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Understanding the debate around the giving back of national awards by authors and artists

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For a long time now we all have been coming across news related to various writers and artists giving back their national awards. But, are we clear on what really triggered these esteemed personalities to take this bold step?

In September 2015, Uday Prakash, a Hindi author, became the first to return his SahityaAkademi award that he won in 2010 for his novel Mohandas.  Following this, More than 40 novelists, essayists, playwrights and poets have now given back awards from the country’s most prestigious literary institution, the SahityaAkademi.

This collective action, often described as an “unprecedented rebellion by the cream of India’s literary talent” in the local newspapers, is seen to be a response to the growing climate of intolerance in the country. There have been attacks on intellectuals such as the murder of the Karnataka philosopher M.M. Kalburgi and the citizens of the country have been let down by incidents such as the Dadri-Lynching. The prestigious SahityaAkademi’s indifference or silence on the matter seemed to aggravate the pain felt by the fraternity. Now, this decision to give back the awards has received criticism from the various sectors and hence, we can say that currently, there are two schools of thought prevailing in the society.

First believes it to be the right step as this has now become a question of one individual’s rights which are being infringed upon by the government and needs to be checked. This thought is supported by the likes of NayantaraSahgal, niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, author and journalist who claimed that “India’s culture of diversity and debate is now under vicious assault”. Even noted lyricist Gulzar has come out in support of authors returning their SahityaAkademi awards and said, “Writers don’t have any other way to register their protest. We have never witnessed this kind of religious intolerance. At least, we were fearless in expressing ourselves,”

The other school of thought believes it to be a futile action by stating that returning awards is not a sign of protest as much as political diffidence. They were questioned on why they didn’t return awards during the emergency, UPA Governance’s failure to protect MF Hussain in 2010, or during 1984 riots. Actor Kamal Hassan said that instead of returning awards, artists and writers should make films or write articles on the issue to raise awareness as returning awards will not have any effect and it is also necessary for them (the people returning awards) to be tolerant. Another national award winner, VidyaBalan, was caught on record stating that she will not give back her National Award as it was an honour bestowed on her by the country, and not the government.

Thus, it becomes clear that the constant clash between these two opinions is gaining the media attention these days.

Nishita Agarwal

[email protected]


Image Credits: http://images.indianexpress.com/

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