Controversy erupts after IFFI drops late Goa BJP MLA’s anti-caste poem from daily - Hindustan Times
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Controversy erupts after IFFI drops late Goa BJP MLA’s anti-caste poem from daily

ByGerard de Souza
Nov 27, 2023 01:05 PM IST

The poem, titled ‘Secular’, which was part of a larger collection titled ‘Sudhirsukt’ (hymns of a Sudhra) written by Wagh, was to be published in Sunday’s edition of the magazine

A controversy has erupted after the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), currently underway in Goa, decided to not print a poem in its daily newspaper from late Goan writer and former BJP MLA Vishnu Surya Wagh on caste discrimination.

International Film Festival of India (IFFI) is currently underway in Goa (Twitter Photo)
International Film Festival of India (IFFI) is currently underway in Goa (Twitter Photo)

A poem by Wagh was to be published in the ‘Peacock’, a magazine published daily during IFFI but was dropped by the organisers, prompting outrage.

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The poem, titled ‘Secular’, which was part of a larger collection titled ‘Sudhirsukt’ (hymns of a Sudhra) written by Wagh, was to be published in Sunday’s edition of the magazine.

However, Siddhesh Gautam, an Ambedkerite artist, who had designed the page paying tribute to Wagh, in an Instagram post, said he was “asked to not publish a poem by Vishnu Surya Wagh for today’s issue.”

The poem, he said, he had “carefully chosen because it expresses so many incidents of caste discrimination faced by many daily in both urban and rural areas.”

“I have gone through something similar many times in my life not just as an unknown student but also as a well-known artist… I have made my way bearing such blows on my soul many times and without any social, emotional or financial capital. And, I will continue to make my way with my hard work and hard words,” Siddhesh Gautam said.

However, critics are upset at what they see as a broader effort to erase the work of Wagh, whose acerbic writing caused controversy back in 2017 when after being selected for the state literary award saw the awards scrapped that year and Wagh, who was critically ill at the time facing a first information report for using derogatory words against women in his published poems.

While Gautam expressed his disappointment, some also called it an act of censorship by IFFI.

Scholar of anthropology Kaustubh Naik, who translated the poem into English for the magazine, said that the dropping of the poem was an “unfortunate act of censorship.”

“I for one cannot guess why the ESG officials would want to censor the poem. But if you read the collection, you realise that Wagh records the histories of Goa’s Bahujan Samaj through his poems. The use of language, imagery, and themes is rather revolutionary in Goa’s literary scene. The poems take an anti-establishment stance. Perhaps that’s the reason. Unfortunately, this act of censorship occurred on the eve of Constitution Day,” Naik said.

His poetry collection ‘Sudirsukta’ also faced controversy in 2017 when it was awarded a state literary award on charges of obscenity and targeting the Goan elite castes. The award was withdrawn and later scrapped by the government. Wagh was ill at that time and could not respond to any of these allegations. He was in a coma and passed away in 2019.

Sudhirsukt hit the headlines for its description of the Gaud Saraswat Brahmin (GSB) community as exploiters, its use of abusive words to describe caste elite women and the usage of a local language throughout the book, unlike the unadulterated Konkani language endorsed by the caste elite in the state.

“The decision to not print the article was an editorial call taken purely for creative reasons and had nothing to do with the content of the article. Peacock has been a flagbearer for artistic freedom since its inception, and it is our endeavour that it continues to be so,” said Ankita Mishra, chief executive officer, the Entertainment Society of Goa, which publishes the article and ensures logistics of IFFI on behalf of the state government.

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