Jayanta Mahapatra, one of India’s foremost writers in English, has joined the list of people returning awards by announcing to give up his Padma Shri as a mark of protest against the “growing intolerance” in the country.
Internationally acclaimed for his poetry, Jayanta, who resides in Cuttack, received the Padma Shri in 2009 for his contribution to literature. “It is a small, insignificant voice; true. But this voice of an aging man of 88 years, in no way attempts to solve the issue I’ve stated here - an intrusion into the basic freedoms of a citizen of India. A thoughtful debate within myself has framed me by a justification that what I’m about to do is right by my own moral standards,” he said in a letter to President Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday.
“In accordance with my beliefs, I would, as a mark of protest, humbly wish to return the civilian honour of Padma Shri which has been bestowed upon me by the President of India in 2009,” he added. He is the fourth Padma award winner to return his award after Punjabi writer Dalip Kaur Tiwana, Kannada writer Devanuru Mahadeva and scientist PM Bhargava on similar grounds. Tiwana and Mahadeva had returned their Padma Shri while Bhargava his Padma Bhushan.
Mahapatra was also the first Indian poet writing in English to win the Sahitya Akademi award in 1981.
More than 40 writers and 12 filmmakers have returned their Sahitya Akademi awards, national awards or quit their posts in the top literary body on alleged rising intolerance in the country.