Gurbachan Singh Bhullar, the first Punjabi author to return his Sahitya Akademi award to protest the assassination of Kannada scholar MM Kalburgi, has said that the ruling party was criticised for being intolerant, not India as a nation.
In an interview with Hindustan Times, the writer flayed actor Anupam Kher who was recently picked for the Padma Bhushan and called the actor a ‘darbari artist’.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. It is being said that some writers have started taking their returned awards back. Do you also plan to sail in the same boat?
A. Once I have returned my award, I will not take it back. Writer Nayantara Sahgal also slammed rumours that she was taking her award back. Some writers who had not returned their awards were also supporting us because they did not want to leave a vacuum for the government to fit in its loyalists. The current government has been appointing its own people in different academic institutions. The best example would be the Film and Television Institute of India.
Q. Did authors returning awards tarnish the country’s reputation?
A. We never said India is intolerant; we criticised the ruling party over its intolerant attitude. Those people who differed from the government were called anti-nationals. People were being slaughtered in their houses and senior citizens were being frisked in trains to check if they were carrying beef. This is intolerance and this goes against national integration.
Q. What would you like to say about Anupam Kher receiving the Padma Bhushan? He had once protested against you.
A. When we returned awards against the murders of writers, they called us Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s ‘darbari’ poets and writers. I have never met her. But Anupam Kher protested against us and said there was no intolerance in the country; the protest placards said ‘Dhongi sahityakaron ko jute maaro’ and protesters also misbehaved with a television journalist who was covering the protest. It was intolerance in itself. Everyone knows why he is being awarded the Padma Bhushan; Anupam Kher is the first ‘darbari’ artist.
Q. What do you have to say about Dalit student Rohith Vemula’s suicide in Hyderabad University?
A. The activists of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad did not like the ideology of Rohith Vemula who was associated with Ambedkar Students Association. The ideological differences became the cause of conflict and ABVP called him anti-national. The minister had sent five reminders to take action against ASA activists; it would have been nice if he sent five reminders for a better cause.
Q. What do you think a writer should be?
A. A true humanist can be a writer in the real sense. If an author does not touch the basic problems and human angle of the society in his writings, he cannot be a writer. I have returned my award in protest but it does not mean that writers shall not take awards in future. I gain great satisfaction from my stance.