Meet your Sahitya Akademi Award Returnees

Numerous authors and poets have decided to return their Sahitya Akademi awards to protest, what they see as “rise of intolerance” in India. All these people are stalwarts and their work speaks for them so we need not assess their literary work and bring attention to the part that is common knowledge. We will only focus on the not-so-commonly known aspects:

1 . Uday Prakash

The author who started it all. He is a product of the JNU university and is described as a “Marxist” here. He has been a “passionate young member” of the CPI and later the CPM. He received his Sahitya Akademi award in 2010. In 2006, Arundhati Roy had rejected a Sahitya Akademi award. These were his views on the Akademi then:

“They call the Akademi autonomous, but it’s like what all statist institutions are, full of brokers, compromisers, people fleecing the system for personal gains, awards, recognitions, fellowship holders, those holding plum posts. She speaks her mind, how many of our writers dare to do that against the corrupt, power mafia? She has shown the truth of not only corruption in these institutions, but also how global capital has squeezed us, is squeezing us dry everyday in this new era where everything has become so cruel and money-centric”

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2. Nayantara Sahgal.

Sahgal is Nehru’s niece who received her Sahitya Akademi award in 1986, when Nehru’s grandson Rajiv Gandhi was in power. Of course this was just 2 years after the gruesome 1984 Sikh pogrom. She also shares her roots with Kashmiri Pandits, but did not feel it necessary to return her award when Kashmiri Pandits were exposed to violent crimes like rapes, murders and other atrocities in the 1990s.

3. Kashinath Singh

He received his Sahitya Akademi award in 2011. More recently, in September 2015, he had no qualms about receiving the Bharat Bharti Award, UP’s highest literary award from UP CM Akhilesh Yadav who had presided over the Muzzafarnagar riots 2013. In 2014, in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections, Kashinath Singh was one of the “Intellectuals from around India” who flocked “to Varanasi to join campaign against Modi”. What is even more interesting is that he might have taken an anti-Modi stance based on threats from fellow writers. It was reported that:

“(Kashinath Singh) has been threatened by fellow writers that they would boycott him, if he did not distance himself from BJP’s PM nominee Narendra Modi. As a result, the litterateur has now done a U-turn and has been saying many things now against the BJP’s PM nominee, the most recent being that “Varanasi will lose if Modi wins.”

4. Sayyad Munawwar Ali Rana

His Sahitya Akademi award was declared in 2014 (under “fascist” Modi Government) for his “Shehdaba”, a collection of ghazals and nazms (long poems). One of the poems in Shehdaba, was on Sonia Gandhi, which was written when Sonia Gandhi, despite winning with a thumping majority, refused the chair of the prime ministership. An article in The Hindu says:

Yet, the poet in him grieves; she always faced unwarranted criticism from those who refused to see her sacrifice and only remembered that she is a foreigner. “It is not easy to turn down a PM’s chair, I had guessed she will do so, the soil of Raebareli has the grace and strength to turn down coveted positions. Even the legendary poet ‘Jaysi’ turned down an award from none other than Emperor Sher Shah Suri,” so saying, the poet recites a few lines from the poem on Sonia, titled ‘ Mere darwaze pe likh do ’

Áik benam si chahat ke liye aayi thi

Aap logon ki muhabbat ke liye aayi thi

Main badhe boodhon ki khidmat ke liye aayi thi

Kaun kehta hai hukommt ke liye aayi thi?

Amusingly, just days before Rana returned his award, he had slammed fellow awardees for returning their awards. This is what he had said:

“All those who have returned the awards are outdated people, though I share their concern. Returning awards is like child’s play for me. I would rather suggest all the writers to stage a hunger strike in which I will also participate. These people have clearly lost hope in the power of pen I think the awards are being returned to make ground for bigger awards in the next government”

The report also mentioned that Rana alleged that apart from the ‘increasing level of intolerance’, these writers were also upset with the present government for they were not given any importance.

5. Ashok Vajpeyi

He got his Sahitya Akademi award in 1994. As an Outlook piece titled “The Literary Mafia” says:

Consistently patronised by Arjun Singh in Madhya Pradesh, Vajpeyi’s power grew when Arjun Singh became chief minister in the ’80s and he became the state culture secretary. He set up 11 cultural institutions, 10 of them in Bhopal itself.

The same piece tells us what another Sahitya Akademi winner (and returnee) Uday Prakash though of him:

Hindi poet and short story writer Uday Prakash finds Vajpeyi unworthy of the two awards and calls him a “power broker” disguised as a poet. “Nobody takes Vajpeyi seriously in Hindi literature. History will remember him as a culture czar who doled out patronage”

Also, in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections 2014, Vajpeyi openly campaigned against Modi along with other known Modi haters such as U R Ananthamurthy. In 2005 too, Vajpeyi was one of the signatories to a petition to dismiss Modi’s Gujarat Government.

6. K. Satchidanandan

Satchidanandan was one of the signatories, along with Vajpeyi above, to the statement in April 2014, which was openly campaigning against Modi. In 2010, in his home state of Kerala, when a professor was attacked by Islamic fundamentalists for producing a a dialogue on Muhammed and God, Satchidanandan was asked for his response to the incident which saw the professor’s hand being cut. His response:

“I cannot comment on this without studying the context of this whole incident – What was the source of the controversial dialogue, how it became part of a book, how it became a textbook and how it appeared in a question paper. While reiterating that this was a barbaric attack, I will say that the whole episode contributes to demonizing Muslims (as I mentioned in the Sufia Madani case earlier).”

7. Sarah Joseph

She received her award in 2011, and in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, was the Aam Aadmi Party’s candidate in Thrissur, Kerala. (Edit: As on at least 10th of October 2015, she continued to hold the post of State Convenor of Kerala AAP Unit)

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8 & 9: Ajmer Aulakh and Atamjit Singh

Both are Punjabi writers and both had signed what was called an “Anti Modi appeal” in April 2014 in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections

Honourable Mention:

1. Vikram Seth

Seth has not yet returned any awards but has threatened to the join the stir and return his award.  Seth however had no qualms while receiving the “Pravasi Bhartiya Samman” award from the hands of Jagdish Tytler, who is accused of being responsible for the 1984 pogrom.

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Now for some poetry by these talented poets.


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