For the first time writers in India matter, and not for their writing: Ashok Vajpeyi on returning his Sahitya Akademy award
Jaipur: Ashok Vajpeyi was perhaps one of the first few writers to lodge their protest against growing intolerance in the country by returning their Sahitya Akademy Award in October 2015.
On the sidelines of Jaipur Literature Festival, where Vajpeyi had a session, the former chairman of Lalit Kala Academy stood his ground and stated that he would not take his Sahitya Akademy award back. “Intolerance levels remain high and widespread. Look at what happened to a Dalit student driven to suicide. This is also intolerance.”
Vajpeyi has even returned honorary D. Litt degree that Hyderabad University had given him. While speaking to IBNLive.com, Vajpeyi mentioned why it was important to protest without thinking if it will make any difference. “You are acting in a particular manner to make a difference. That it doesn’t make a difference is another matter. That should not prevent you from saying or presenting your truth. Writers are those who try to say the truth and also keep on doubting on the truth.“
Vajpeyi explained that ‘award wapsi’ was a means to attract government’s attention to the raging issue. “ When this entire thing started happening, there were 80 intellectuals of the country who signed a petition and only one newspaper published it. No one even took notice. So something dramatic had to happen to attract maximum attention.“
But isn’t returning an award a way of dishonouring those who have given you the honour? “Not really. It was not to disrespect anyone who thought you were fit enough to be awarded. To be honest all this time writers in India did not matter. For the first time they started mattering not for their writing but for what they were saying.“
Vajpeyi also admitted that India has been an intolerant country for a while but added that it shouldn’t stop people from protesting about it now. “We are a democratic polity. As writers we are in a position to bring to the notice of people what’s happening to them, the kind of issues that have been simmering,” said the poet and added, “Even if writers have spoken about intolerance in the past that should not stop us from talking about it now.”
“The President Of India has told us that we have succeeded in bringing the issue of intolerance in the national agenda.”
The former bureaucrat said more than the government he was concerned about how people of the country were reacting to certain issues.
The renowned poet, who has written thought provoking poetry in Hindi, blamed the middle-class of India for alienating its mother tongue for the downfall of regional writing in India. “We now have a middle class which has nothing much to with its mother tongue. Besides lit-fests can’t be seen as standard setting platforms. A regional language writer can be good and can have a strong fan base but they may not be comfortable to talk publicly. A lot of writers are not comfortable in speaking in English. That does not cut in to their stature."