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Girish Karnad, another intellectual to receive death threat

He is an eminent personality and his contribution to Indian literature can be gauged from his achievements.

Krishna PS  |  New Delhi 

Girish Karnad
Girish Karnad (Photo: Wikipedia)

Amid the cries about rising intolerance and a host of writers and artists returning their awards in protest, playwright and Jnanpith awardee Girish Karnad on Tuesday became another intellectual to receive death threats for airing his views.

Karnad had suggested that Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport be named after Tipu Sultan. Calling Tipu a freedom fighter like Shivaji, he had said the 18th century Mysore ruler would have enjoyed the same status as the Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji if he had been a Hindu, and not Muslim.

Even as Karnad later apologised for his comments, he continues to be targeted by some. According to media reports, the alleged threat to him originated on Twitter from @Intolerant Chandra handle. The tweet said Karnad would meet the same fate as the murdered Kannada scholar M M Kalburgi for his recent remarks praising Tipu Sultan’s contribution to Karnataka.

Though Karnad, who is not on social media, dismissed the threat as a joke, the Bengaluru police decided to enhance security at the playwright’s house. Given the recent cases of aggression against rationalists Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, all of whom were murdered, the police could not have taken the threat to Karnad lightly.

While Karnad became the subject of Hindus’ ire for praising Tipu, Prathap Simha, a Bharatiya Janata Party member of Parliament from Mysuru-Kodagu, also received a threat on Facebook warning him of “dire consequences” if he continued to speak against Muslims.

In both these death threats seems to be the very strain of intolerance that has created a row in the country of late.

Karnad is an eminent personality and his contribution to Indian literature can be gauged from his achievements, some of which are listed here:

* Education

Born in 1938 in Maharashtra, Karnad received his initial education in Marathi and graduated from Karnataka University in Mathematics and Statistics. He did his MA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes scholar.

* Work

After coming back to India in 1970, Karnad worked with the Oxford University Press for seven years, before leaving the job to become a full-time writer.

Karnad’s plays — all written in Kannada, most then translated by him into English — have received countrywide critical acclaim. According to Frontline , the comfortable adaptation of his plays into a Western language medium is a reflection at one level of his command of the two languages. More than that, however, it is Karnad’s ability to universalise the individual and social predicament through the medium of drama that has given his works wide appeal and easy entry into other languages.

* Literary contributions

His first play, Yayati , published in 1961, when he was only 23 years old, won the Mysore State Award in 1962. It ridicules the ironies of life through characters in Mahabharata. It became an instant success and was immediately translated and staged in several other Indian languages.

The next was Tughlaq , about the rashly idealist Sultan of Delhi, Muhammad bin Tughluq. It was an allegory on the Nehruvian era and its idealism. This work established him as a promising playwright in the country and was also staged in London by the School of Drama for the Festival of India in 1982.

He has written more than a dozen plays in Kannada — one of them, Tippuvina Kanasugalu (The Dreams of Tipu Sultan), about the Mysore ruler for whose praise he is in the news at present. The story follows the last days and the historic moments in the life of Tipu through the eyes of an Indian court historian and a British Oriental scholar. It examines the inner life of this “warrior, political visionary, and dreamer”.

* Cinema

His first brush with the moving art came with Samskara, a film based on U R Ananthamurthy’s famous novel by the same name. Karnad played the lead and did the script-writing, along with director Pattabhirama Reddy. The film was initially banned because of the fear that its bold anti-caste message might spark tensions. But it later won the first President’s Golden Lotus Award for Kannada cinema.

Karnad’s directorial debut Vamsha Vriksha (1971), based on a Kannada novel by S L Bhairappa, won him Film Award for best direction, along with B V Karanth the co-director of the film. Some of his famous Kannada movies include Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane, Ondanondu Kaladalli, Cheluvi and Kaadu, besides the most recent one Kanooru Heggaditi (1999), which was based on a novel by Kannada writer Kuvempu.

Karnad has also acted in several Hindi movies, including Shyam Benegal’s Nishaant and Manthan , Basu Chatterjee’s Swami Basu, Rajkumar Santoshi’s Pukaar and other works of Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen.

* Awards & Positions

Karnad won the Kamaladevi Award of the Bharatiya Natya Sangh in 1972 for his play Hayavadana, the theme of which was drawn from Transposed Heads, a story by Thomas Mann. In the same year, he also won Sangeet Natak Akademi award. Besides, he won the Padma Shri in 1974, and Padma Bhushan in 1992.

Karnad won the Jnanpith Award in 1998, becoming the seventh Kannadiga and the second playwright to win the award, which is given each year for the best creative writing by an Indian citizen.

He served as director of the Film and Television Institute of India (1974-1975). Later, he became the president of the Karnataka Nataka Academy (1976-78) and chairman of the Sangeet Natak Academy and the Academy of the Performing Arts (1988-93).

His movie Kaadu won the National award for second best feature film and Filmfare Award (South) for best director in 1974. He was awarded honorary doctorate by the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, in 2011.


* K S Bhagwan

Among those who have received death threats over their views on contentious issues, K S Bhagwan, retired professor of the Mysore University, had been forewarned before Kalburgi was shot dead. He has been under police protection since. Bhagwan is a rationalist and has written and spoken extensively on the ills contained within ‘holy’ teachings. Earlier this year, he threatened to burn pages of the Gita, which referred to women and lower castes as sinners.

* Taslima Nasreen

Controversial Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen has been relocated to the US from India after death threats from Islamist radicals from her country, where three secular bloggers were hacked to death since February.

* Bharat Patankar

Activist-writer from Maharashtra, Bharat Patankar, received death threats in the form of hate letters accusing him of adopting ‘a conciliatory attitude’ towards Muslims. These notes castigated him for accepting the leadership of the ‘Vidrohi Sammelan’, an alternative cultural forum in the state that runs parallel to the Sahitya Sammelan.

* Nikhil Wagle

Journalist Nikhil Wagle got threats to his life, allegedly from the radical Hindu organisation Sanatan Sanstha. He said he had been on his trail since he, as editor of the Marathi channel IBN-Lokmat, anchored a programme on rationalism and the need for an anti-superstition law. The Sanstha representative had walked out of the discussion.

First Published: Fri, November 13 2015. 16:55 IST