We are facing an unprecedented situation: Sahitya Akademi chief

A clueless Sahitya Akademi has now called a meeting of its executive council on October 23 to decide the future course of action

Akshat Kaushal New Delhi
Writers and poets returning awards to protest intolerance

Even as the number of literary personalities returning their Sahitya Akademi awards continues to rise, Akademi officials say they do not have a policy to deal with authors wanting to do so.

A clueless Sahitya Akademi has now called a meeting of its executive council on October 23 to decide the future course of action. The 29-member council comprises government nominees, Akademi officials and one representative each of 25 Indian languages. It is this council that also chooses the award winners every year.

“We are facing an unprecedented situation. At present, we do not know how to respond to those wanting to give back their awards. So, it was decided that a meeting of the executive council would be called,” said Sahitya Akademi President Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari.

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Akademi officials said this was the first instance when award-winners were returning their awards. Earlier, there had been instances of authors refusing to accept the Sahitya Akademi award. The 1997 Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy, for example, had done it in 2006.

Tiwari, in fact, questioned the authors’ decision to return their awards. “This is not award given by the government, unlike the Padma Shree or Padma Bhushan. This award is given by authors to other authors, with no government interference. Those returning the award should have protested against the government through means other than returning their awards.”

The government’s policy on dealing with the return of Padma awards is also unclear. Earlier, there had been instances like that of author Khushwant Singh, who had been awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1974 but returned it in 1984 to protest the Army’s attack on the Golden Temple. In 2007, however, he accepted the Padma Vibhushan.

More recently, in December 2013, the Andhra Pradesh High Court had suggested Telugu actor-producer Mohan Babu and actor Brahmanandam to return their Padma Shri awards. This happened after the duo used the award title as a suffix to their names for promoting a film; doing so is prohibited by the Constitution.

News reports suggest the Union home ministry is contemplating taking back Saif Ali Khan’s Padma Shri award, after a brawl involving the Bollywood actor in a Mumbai restaurant.

Tiwari added that returning the cash award alone did not make much sense, as these authors had also benefitted from an increase in sales of their work after they received the Sahitya Akademi award.

On Monday, 12 more writers announced their decision to return their Sahitya Akademi or other similar awards, taking the total number of litterateurs doing so to 24. Besides, Kannada writer Aravind Malagatti resigned from the Akademi’s general council, citing the body’s failure to stand behind writers and showing solidarity with them. Malagatti was the fifth person to resign from his position at Sahitya Akademi over the issue.

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First Published: Oct 13 2015 | 12:27 AM IST

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