“I respect the writers who have returned their Sahitya Akademi awards in protest against the recent rise of communalism. All writers who have done so are well-regarded and it is a valid way of showing their protest and bringing attention to the prevailing communal situation.”
These were the views of filmmaker, Govind Nihalani, invited to the inaugural Khushwant Singh Literary Festival in Kasauli on Friday to speak about the making of his famous film on Partition, ‘Tamas (Darkness)’. Later, he said in an interview, “The situation of the days of ‘Tamas’, which saw the great divide and displacement of thousands has not changed. In fact, the fissures in society have grown and the manipulation of the vulnerable has increased.”
The communal politics of the present times and the protest by writers in returning their state awards was a subject of discussion in informal groups. Drawing attention to the communal state of affairs, in the welcome note, writer Rahul Singh said that his father Khushwant Singh was always opposed to communalism of any kind. Later he said in an aside, “The reasons that (novelist) Nayantara Sahgal gave for returning the award and questioning the silence of the Prime Minister are absolutely correct. The silence has been broken but only to echo what the President said. It is the responsibility of the Prime Minister to take action and see the guilty are punished.”
The beef-lynching at Dadri and apathy on the part of the government in dealing with it saw the return of the award first by Hindi fiction writer Uday Prakash, then Sahgal, the octogenarian English novelist, who pointed out that the mob-lynching was a “vicious attack on India’s culture of diversity and debate”. She also decried the killings of rationalists and writers such as MM Kalburgi and Govind Pansare. Hindi poet Ashok Vajpeyi followed Sahgal and returned his award too.
Meanwhile, a counter controversy has started that the Sahitya Akademi is being politicised by writers. Commenting on this, young writer Avirook Sen, whose book ‘Aarushi’ has come out recently, says, “Writers are fully justified in returning state awards because they are protesting against the politics of the state and thus disassociating themselves as well as calling for attention to the issue. But the flip side is that some celebrities are putting out sensational tweets not to call notice to the issue but to themselves.”
FAITH IN PEOPLE
Kalpana Sahni, the firebrand activist-academic and daughter of Bhisham Sahni the author of ‘Tamas’, said: “Intellectuals doing symbolic acts does help but my heart goes out to those people who helped the bereaved family and tried to disperse the frenzied mob.”
Actor Om Puri, who played naïve Nathu the protagonist of ‘Tamas’, said: “Token protests apart, what is required is the need to find out if there was any organisation behind these heinous acts. I have great faith in the secular temperament of the people of my country and the mischief-mongers should be dealt with.”