As the parade of the writers returning their awards in India grows longer I couldn’t help but wonder what the fuss was all about. Why were National Awards being returned at this time to a Government that is at worst being called a Fascist and at best a Communal regression, in its treatment of the masses. I looked for that overarching manifesto that described each point, which had these illustrious writers up in storm. I discovered no unifying theme, that these wasted efforts led to, and it was very much a storm in a teacup; and a waste of good Indian tea, as far as I am concerned.. There was no uplifting message to rally the masses behind these illustrious writers, no mass uprising in disgust, and no minor suggestions either, to improve the situation at hand..
- Hindi poet Rajesh Joshi author of ‘Do Panketiyon ke beech‘ (between the lines) having survived Godhra, has now awakened to new dangers of the ‘silence’ of this government over recent law and order problem in isolated incidents.
- Ashok Vajpeyi book of Hindi poems ‘Kahi Nahin Wahin‘ won in 1994 (post Babri Masjid) and now suddenly has problems with Indian secularism.
- The illustrious Nayantra Sehgal who survived post Indra Gandhi anti sikh riots in New Delhi and now feels victimized in a non-secular India?
- Keki N Daruwala won in 1984 for his poetry “The keeper of the Dead” feels that this government has crossed the boundaries of the living
- The esteemed Ghulam Nabi Khayal Urdu poet also returned the award which he received as a Kashmiri Muslims stating, “to live in a country that is secular, not a place where freedom of speech and religious identities are facing threats from communal forces.”
- Nirupama Borogohain novel ‘Abhijatri’ won the Sahitya Akaedmy Award in 1994. This 83 year old Assamese writer of regional literature felt that the national situation required that she return her award of over 20 years, to the present Academy, to send a message to the ruling BJP, that sectarian killings do not take place under a “secular” regime.
- Romila Thapar the historian has also spoken against the current state of affairs in the country and joined the chorus for reform.
The list of these great writers goes on, and one is in a deep dilemma, when looking at the ground reality. These people demonized Modi and ensured that he did not have a valid visa to the US for many years. His RSS background and Hindutva leanings were severely criticized before the elections. The question is that whether after an years of the Lok Sabha elections and the Modi Government rule, is the ground reality so much worse now in India? Looking at the chaos in neighboring states and the Middle East and Africa, is not India a shining beacon of stability and reform. When the engagement of India in world affairs is no longer when but how much, it wants to get involved; at its own choosing. To be the leading growing economy in the world, in a country of its size, will have its own repercussions. It is now known that its engagement in world affairs, will only increase from here and Modi has been a great torch bearer for these new aspirations..
I would implore the learned writers and poets to turn this sorry state of affairs into a new opportunity of communal harmony. They should write of positive experiences that will reinforce a more modern and secular nation, brimming with new poetry and literature. This is the time to express the hopes, dreams, aspirations and desires of over a billion people. Wonderful voices can arise from the 24 official regional languages in India recognized by the Academy. Their efforts can become a multi-headed Shesh Nag spouting various interpretations of life, in Indian states. Each language Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Telegu, Punjabi or any of the others has its own literature and tradition of great writers. Let the national award be used for recognizing many more such luminaries, in the future. Let the literature bloom forth and let all who protest today, may become the cheer leaders of a remarkable tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that; in successful succession
Let the voices of these literate people sing out in unison for the betterment of the nation. As the Hindu character of a free, democratic. secular and industrious nation emerges, let us not forget the arts and literature which are needed, for any renaissance to take place in the nation. Repression should yield to open expression, and that in turn will lead to a more cohesive whole of state’s voices, into the national character. The diversity of India is at the core of its beauty, and as this diversity is enhanced it will be even more beautiful to the rest of the world. The digitization of this world and its availability for the development of all, is a very promising shared future for Indian literature and the rest if the world.
Hindus and Muslims have lived together in harmony for centuries and will continue to do so in its Indian states. There is no denying the democratic aspirations of the Muslims or other religions in the nation and they will continue to participate in the parliament and government services as equals. We need to come together as one voice, one overarching manifesto that takes us from the bitterness at things today, into a new progressive and liberal world tomorrow. By blaming a government that one elected, is a meaningless exercise, when there is so much more work to be done.
Let us aspire for higher goals as only through great effort will the results be achieved. Positive expression of languages in its proper literary form is not easy, and we hail all the masters who have done so; to make a greater and more representative India. I hope to see a bright future arise like the lotus, from this murky past, and a civilization develops based on, openness, equality and liberty to pursue happiness in writing.We have had a poet as a PM already and now we can only grow from here.
May a million stories and poems emerge from the melange that is India? Let a thousand songs be sung and may the light of reason shine through their work. Assailing base inhuman feelings is not wise, but a seeking of harmony and human self-expression; is better. I am not saying that we all speak in one voice, but at least we can be the different notes of an orchestra, which makes beautiful music together. The time is to strive and find each one of our own private notes, to express freely, to make a greater whole for our world the best. My writer’s dilemma with these writers is, why be so petty and shallow now? Strive for the greatness that is ours to attain, as a nation of equals.