Care has to be taken that the returning of the award is tightly tied to the issue being deplored.Embarrassment would have been keen if Rabindranath Tagore had `renounced’ his knighthood four years after he got it without making it clear that the Jallianwala Bagh massacre was what made him do it and not because he had grown deeply irritated to the point of it affecting his work each time someone came to the door of his study saying, `Saar Robi, ashbo?’ (Sir Rabi, may I enter?) Jagdish Bhagwati announcing that he would return his Nobel Prize in economics as soon as he gets one in protest of the canards that he has always lusted after the prize awarded to Amartya Sen in 1998 would also be too complicated a message to underline the incompetence of the Nobel committee to recognise genius.
With G N Devy , G N Ranganath Rao, Nayantara Sahgal, Ashok Vajpeyi and others returning their Sahitya Akademi awards some others have said that they will do the same in a day or two after finding the plaque and arranging a courier many have found their act to be an unwarranted questioning of the legitimacy of the Indian State. That strikes me as an incorrect and bombastic response. When i had once returned a birthday gift from my father, i was not questioning the legitimacy of his fatherhood (a DNA test would be too nerve-wracking for all parties concerned). I was standing firmly against his fascistic notions of shirt colour.
Union minister of culture Mahesh Sharma has given some useful tips to the Sahitya Akademi award-returning writers as to other methods they could have used like writing to the PM, to the CM or to the Akademi itself. Or perhaps to even each other.Writers, Sharma reckoned, write and these protest letters could have been collected in an anthology and published by the Akademi to underline that it appreciates dissent.
Going on a dharna was another suggestion, even though it strikes me as being a bit too visually `political’. But Sharma must appreciate that returning the awards is far better than, say, selling them, a recourse that former Olympic medal-winning hockey players take to protest against their financial situation.
As for those Sahitya Akademi awardwinners already polishing their plaque one last time in case the pressure of returning it grows, fret not. Books usually outlive anguish. And there’s always the Jnanpith.