Noted poet Ashok Vajpeyi on Thursday said writers like him had no option but to “dramatise” their protest against intolerance by returning their awards for a “visible” impact, and added that the President has described it as “evidently spontaneous”.
A three-member delegation comprising Vajpeyi, painter Vivan Sundaram and journalist Om Thanvi had called on President Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday and submitted a memorandum on behalf of writers, artists, scientists and academics.
A statement released on Thursday claimed that the President has said that the return of awards by writers and intellectuals was “evidently spontaneous” and a way of protest that has triggered a nation-wide debate on the issue of intolerance.
“The President expressed the view that ‘award-vapasi’ is a way of protest and it has been evidently spontaneous. He feels that the reason India has survived, though many more ancient civilisations have disappeared, is due to its pluralism over millenia,” the release said.
“The recent protests by writers, artists, scientists and academics have made the issue of intolerance a matter of nation-wide debate,” the President was quoted as having told the three-member delegation.
Speaking on the sidelines of an event organised to mark Constitution Day in New Delhi, Vajpeyi on Thursday asserted that writers had raised voices against “intolerance” for one-and-half years, but no one took notice of it, compelling them to take such a step.
“We had no option but to dramatise (protest) because no one paid attention to the issues we raised earlier. Had we not done so (returned awards), you would not be asking us questions (now),” Vajpeyi said.
“For a year-and-a-half, I had been writing on these issues in my column, but it had no impact. Thirty of us issued a statement, but majority of newspapers did not even carry it. So, we thought of this (returning award) as the socially visible action,” he added.
Vajpeyi, who was among the writers who returned their awards, accused RSS of “distorting” the definition of Hindu religion and insisted that the government should do its job of protecting interests of people.
“Now they are saying that you are a traitor. So if I am a traitor let me say something. At present in India, I don’t know how Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will harm Islam, but it will certainly destroy Hinduism,” he was quoted as saying by IANS.
Vajpeyi also dismissed allegations that the returning of awards was a “motivated” protest and questioned minister of state for external affairs VK Singh for his reported charges that the demonstrators were “paid” for the same by Congress.
“The minister says from holy soil of US that Congress paid us for returning awards. Yesterday someone asked me that we were paid Rs 15 lakh for the protest. Forget my case, but will anyone be able to buy authors like Romila Thapar? She had refused to accept Padma award from Congress government. How can anyone question her integrity,” he asked.
Vajpeyi termed the allegations as ones aimed at “character assassination” of demonstrators as the ruling class lacked logic.
The poet though maintained he will not take back the award once returned even if situation “improves”.
Referring to the recent controversy over the statements made by Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, Vajpeyi said there is a difference between the nation and its government.
“The nation is larger than the government. Protesting against the government doesn’t mean one is protesting against the nation,” he was quoted as saying by IANS.
Khan joined a debate on rising intolerance earlier this week, saying he had been “alarmed by a number of incidents” and felt a sense of insecurity and fear growing in the past six or eight months.