Sahitya Akademi members to oppose government’s intrusion in literary awards | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

Sahitya Akademi members to meet on June 23, oppose government’s intrusion in literary awards

Jun 20, 2023 07:38 AM IST

The Union Ministry of Culture plans to change nomination process for Sahitya Akademi Award, raising concerns over political interference in the institution.

Mumbai: The Union Ministry of Culture recently expressed its intent to change the process of nomination for the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award, given to writers in 24 languages, as well as its plan to consolidate awards bestowed upon writers for children and youth into a single category. In a letter issued to the Akademi, the government has suggested that in the new format any writer can nominate himself or herself and also recommend other candidates for the awards. This has created a stir within the literary community, with many insisting that the government’s move translates into direct meddling in the institution’s work. In addition, if this goes unopposed, chances are it may be replicated in similar institutions across the country, they fear.

The ministry has asked the Akademi to respond to its notice issued last month, after internal consultation with committee members. (Pic for representation)
The ministry has asked the Akademi to respond to its notice issued last month, after internal consultation with committee members. (Pic for representation)

The ministry has asked the Akademi to respond to its notice issued last month, after internal consultation with committee members. The members will convene on June 23 in Delhi to discuss the government’s move and Akademi members will put down their concerns in a letter after the meeting.

The Sahitya Akademi Awards, bestowed annually, aim to preserve the country’s literary heritage, and encourage independent and translated literary production. It honours the contributions of writers in various regional languages. With four awards for each language, the Akademi plays a crucial role in recognising excellence in literature. The selection process for the main award, known as the Bhasha Samman, is conducted through a rigorous and confidential process overseen by experts – the body comprises one writer chosen from each of the 24 regional languages.

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A member of the Akademi’s general council explained the rigorous process of selection, which he fears stands to be compromised in future. Each member suggests 200 names, following which an expert committee finalizes 50 in phase one. This lot goes through another round of scrutiny, and five names are shortlisted. Two confidential juries then pick out one of the five as the finalist.

“With the open nomination process, there is likely to be an interference from the political leaders that will distract the qualitative work of the Akademi,” he said. “In the upcoming meeting, some of us will submit a letter to the head of the Akademi as well as the government to voice our protest.”

The general council of the Akademi which will convene in Delhi on Friday, will be led by the Akademi’s president Madhav Kaushik. Approximately, 80 members representing the 24 languages will discuss the government’s notice. “The decision made during this meeting will shape the future course of the Sahitya Akademi, depending on whether the suggestions put forth by the ministry are met with opposition or acceptance,” said another member.

Observing the fine print of the letter, Damodar Mauzo, a Konkani writer and recipient of Jnanpith award, expressed concern “about the ministry’s direct interference in the institution’s work”.

Read: Sahitya Akademi's 2022 winners’ list

“Everyone should oppose this move,” said Mauzo, who has worked as a member of the body between 2003 and 2007, and won an award in 2021. He emphasized that no previous government had objected to the processes followed by the Akademi’s general council and executive council in its nearly seven-decade-long journey. “As a funding agency, the government can carry out a financial audit of the organisation, but that doesn’t mean they should interfere in the process of selection,” he said.

On the cultural ministry’s suggestion to consolidate the child and youth awards into a single category, Veera Rathod, a Marathi poet who won the Akademi ‘Yuva Puraskar’ in 2015, said, “The government should in fact promote literature by adding more categories into the awards. Rather than thinking on these lines, its plan to consolidate two awards is wrong because these categories cannot coexist. Both have separate identities.”

Another general council member said, “We can oppose this move only if the majority of members raise their objection. If changes are agreed upon in the meeting by many, some of us will present our objections on the new suggestions separately.”

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