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The Bharat Literature Festival 2023, organized by Kirori Mal College in the most extravagant way possible, celebrated traditional Indian literature through engaging dialogues, debates, and readings. Eminent writers, scholars, lyricists, and government officials were part of the diverse lineup. While well-received, some criticised the event’s politicisation. 

The Bharat Literature Festival, organised by Kirori Mal College on November 28th and 29th, 2023, is a  LitFest that focuses on celebrating the diverse body of traditional Indian literature and facilitating engaging dialogues, literary debates, and celebratory readings. Over the course of the festival, scholars, writers, lyricists, poets, and renowned personalities from all walks of life were engaged in discourse about varying topics such as art, literature, culture, history, politics, and social issues. It went beyond its title as a literary event by housing art exhibitions, facilitating pertinent political discourse, and particularly attracting visiting students to the pursuit of the civil services with VisionIAS  as its Knowledge Partner.

Eminent public figures such as the Hon. Governor of Telangana, the commercially successful lyricist Prasoon Joshi, and Union Minister of Labour and Employment, Bhupendra Yadav, were invited too, amongst many, many more. It is indisputable that the line-up of scholars, experts, and esteemed speakers ranging from Indian cinema to Cabinet Ministers served as the major attraction for the fest. Students from across the University of Delhi flocked to the event to witness some of their favourite personalities share their insights on the central theme alongside issues that specifically pertained to the speaker’s field. Students were able to firsthand engage and interact with journalists, scriptwriters, historians, filmmakers, and lyricists. As the guests and speakers individually have their own publicity from the media, press, and fanbases, these speakers were able to cause an influx of visitors to the event too.

Other than providing a platform for these public figures, the fest even conducted a variety of competitions for students that included slam poetry, stand-up comedy, a photography contest, and a talent hunt—all of which were met with a sizable number of responses and registrations. The food stalls, youth activities, and musical evening incentivised even those who aren’t necessarily interested in literary discourse to participate in the fest.

I really liked the event, especially the different speakers that were called. A session that stood out for me was- “Cinema: The Reflection of Society.” Amit Rai, Chandraprakash Dwivedi, and Priyanka Shakti Thakur talked about how modern films disregard ethics to show what sells the most. It was quite an insightful talk.’

-A third-year student from Kirori Mal College who had attended both days of the event. 

Something that caught everyone’s attention was BLF’s attempt to encompass the diverse cultures of India. Speakers ranging from author Yadvinder Singh Sandhu from Punjab to Telangana’s governor, Dr. Tamilisai Soundararajan, blessed the event with their powerful words. Even the numerous stalls had books of various Indian languages, showing the level of richness the event tried to achieve

I enjoyed the talk by Dr. Sachchidanand Joshi Ji. I got a good perspective on the tussle between modernity and culture, how the two often don’t go along well.

– An attendee in reference to the session- “Sanskriti Aur Chunotiya – TV – Cinema – OTT.

However, this mega event was heavily criticised by student groups and had a lot of negative responses too. People raised questions about the politicisation involved and criticised it. Many students stayed anonymous or avoided sharing opinions because of the potential risks involved due to the involvement of college administration in the event.

I have attended literature festivals before, and this is not what a literature festival looks like. This was clearly right-wing propaganda.

-A critic of the event 

Few felt that the event was more of an attempt to push right-wing ideologies than focus on literature. They claim that the speakers called and the topics they talked about were clear signs of the political intentions of the events. 

Numerous criticisms about the festival surfaced online, with concerns focusing on the event’s agenda. Critics pointed out that the topics discussed, such as “Pranam Main Hindu Hun” and “Sanghe Shakti: Bharat @2047,” raised controversy due to their alignment with Hindutva ideologies. Some online discussions also highlighted the problematic stance of certain invited speakers who openly support the regime and have advocated for the genocide of Muslims in the past.

In addition to the ideological alignment, student groups disclosed, under anonymity, the kind of pressure the administration placed on members of various college societies about volunteerism and promotion. Students from many departments also brought attention to the abrupt disruption in their classes..  

Additionally, there were complaints about the lack of linguistic diversity, as most discussion titles were in Hindi, neglecting representation from North-East and South Indian literature. Critics argued that the event’s themes and titles seemed to align closely with the policies and marketing strategies of the ruling regime, further fueling online dissatisfaction. 

Featured Image Credits: @bharatliteraturefestival Instagram

Shireen Peter 

@[email protected]

Shatadru Sen

@[email protected]