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Clueless Sahitya Akademi as authors return awards

Distraught intellectuals condemn use of violence to suppress freedom of expression

Bhaswar Kumar 

Writers and poets returning awards to protest intolerance


Hindi poet Mangalesh Dabral, Kashmiri writer Ghulam Nabi Khayal and theatre artist were among the latest litterateurs and artists to return their literary awards to protest the use of force to stifle freedom of expression.

The count of artists who have handed back their awards over increased intolerance in the country has reached 24 — 21 have returned their Sahitya Akademi awards, and three have given up similar awards. Some writers have also resigned from their positions at Sahitya Akademi, citing the body’s failure to protest a suppression of the freedom of expression.

Among the recent incidents that have galvanised litterateurs and artists into swift action are the killings of rationalist M M Kalburgi and a 52-year-old Muslim man in Dadri who was lynched by a mob for allegedly storing beef at home.

Here are some of the artists who have registered their protest so far:


1) Uday Prakash: Noted Hindi writer Uday Prakash, who won the Sahitya Akademi award for his collection of short stories, Mohandas, was the first writer to return his award to protest Kalburgi’s murder.

2) Nayantara Sahgal: Writer had won the Sahitya Akademi award for her English novel Rich Like Us. She said she would return her award as a sign of protest over the Dadri lynching and the killings of Kalburgi, and activists Narendra Dabholkar, and Govind Pansare. Sahgal’s open letter, Unmaking of India, lamented the vicious assault on the cultural diversity of India. News agency PTI quoted her as saying: “Rationalists who question superstition, anyone who questions any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism known as Hindutva — whether in the intellectual or artistic sphere, or in terms of food habits and lifestyle — are being marginalised, persecuted, or murdered.”

3) Ashok Vajpeyi: Ashok Vajpeyi had won the Sahitya Akademi award for his collection of hindi poetry, Kahin Nahin Wahin. He announced he would return the award to protest the assault on the freedom of expression and life. “This is in solidarity with writers and intellectuals being murdered in broad daylight....,” PTI quoted Vajpeyi as saying.

4) Rahman Abbas: Urdu novelist Rahman Abbas announced he would return his Maharashtra State Urdu Sahitya Academy Award. He had won the award for his novel Khuda Ke Saaye Mein Aankh Micholi (Hide-and-Seek in the Shadow of God). According to PTI, he said: “After the Dadri lynching, the Urdu writing community has been quite unhappy. Therefore, I decided to return the award. There are some other Urdu writers who also want to join the protest. It is high time we stood up to the injustice surrounding us.”

5) Sara Joseph: Eminent Malayalam writer Sara Joseph, who won the Sahitya Akademi award for her novel Aalahayude Penmakkal (Daughters of God the Father), returned her award to show her displeasure over several changes since “the Modi government came to power”. PTI quoted Joseph as saying: “An alarming situation is being created in the country in all spheres of life after the Modi government came to power. The religious harmony and secularism of the country is unprecedentedly under threat.”

6) Ajmer Singh Aulakh: Punjabi playwright Ajmer Singh Aulakh announced he would return his Sahitya Akademi award, won for his work Ishk Baj Namaz Da Haz Nahi. He said he was “very upset over the communal atmosphere being created in the country. The central government is not performing its duty as the representative of a secular and democratic country”.

7) Atamjit Singh: Theatre personality Atamjit Singh announced he would return his Sahitya Akademi award, which he had won for his work Tatti Tavi Da Sach. He said he “is very upset over the incidents of communal hatred in the country for the past few months”.

8) Gurbachan Singh Bhullar: Bhullar announced he would return the Sahitya Akademi award, won for his book of short stories Agni-Kalas, over attempts to weaken the social fabric. “During recent past, the attempts at disrupting the social fabric of the country, targeting particularly the area of literature and culture, under an orchestrated plan of action, has been perturbing me,” Bhullar was quoted by PTI as saying.

9) Waryam Sandhu: Canada-based Punjabi writer Waryam Sandhu, who had won the Sahitya Akademi award for his collection of short stories, Chauthi Koot, returned the award to show his dissent over increasing dissent against the backdrop of the Dadri lynching case.

10) Ganesh Devy: Condemning the growing intolerance in the country, literary critic and writer Ganesh Devy announced that he would return his Sahitya Akademi award. He had won the award for his work After Amnesia. “I do this as an expression of my solidarity with several eminent writers who have recently returned their awards to highlight their concern and anxiety over the shrinking space for free expression and growing intolerance towards difference of opinion,” he said.

11) Kumbar Veerabhadrappa: A winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award for his Kannada novel Aramane returned his award condemning the Akademi’s silence over the killing of Kalburgi and the Dadri lynching.

12) D N Srinath: Srinath, who had won the award in 2009 for translating the short stories authored by Hindi writer Bheesham Sahani into Kannada, is to return the award over the killing of Kalburgi.

13) Ghulam Nabi Khayal: Kashmiri writer and poet Ghulam Nabi Khayal announced he would return his Sahitya Akademi award, won for his book Gashik Minaar (Luminaries). He said: “I have decided to return the award. The minorities in the country are feeling unsafe and threatened. They feel their future is bleak.”

14) Mangalesh Dabral: Hindi poet Mangalesh Dabral, who had won the Sahitya Akademi award for his poetry collection Ham Jo Dekhte Hain, announced he would return his award to protest the rising instances of violence against minorities.

15) Rajesh Joshi: Eminent Hindi writer, poet, journalist and playwright Rajesh Joshi, who had received the Sahitya Akademi award in 2002 for Do Panktiyon Ke Beech, a collection of poems, returned the award to protest attacks on the freedom of speech and expression in the country.

16) N Shivdas: Konkani writer N Shivdas, who had won the award for his collection of short stories, Bhaangarsaall, in 2005, join the bandwagon of writers returning their awards to protest suppression of free speech.

17) G N Ranganatha Rao: A Kannada translator and veteran journalist G N Ranganatha Rao had in 2014 won the Akademi award for Mohan Dasa Ondu Satya Kathe, his translation of Rajmohan Gandhi’s Mohandas — A True Story of a Man, His People and an Empire. In his letter to Akademi to return the award, he wrote: “The vested interests of our culture are out to curb the freedom of expression and to destroy the pluralistic fabric of this country. The latest incident that gives credence to this is the assassination of Kalburgi.... I am pained to note that the Sahitya Akademi, which is supposed to be the guardian of literary and cultural heritage of this great country, is short of taking note of this dangerous trend developing in this country.”

18) Surjit Patar: Renowned Punjabi writer and poet Surjit Patar won the Akademi award for his collection of poetry Haneray Vich Sulgadi Varnmala in 1993

19) Baldev Singh Sadaknaama: The winner of the award for the Punjabi novel Dhaawaan Dilli De Kingre in 2011, Baldev Singh Sadaknaama returned the award on Monday to protest suppression of freedom of expression.

20) Jaswinder: The Punjabi poet had won Sahitya Akademi award for his collection Agarbatti in 2014

21) Darshan Buttar: Eminent Punjabi poet Darshan Buttar received the Akademi award for his poetry collection Maha Kambani in 2011

Return of other awards

1) Megh Raj Mitter (Shiromani Lekhak award winner)

2) Aman Sethi (Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar)

3) (Sangeet Natak Akademi) Resignations from Sahitya Akademi

1 ) Satchidanandan

2) Shashi Deshpande

3) P K Parakkadvu

4) P K Ravikumar

5) Aravind Malagatti

  • Sahitya Akademi was formed on 12 March, 1954, through a government resolution that described it as “a organisation to work actively for the development of Indian letters and to set high literary standards”
  • Though it was set up by the government, the Akademi says it is registered as a society and functions as an autonomous organisation

    Awards: The Akademi gives five major awards each year: the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Bhasha Samman Award, the Prize for Translation, the Bal Sahitya Puraskar, and the Yuva Puraskar. Among them, the Sahitya Akademi Award is the most awaited.

    Sahitya Akademi Award: Given to the most outstanding work every year in any of the Indian languages recognised by the Akademi. Therefore, one outstanding book from each of the 22 languages recognised by the Akademi is awarded. Besides the 22 languages enumerated in the Constitution, the Akademi also recognises English and Rajasthani

    Award money: The award money was last revised in 2009 to Rs 100,000 from Rs 50,000. In 1954, the award money used to be Rs 5,000.

Some award winners for English language:
  • R K Narayan for Guide (1960)
  • Raja Rao for The Serpent and the Rope (1964)
  • Vikram Seth for The Golden Gate (1988)
  • Adil Jussawalla for Trying to Say Goodbye (2014)

  • Decided by a selection committee comprising three members selected by the president of the Akademi from a panel of seven names recommended by the language advisory board

First Published: Tue, October 13 2015. 00:25 IST