protest Against Sahitya Akademi

Returning Translation Prize

Chamal Lal

[With a sense of anguish, writer Chamal Lal has returned a cheque for 15000 rupees, which he received from Sahitya Akademi in the year 2002 as part of National Translation Prize for year 2001, on a book—'Samay 0; Bhai Samay'—collection of poems of Punjabi poet Pash. He explains below his act of protest against Sahitya Akademi]

Udai Prakash, Hindi writer took lead in the matter of Sahitya Akademi not holding customary condolence meeting in Delhi office on the murder/death of Prof M M Kalburgi, Kannada language Sahitaya Akademi award winner and a former Vice-Chancellor. Sahitya Akademi kept mum over it and in protest Udai Prakash returned the award given to him by Sahitya Aliademi. Innumerable writers, including this writer appreciated Udai Prakash's stand and expressed solidarity with his step.

Writers were expecting some sensitivity on the issue from Sahitya Akademi, however Akademi kept a stony silence over the issue, which resulted in some more writers taking step of returning Sahitya Akademi award in protest, notably Ashok Vajpayee. Even then Akademi did not respond to writers' concerns and then came the decision of Nayantara Sehgal to return the award, who referred not only to the concerns of writers, she referred to even the overall attack on Nehruvian concepts of scientific temper, liberal thought and particularly the growing menace of communal violence in which an innocent person was brutally killed in mob fury with a false rumour technic. Nayantara Sehgal is the niece of founder Chairman of Sahitya Akademi and first Prime Minister of the country Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Rather than paying attention to 88-year-old author, Sahitya Akademi President ridiculed her in most undignified manner and trolls of ruling party with patronisation from communal hatred groups attacked her viciously. And Nayantara Sehgal responded with a writer's dignity by paying back rather than 25000 rupees award money, she returned one lakh rupees to Akademi to cover for any royalties, if any, paid to her from her award winning novel's translations in languages other than English. Krishan Sobti, the celebrated Hindi writer, holder of not only Sahitya Akademi award, but also highest honour of 'Fellowship' of Akademi, returned both to protest against such undignified behaviour of Akademi, at the age of 90 years, still no sense of shame or penance on behalf of Akademi!

Then came the decision of one of most eminent Punjabi fiction writer Gurbachan Singh Bhullar, which troubled this writer's conscience even more. The recent case of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library has also been fresh in the minds of writers/intelligentsia, where government has tried to destroy one of the most respected institution and Nehru's legacy of historicism and scientific knowledge. All these issues, as earlier destructions of organisations like National Book Trust (NBT), Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) made Sahitya Akademi return of awards as symbols of protest against oppression of knowledge and freedom of ideas. It is true that Sahitya Akademi awards are not related to express such broad protest against overall stifling of society and diversity of Indian cultures. Return of Padma awards would have been more appropriate on behalf of writers/scholars to register their protest for that. And Punjabi writer Dalip Kaur Tiwana has done exactly that today. Those who tell writers that rather than returning awards in such large numbers, they should have registered their protests by other means. For such opinions, one sees the reality of protests against Film Institute appointment or other issues, where scholars/writers have protested through statements, petitions, dharnas etc., nothing has worked, so the return of Sahitya Akademi awards has now become a symbol of wider protest against increasing communalism, intolerance, safforni-sation of institutions, suppression of rational ideas and scientific temper. It is not just protest of writers, this has turned protest against suppressed voice of all cultural fields and scholarly rational ideas. The case of Perumal Murugan, the Tamil writer also comes to mind, whose creative voice was killed by hatred led forces, yet Sahitya Akademi did not utter a word in support of the author. Even if he was not an awardee of the Akademi, he was and is an eminent Tamil author, whose suppression of voice in form of his withdrawing from writing in protest should have been the concern of Sahitya Akademi, a body of writers.

Vol. 48, No. 22, Dec 6 - 12, 2015