A strange series of events unfolded on social media ever since Shabana Azmi announced that her husband, Javed Akhtar, had won the Richard Dawkins Award which is awarded by the Center For Inquiry (CFI) for contributions towards furthering the cause of reason and science. The same fact was covered by the entirety of Indian media but strangely, no such confirmation has come as yet from the CHI itself.
On the 7th of June, Shabana Azmi had said on Twitter, “Javed Akhtar wins Richard Dawkins Award 2020 for critical thinking, holding religious dogma up to scrutiny, advancing human progress and humanist values.” She was clearly overjoyed by the prospect.
Javed Akhtar and his wife also expressed his jubilation on winning the award while giving statements to the media. He told the Indian Express, “Validation is for someone who has even an iota of doubt about what he or she thinks. But I have always been so sure about my thinking. But I am thrilled for this one because it is the first time I have been awarded for my views, my thought process, my rationality, my thoughts on religion. It is the ultimate recognition because it comes from a huge institution.”
“I am thrilled! I know what a hero Richard Dawkins has been for Javed. The award gains all the more significant because, in today’s time when secularism is being attacked by religious fundamentalists of all hues, this award comes as a validation of Javed’s long service to rational thinking,” said Shabana Azmi.
As it turns out, the story got a little complicated henceforth. For a long time, there was no announcement or press release from CFI confirming the same.
If that wasn’t enough to fuel speculations, a screenshot of an alleged text from an NDTV employee has gone viral which claimed that Javed Akhtar had, in fact, not won the award yet and worse, the lyricist mistook the nomination for the same. The screenshot claimed that Javed Akhtar was nominated by a group of rationalists and activists based in London and the proposal was then sent to Richard Dawkins. Javed Akhtar was apparently in the copy of the mail that was sent.
However, Javed Akhtar mistook the nomination for the actual award. Consequently, he shared the good news with his acquaintances in India Media which promptly shared the news with the wider public although there was no official statement regarding the same. Now, the group which had mad the proposal is now pressurising CFI to give the award to Javed Akhtar because if he isn’t now, then liberals in India will be shamed by ‘rightwing bigots’ and ‘neo-fascists’.
Shabana Azmi had then come forward and strongly denied these claims. According to her, they had received an email from Richard Dawkins on the 5th of June and Robyn Blumner who heads the CFI. She said that claims to the contrary were ‘preposterous’ and made by trolls.
After several doubts were cast on whether or not Javed Akhtar had actually won the Richard Dawkins award, finally, today Dawkins tweeted confirming the award.
Javed Akhtar @Javedakhtarjadu is the 2020 Richard Dawkins Award winner and I could not be more pleased. The Center for Inquiry, on whose board I sit, has designated him this year’s recipient for his courageous public stands on behalf of atheism, rationality, and freethought.— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) June 9, 2020
There is another intriguing aspect of the whole affair here. The Bollywood entertainers are obviously overjoyed by the prospect of winning the Richard Dawkins Award. But it appears a little inconsistent with their stance on politics in India. Richard Dawkins had once compared Islam to Cancer. The renowned missionary of atheism had also said that Islamophobia is justifiable, which of course goes completely against the political stance of Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi.