Rajasthan author Nand Bhardwaj, who had returned his Sahitya Akademi award in October last year, has decided to re-accept the award, saying the “Akademi’s response to issues raised by us has been positive”.
Bhardwaj said he took the decision following a meeting of the executive board of the Akademi a couple of months ago, when participating authors passed a resolution expressing satisfaction with the Akademi’s attitude towards safety of writers.
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As many as 35 eminent writers had returned their Sahitya Akademi awards late last year, citing growing tolerance in the country. Now, contending that there is no provision in their constitution to accept the returned awards, the Akademi will be sending the awards back to the respective writers.
Bhardwaj told The Indian Express that correspondence regarding withdrawing the decision to return the awards had been going on since the board meeting. “Most of us agreed to withdraw our decision to return the awards. But some still want to stick to their stance. I can’t speak for them, but I feel the Akademi’s response to the issues raised by us has been positive,” he said.
“The issues over which I returned my award persist. There still is intolerance over communal issues and freedom of expression. The suicide by the Dalit scholar in Hyderabad is a grim reminder of that. But there is no point holding the Akademi at fault. It is an autonomous body working in the interest of writers. It does not reflect the attitude and policies of the government,” Bhardwaj said.
Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari, Hindi poet and president of the Akademi, said, “The executive board met last month and passed a resolution that our job is only to give awards. It is not in the Akademi’s purview to take back awards. A copy of the resolution was dispatched to all concerned authors. Our office has also initiated the process of sending back the awards through post.”
K. Sreenivasarao, secretary of the Akademi, said, “Along with a copy of the resolution, we have sent letters to the writers, requesting them to accept their awards back and continue their association with us. Nayantara Sahgal was among the first to respond to our request. She called back saying she was okay with it, in case there was no option.” Sahgal, who was not available for comment, was quoted as saying that she would use the award money for a worthwhile cause.
While one or two authors have agreed to take the awards back, others like Ashok Vajpeyi and Sarah Joseph are firm in their protest. Malayalam author Joseph said, “Not for a moment can I think of accepting my award back. The situation in our country is becoming worse. Let them decide what they want to do with my award,” she said.
Bhardwaj was the first author from Rajasthan to return his award, along with the prize money of Rs 50,000, in protest against “increasing religious intolerance” and “attacks on freedom of expression”. Bhardwaj had won the award in 2004 for his novel Saamhi Khulto Marag” (Forward Opens the Way).