Authors, filmmakers and scientists – the bandwagon of returning awards is getting bigger each passing day. While the reason behind their ‘sacrifice’ is really a matter of concern – but it’s nothing new in this country – the unified voice is not unquestionable either. India has passed through many turbulent times witnessing riots after riots. Everywhere there were political elements involved. Although there was no proof of government machinery orchestrating riots and communal disturbances, examples of authorities safeguarding violence perpetrators are plenty. None other than Rahul Gandhi recently admitted involvement of Congress leaders in the 1984 anti-Sikh violence. But the nation has never seen such surge of intellectuals and artists returning awards. ‘Sir’ Rabindranath Tagore’s gesture of returning his title given by British regime in protest against the Jallianwala Bagh massacre was one of the isolated incidents. So, what prompted these writers, artists and scientists to stand tall against ‘growing intolerance’ in the country?
The basic condition for one to fight for rights of the community or nation is sacrifice. Great leaders make sacrifice of personal interest. They take personal risk of being targeted. In the current episode, the question that strikes the mind is that have these personalities made any sacrifice by returning their awards? None of these awards accompany huge prize money. The only thing the awardees have to return, if the institution accepts it, is the memento, medal, trophy etc. By returning the medal, are they going to lose anything? No, rather they will gain publicity, the most needed thing for anyone in today’s world! There were very few who had come across the name of Nayantara Sahgal, till she became the first voice against ‘intolerance’ by returning her Sahitya Akademi award. At the age of 88, she may not need any publicity, but being a niece of Jawaharlal Nehru her complicity with the Congress cannot be ruled out that may justify her step targeted against the present NDA government. One TV anchor, interestingly, pointed out to her that she received her Sahitya Akademi award in 1986, just two years after the anti-Sikh riot, without raising a voice of protest. There political element in the award returning spree cannot be missed despite their claim that it’s a spontaneous and chain reaction from those feeling disturbed by the ‘increased intolerance’, after Modi held the reins of the country.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on October 30, 2015)