Returning awards: Token gesture or effective act of protest?

  • Avtar Singh, Hindustan Times, Ludhiana
  • Updated: Oct 12, 2015 21:14 IST
While being felicitated by the Akdemi has for long been a source of pride for a literary figure, writers and poets have recently been returning their awards to protest against what they deem a lack of freedom of speech in the country. (HT Photo)

The domain of literature has always been closely linked to politics with literary figures constantly helping in shaping opinions and challenging norms through their works.

Sahitya Akademi, an organisation dedicated to the promotion of literature in the country, has been awarding writers from different languages for their role in the growth of literature. While being felicitated by the Akdemi has for long been a source of pride for a literary figure, writers and poets have recently been returning their awards to protest against what they deem a lack of freedom of speech in the country.

After the murder of rationalist MM Kalburgi and Narender Dabholkar many writers including Nayantara Sehgal, Ashok Vajpeyi announced that they will return their Sahitya Akademi awards. Now, prominent Punjabi writers including Surjit Patar, Ajmer Aulakh, Atamjit, Gurbachan Bhullar , Waryam Sandhu, Jaswinder Singh, Baldev Singh Sadaknama and Darshan Bhuttar have also announced that they would give up their awards. Commenting on why he returned the award, Surjit Pattar said, “India is a country having different languages and culture but it seems that now people have no right to express their thoughts. Sahitya Akademi is not fulfilling its proper role and intellectuals and rationalists are being killed. Writers are the voice of voiceless so it was the duty of Sahitya Akademi to speak for them. HT interacted with various students and experts from the field of literature to understand their view on this form of protest by the writers.

‘Not a right way of protest’

According to Manpreet Kaur, a second year student of MA Punjabi at Government College for girls, writers can achieve only a little by returning their awards.

“This is not the right way of protesting, they could write a poem or article against communal politics which will be more effective as it will further raise the issue.”

Echoing Kaur’s view, her classmate Paramjeet Kaur said “A writer can convey his message more efficiently through his writing but when he resorts to this type of politics it fails to have an impact as it remains confined to only news”.

For poet Jashwant Zafar, a literary figure returning his award was nothing more than a mere sloganism. “It is not a right decision to return Sahitya Akademi Awards because these awards are bestowed by an autonomous body which is not influenced by the government. This is only sloganism,” he said.

Poet Gurbhajan Gill believed that the literary community’s primary aim was to bring about a change through their writing. “We have to write against fundamentalism and other communal violence but there are many regional issues like languages and cultural, we have to fight for them too,” he said.

‘Returning awards-stand against communalisation’

While a few members of society raised apprehensions over writers returning their awards, others welcomed it as a stand against communalisation and the curbing of freedom of speech.

Ramanjit Kaur, MA Punjabi first year student at Government College for Girls, said, “This is a good decision as their act of returning the awards has brought their protest to the forefront. The media has given coverage to their stand because of which more people are discussing the issue.”

Gurjanwala Gurananak Khalsa College’s principal Manjit Singh Komal was of the view that the writers should shun away the rewards given to them in order to draw attention towards the subjugation of the intelligentsia by the fundamentalist. “It was a good decision to return the awards. Other writers should also return their awards because fundamentalist forces never care for intellectuals and upcoming times could be very dangerous for Punjab”.

Student of English literature Anamdeep Kaur welcomed the writer’s decision and said that they should be credited for stand against the rising communalisation and intolerance in spite of their different personal ideologies.

For Manpreet Singh, MA English student, SCD Government College, it was time that the literary figures helped in strengthening secularism in the country and returning their awards would help in achieving that goal. “Secularism is the need of hour. This collective initiative of the writers challenges the status-quo and those who have chosen to collaborate with those in power instead of confronting them,” he said.

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