Today I happened to read a tweet by Raveena Tandon, a Bollywood actress of yesteryears, reposted by someone in the facebook. In the tweet, Ms.Tandon asked why the literary figures in our country were not returning their awards, protesting the Islamic terrorism perpetrated by Pakistan on 26/11 in Mumbai. Obviously she was referring to the award returning spree carried out by the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award winning writers in order to shake the Prime Minister up from his studied slumber over the killing of innocent people over eating beef or something vital and fundamental like that. Ms.Tandon’s view was hailed by some people as a very pragmatic therefore an unprejudiced view on the issue and her moral agitation on behalf of the innocent people (read Hindus) killed in the infamous 26/11incident.
Regarding the returning of awards, even amongst the great writers in India there exist different views. While all of them reiterate that registering protest against the Prime Minister’s carefully studied silence is necessary, a few of them maintain that returning of the award is not the right gesture as it is reactionary and emotional at the same time because the Academy of Letters (Sahitya Akademi) is an autonomous body and it does not have anything to do with the government or its stance. Reputed writers like Dr.Namwar Singh, Sakharia, Taslima Nasreen and the populist writer, Chetan Bhagat propagate the latter opinion while balancing their political correctness by saying that returning of the awards is a personal decision. Some go to the extent of saying that these writers have been enjoying the government perks for a long time and there is a great amount of hypocrisy in returning the awards now.
(writer Nayantara Sehgel who returned the award first)
Perhaps, those who cite the hypocrisy of the writers who have already returned the awards or those who are contemplating to do so more or less express the same sentiments of Ms.Tandon. It would be fair to say that Ms.Tandon, being a celebrity gets more attention when she expresses the same sentiments felt by this group of writers who are critical of the writers who have returned the awards. Though, their arguments sound quite right, ‘pragmatic’ and logical, we should understand that the autonomy of the academies is a well believed myth. The fact is that all the academies are political in nature and the changing ideology in the center as well as the states changes the political complexion of the academies. In this academies for various arts are like government owned corporations that get political leaders as CEOs and MDs with the changes take place in the government. Therefore, we cannot say that academies are autonomous and are neutral in their approach to the unraveling of socio-political and cultural events in our country.
Some of the writers have argued that awards were given by independent juries constituted by peer group writers and intellectuals of yester years and hence the returning of the awards would amount to the contempt of those jury members and their decisions. Some again argue that the money that has been given along with citation and plaque comes from the tax payers of this country and they are not directly responsible for the misdeeds of the present or changing governments. These arguments however sound too idealistic at the best or naïve at the worst because, as I mentioned above, the academies are not politically excluded sites of intellectual deliberations. Those people who had been awarded in yester years and have been giving them back in the current scenario are also politically inclined people who in different ways are critical of the present regime. Hence, their protest of returning the awards is not only cultural but also political. They returned the awards because academy is the only place where they could register protest as writers. Javed Akthar generally protests in the Rajya Sabha because he is a Rajya Sabha member. But all the writers are not Rajya Sabha members.
(Paul Sakharia, Malayalam writer who is skeptical about the returning of awards)
These days, the blind supporters of the present BJP/Hindu regime in India under the leadership of Narendra Modi, when criticism against the government comes up mainly on the religious killings, take up several issues related to the political and religious killings including the 1984 pogrom of the Sikh community and say that why the intellectuals in this country did not protest the way they are protesting these days. Those people who hold this opinion are simply avoiding the micro narratives within the mainstream history. Each killing in this country has been condemned and criticized by the intellectuals and writers since the days of our independence. Every inhuman actsof the political leaders are condemned and when it was required to send such erring leaders to jails they were put in jails too. Despite all protests and debates the culprits of 26/11 were hanged. So it was not necessary to return the awards then. The statements of the intellectuals and writers did the wonder. They were not forced to act.
Today they are forced to act. The returning of awards might have been spurred by the unfortunate incident in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh where a man named Mohammed Aklaq was lynched by a motivated mob alleging him of eating and possessing beef (which later tested to be goat meat). But the protest is not against that one single death. It is the outcome of the collective deaths that started since 1992, continued in 2002 and till date. The returning of the awards is against the deafening silence observed by the people who are held to be accountable for such incidents. There is a limit to the patience of the writers and intellectuals. Their action is a collective reaction against all kinds of silences observed by the Prime Minister and his government that enjoys a brutal but as it turned out to be, unfortunate mandate.
(Prime Minister, Narendra Modi)
Coming back to Ms.Raveena Tandon’s oblique comment on the writers of India I should say that in 26/11 the innocent citizens of Mumbai were not attacked and killed either by the government of Maharashtra or the Government of India. Both these entities had pressed its agencies to quell the violence, book the culprits and ensure security to its citizens. The government was there to take care of its citizens. But today, the government/s is killing its citizens. When the government or the nation state itself comes out to kill its citizens on flimsy reasons like eating beef and denies them their fundamental constitutional rights to eat what they want and follow the faith that they like, then the intellectuals and the writers of this country should come out to protest. Their returning of awards shows their lost faith in the government and its legitimate leader. If he is not able to see the truth of their refusal to keep the awards, he is going to miss the pulse of this country. He may be called the ‘Hindu Hrudaya Samrat’ (the King of Hindus’ Heart) but sooner than later he would realize that the heart is no longer there where he believes it to be.