Maha govt withdraws award to Kobad Ghandy memoir translator, literary world stands by her

Published on Dec 14, 2022 01:10 AM IST

STRAP: Anand Karandikar returns govt award, Neeraja resigns from govt committee Marathi author Anand Karandikar on Tuesday announced that he was returning his award to protest against the Maharashtra government’s withdrawal of an award to Anagha Lele for her Marathi translation of alleged Maoist ideologue Kobad Ghandy’s memoir

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ByNiraj Pandit, Mumbai

STRAP: Anand Karandikar returns govt award, Neeraja resigns from govt committee

Marathi author Anand Karandikar on Tuesday announced that he was returning his award to protest against the Maharashtra government’s withdrawal of an award to Anagha Lele for her Marathi translation of alleged Maoist ideologue Kobad Ghandy’s memoir. Marathi poet Neeraja also resigned from the government’s Sahitya Sanskruti Mandal late on Tuesday in protest. Like Karandikar and Neeraja , the literary world has supported the translator through various social media channels.

The government’s Marathi language department on December 6 announced the Yashwantrao Chavan Literature Award 2021 to Lele for her translation of Ghandy’s ‘Fractured Freedom: A Prison Memoir’. The next day, Deepak Kesarkar, minister in charge of the department, stated that he would “investigate” how the award was given, and on December 12, a government resolution (GR) stated that the selection committee’s decision had been reversed for “administrative reasons” and the award, which included a cash prize of 1 lakh, had been withdrawn. The committee has also been disbanded according to the GR.

The decision to award Lele had come in for criticism on social media because of Ghandy’s alleged Maoist links.

Karandikar, who won the Yashwantrao Chavan Literature Award 2021 for his Marathi book, ‘Vaicharik Ghusalan’, told HT that the withdrawal of the award to Lele was nothing but “absolute gagging of freedom of thought and expression”. The writer said that although he did not agree with Ghandy’s line of thinking, the latter had every right to express his views in a democracy, and Lele had merely translated his book.

“I have written a letter to the Maharashtra State Literature and Culture Board, informing them that I want to return my award and cash component of 1 lakh,” said Karandikar, questioning the logic behind the government’s decision to take back Lele’s award since a couple of editions of Ghandy’s book had already been published, and the book was on sale.

Lele, a Pune-based engineering graduate turned-translator, said, “As a professional translator, receiving this award was a big deal for me. It was a confirmation that the translation had been well received. And the cancellation proves that opinions chucked on Twitter by people who haven’t even bothered to open a page of the book are worth more than the scholarly opinions of a committee of experts.

“This book has been translated into many languages, and reviews and interviews with the author have been published in many places,” Lele added. “Many people have sent me messages appreciating my translation, and this is as valuable to me as an award. As a translator, translating good English books into Marathi whenever I can is good enough for me.” Lele also thanked all those who were standing by her.

Sharad Baviskar, author and professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University, said, “The dictatorial manner in which the government has done this is discrediting writers and translators. I condemn this fascist mentality and publicly appeal to the government to reconsider its decision and apologise for disrespecting the author, translator and selection committee.”

In 1981, the then chief minister of Maharashtra, A R Antulay, had done something similar, unilaterally cancelling the government-announced awards for two books, ‘Jaiprakash Narayan’ and ‘Janancha Pravaha Chalila’, and announcing this during the Maharashtra Sahitya Sammelan.

Rajan Bavadekar of Lokwangmay Gruha, which brought out the translation, said, “We are an ideological and democratic publishing house. The state government’s withdrawal of the award is condemnable. Ghandy’s book has not been banned and, in fact, the third English language edition is coming out very soon.”

Ghandy himself said that he found the campaign whipped up against him on social media similar to the media trial that he had faced. “The media trial kept me in prison for 10 years even though I have time and again denied any association with the Maoist party and was also acquitted of all Maoist charges in case after case,” he told HT. “But this issue has again been raised after two years of being dormant, this time to deny the translator and her publisher the right to an award. Literary awards should not be held prisoner to politics but based on merit. I hope the decision is reversed.”

Heramb Kulkarni, a habitual jury member on panels though not this one, said he had expected the government to respect the jury’s decision but its act of withdrawing the award was “humiliating” to all jury members. “Many people like me will refuse to be on the jury from now on,” he said. “An insult to one of my colleagues is an insult to all of us. If the government does not support our choice, please do not ask us to be on the selection committee again.”

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