Writers and theatre artists from the region staged a protest against the suppression of freedom of speech at Sector 17 on Wednesday to express solidarity with those who have returned Sahitya Akademi awards.
The unparalleled number of awards returned in Punjab, the highest in the country from one state, has left everyone surprised. A group of 40 people, including Mohan Bhandari, Dr Chaman Lal, Meg Raj Mitter, Hardev Chauhan, Dr Dharamvira Gandhi, Harjinder Kaur, chairperson, Punjab Arts Council, Punjab, along with a few CPI (Communist Party of India) activists.
Dr Chaman Lal, known for his fine translations of revolutionary poetry of Paash, said, “In solidarity with all writers of Indian languages, including English, I decided to return my Sahitya Akademi Translation Prize and if we won’t raise our voice now then when will we never.”
He added that the insults heaped on writer Nayantara Sahgal by the Sahitya Akademi president Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari were condemnable. “The protest is to oppose communal hatred and polarisation in society,” he added.
Children’s writer Hardev Chauhan who has returned an NCERT (National Council for Education, Research and Training) award for children’s writing raised slogans and said that he would also return his Shiromani Bal Sahit Lekhak award.
The highlight of the protest was 78-year-old Mohan Bhandari’s announcement to return his Sahitya Akademi award. Although ailing and not able to walk straight, he joined the protest.
Harjinder Kaur expressed her displeasure at increasing communalisation. “It is a threat to our democracy and what to say of writers, the entire society is devoid of a voice,” said Kaur, adding that Punjabis had always stood up against social injustice and would continue to do so.
Theatre artist Sangeeta Gupta, holding banners of protest, said, “Artists cannot be pressurised to give in. We won’t stop until we get justice even if we have to continue our fight for long.” The actor and director had received threats after her play ‘Dharamraj.com’, which was not allowed to be staged at the Tagore Theatre simply on the pretext of its name.
Others held banners with slogans like ‘Ink is not a cosmetic’, ‘Shiv Sena, did you know every 42 minutes, a farmer commits suicide’.
Chaman Lal added, “As of now, there are 25-30, but soon there will be over 100 writers from different languages who would have returned their awards.”