In times when ink is smeared on a face during a book launch, writers are killed and a poor man is lynched for the food he has eaten, celebrated Ludhiana-based Punjabi poet Surjit Patar (70) kept the promise of protest that underlines his verses by returning on Monday the Sahitya Akademi award, which he received in 1993 for his poetry anthology ‘Hanere Vich Sulagdi Kavita.’
Poets Jaswinder and Darshan Buttar, and prose writer Baldev Singh Sadaknama have also returned their Sahitya Akademi awards, taking the total number of such writers from Punjab to eight. Earlier, fiction writers Waryam Sandhu and Gurbachan Bhullar as well as playwrights Ajmer Aulakh and Atamjit had taken the lead by returning their awards on Sunday in protest against the ‘growing intolerance’.
Patar, also a recipient of the Sarasvati Samman (2009) and Padma Shri (2012), says: “I am returning the award with a heavy heart because it is precious to me, but I am doing so in protest against the killing of writers and thinkers and the guilty escaping with the blessings of corrupt politicians. I am also pained by the silence of the Sahitya Akademi in condemning these acts. I hope the prestigious Sahitya Akademi will play a more meaningful, influential and pro-people role.”
“Returning an award is also a form of protest. If need be, we will cross all barriers to save the country from religious fundamentalism,” says Jaswinder, who won the award for his ghazal anthology, ‘Agarbatti’ (Incense stick), in 2014.
Sadaknama’s Punjabi novel ‘Dhaawaan Dilli De Kingrey’ won him the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2011, while Nabha-based Buttar, known as the ‘big poet of short poems’, had won the national award in 2012 for his anthology of poems, ‘Maha Kambani’ (The ultimate trembling). The writers also appealed to other litterateurs to join the protest against the ‘attack on freedom of expression’.
In solidarity, Chaman Lal, former professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), announced in Jalandhar on Monday his decision to return the Hindi translation award of Punjabi poet Paash’s collection ‘Samay O Bhai Samay’, given by the Sahitya Akademi in 2002. He also condemned the murder of Sahitya Akademi award-winner Kannada writer Prof MM Kalburgi.
“I also condemn the insults heaped on Nayantara Sahgal by the Sahitya Akademi president,” he added.
Punjabi writer Hardev Chauhan, who writes for children, has returned the award he was given for children’s literature by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). Chauhan said he was pained by the current communal atmosphere in the country.
Meanwhile, Malayali poet and scholar K Satchidanandan, who is a National Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, told HT, “This government is progressing the way Nazis did during Hitler’s regime.” He said in a democratic country like India, everyone had the right to freedom of speech, as enshrined in the Constitution.
“I am a Hindu and I am proud of it, but my Hinduism doesn’t stop me from respecting others religion,” he added. Earlier, Satchidanandan, who had a long association with the Sahitya Akademi, had severed all ties with the akademi for not speaking out against the killings of writers.
Senior Sahitya Akademi award-winning writers such as Gurdial Singh, who also won the Jnanpith Award, and Gulzar Singh Sandhu said the writers were adopting a valid method to bring attention to the issue.