October 12, 2015 2:42:58 pm
Established by the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who was also its first chairperson, the Sahitya Akademi is the premier institution of letters in the country. Every year it announces Sahitya Akademi awards for writers in 24 languages.
Over the years, the Akademi has included several Indian languages in the award category. Inducted in 2005, Bodo and Santhali languages are the most recent languages. Awards in English began in 1960, the first recipient being R K Narayan for his novel The Guide.
The award that was Rs 5,000 in 1956 is now Rs 1 lakh. The Akademi also gives away other awards like Bhasha Samman and Yuva Sahityakar. The Sahitya Akademi award is considered the most prestigious and coveted in the country.
Though the Akademi is under the Ministry of Culture, it performs as an autonomous body and a committee of writers selects the awardees every year.
Besides the award amount, the Akademi gets the work chosen for the award translated into several Indian languages, thus increasing its readership.
The Akademi organises programmes for winners in several parts of the country. However, if the Akademi award enhances the prestige of a writer, it also cements the credibility and worth of the institution to have a quality writer in its wings. The fact that a genuine work is being honoured establishes that it had its readers before the award. In that sense, an award makes the institution proud too.
Returning the Akademi award is therefore a major statement, considering that there has hardly been an instance when a writer returned the award in the Akademi’s 60 years history. It challenges the Akademi’s authority, questions its existence.
Nearly 20 writers of different languages across the country have returned the award now, protesting that the Akademi has failed to perform its duty as the custodian of creative literature in the country.
The writers want the Akademi to speak up against the present establishment, a task the Akademi’s chairperson has been unable to do so far. His stand, writers believe, undermines the Akademi’s autonomy and suggests that it is operating under pressure of the central government. While more writers seem to be preparing themselves to return the awards, the annual award announcement is just about a month away. If the situation continues, the awards this year might be jeopardised.
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