Sahitya Awards Row: Tamasha or a Genuine Outpouring of Anguish?

It’s state government that should take the onus and not the Centre for recent violent incidents, writes Amar Bhushan.

Published
Opinion
5 min read
Writers and cultural activists with black gags and arm bands take out a solidarity march in New Delhi on Friday. (Photo: PTI)

India is on the cusp of entering the Stone Age, if one is to believe English news channels and their panelists and the print media, a bunch of Sahitya Akademi awardees, a dozen commentators and self-appointed conscience keepers. They would like us to believe that India is fast becoming an intolerant nation, minority communities are in imminent danger of extinction and the freedom to speak, eat, watch movies, dress, write or paint is under serious threat.

Speaking like Antony in Julius Caesar, a hairy adman announces with great passion that the Dark Age has arrived. Mercifully, 85 per cent Indians are struggling to earn their daily livelihood and do not have the privilege of indulging in such indiscriminate cynicism, polemics and frivolities.

(Photo: PTI)
(Photo: PTI)

Weaving a Doomsday Tale

What they are actually doing is to pick straws in the wind like mischievous intelligence analysts and then weave a tale of doomsday. These straws include the murder of Kalburgi in Karnataka, Govind Pansare in Maharashtra, Mohammad Akhlaq in Uttar Pradesh, blackening the faces of a turncoat in Mumbai and of a Kashmiri secessionist in Delhi, preventing a discerning audience from listening to Ghulam Ali and a Pakistani umpire from supervising cricket matches, and of course statements of Sadhavis, Sakshis and Khattars, calling for Hindu revivalism and ‘beef ban’.

Writers and cultural activists tying black gags and arm bands at a solidarity march, ahead of an emergency meeting of the Sahitya Akademi in New Delhi on Friday. (Photo: PTI)
Writers and cultural activists tying black gags and arm bands at a solidarity march, ahead of an emergency meeting of the Sahitya Akademi in New Delhi on Friday. (Photo: PTI)

In a ‘nation of million mutinies’ these incidents are inconsequential. Any society will always have murderers and lumpen elements. It is to deal with them firmly that you have institutions of the state and law enforcement agencies in place. If you feel, they are not doing their job well, build pressure to ensure that the enforcers are brought to book. In the present instance, the governments of UP, Karnataka and Maharashtra have woefully failed to bring the offenders to book.

One can understand the ignorance of authors about how the state functions, in a practical sense, because they are essentially dreamers – emotional and cocooned in their own world. But when the likes of Keki Daruwala, a hard-nosed policeman, joins the chorus and does not chastise the state police for not bringing the killers and provocateurs to justice, you wonder whether anyone is really serious about bringing order to our society.

(Photo: PTI)
(Photo: PTI)

Cacophonous Crowd

Several prescriptions, mostly bizarre and boorish have been suggested to remedy the situation. A maverick Muslim politician asked the President to declare emergency in the country. A boisterous anchor wanted the Maharashtra Chief Minister to break the alliance with the Shiv Sena and sit in the opposition. A majority of this cacophonous crowd would actually want the present government to bow out in an unprecedented gesture of humility and sit in the opposition to save the nation.

The protesting authors naively hope that they can put pressure on the government by returning their Sahitya Academy awards; they do not know that mature governments do not react in a knee jerk manner. They are also not clear about what they expect the government to do.

A group of people displaying placards during a protest against authors and writers who returned the Sahitya Akademi Awards at Rabindra Bhawan in New Delhi on Friday. (Photo: PTI)
A group of people displaying placards during a protest against authors and writers who returned the Sahitya Akademi Awards at Rabindra Bhawan in New Delhi on Friday. (Photo: PTI)

Actually, it is unfair to embarrass these authors by accusing them of hatching a conspiracy to defame the Centre and question them as to why they did not return their awards in protest against the emergency, Sikh killings, Gujarat riots, Godhra burning and hundreds of communal riots since 1947. One can only assume that they did suffer guilt pangs even then but did not have courage to return the awards to their patrons and keep the slot in the walls vacant. It is only now that they are tired of looking at them and therefore decided to enlighten themselves.

Snapshot

Making Sense of Noise

  • Law enforcement agencies are in place to deal with incidents of crime; in the present case the buck stops with the governments of UP, Karnataka and Maharashtra
  • Protesting authors who didn’t return their awards against the many riots since 1947, Sikh killings, etc can’t be blamed for their out-of-the-blue protests
  • But be it a beef party or ridiculing gods and goddesses, one needs to respect peoples’ sensitivity in a society

Respecting Others’ Sensitivity

You don’t have to paint a deity in the nude, make fun of gods and goddesses in your writings, celebrate a beef party, and call Kasuri – who vociferously pleaded for Kashmir’s cessation in his heyday – to launch a book. Your popularity may soar and books may sell very well if you write stuff that ridicules social norms and religious practices that are in existence for centuries, but you will have to be careful.

Since you live in a society, you need to respect others’ sensitivity and take time to send your message across. Writings and reactions should not only be truthful but also beautiful, beneficial and measured. Learn to write like Kabir, Solzhenitsyn, Marx, Tolstoy, Premchand, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Gabriel Marquez etc, who shook the conscience of generations and brought out the ills of social and political institutions without being vulgar and offensive. But if your idea is to shock your readers and audience, you should also be prepared to be shocked.

J&K MLA Abdul Rashid Sheikh’s face was blackened by a few activists, allegedly belonging to a right-wing organisation, at the Press Club in New Delhi, October 19, 2015. (Photo: PTI)
J&K MLA Abdul Rashid Sheikh’s face was blackened by a few activists, allegedly belonging to a right-wing organisation, at the Press Club in New Delhi, October 19, 2015. (Photo: PTI)

No one, not even Prime Minister Modi’s threats and appeals can make any difference to the prevailing anger. Unlike the gullible, he knows his limitations. Fali Nariman is out of tune with the times if he thinks that Mr Modi’s words will subdue the Trojan horses. Only the law can do that. Moreover, the persecutors in the media and writing fraternity, the practitioners of dissent and people with an overgrown sense of their responsibility have to reach out, encourage dialogue at various levels and stop mouthing invectives. And for Heaven’s sake, don’t ask for votes in the name of secularism. That actually is the prime source of the social divide.

India knows how to live together and survive as an indissoluble entity. Let the cynics be assured that India is progressing fast, those who want to eat, are eating beef in the privacy of their homes, those who do not want to see Marathi movies in prime time are not watching them, girls are still dressing the way they like, pubs and bars are running full houses and everyone still has the full liberty to abuse, disagree, gesticulate, lie, spout venom and criticise publicly.

(The writer is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat.)

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