RAHMAN ABBAS TURNS DOWN SAHITYA AKADEMI PLEA, WON’T TAKE BACK AWARD
Rahman Abbas, the novelist who returned his state Urdu Sahitya Akademi Award to protest against the murders of Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, has said he is disinclined to take it back despite entreaties from the national academy of letters to do so. Abbas told Mumbai Mirror that he would confer with other writers to gauge their reaction to the Sahitya Akademi‘s plea.
“The government seems uninterested in curbing the organisations behind the killings. Spokespersons of these organisations air their views arrogantly on TV. First they killed Gandhi, now we are seeing Gandhi’s killers being raised on a pedestal,” Abbas said, referring to the killings of the two rationalists – Pansare was shot dead in February this year and Dabholkar in August 2013; both were vocal in their opposition to extremist Hindu groups, and were killed in a similar manner.
Twenty-six years before he returned the Sahitya Akademi award to protest against “today’s era of darkness where people are killed because they think differently”, Abbas, a teenager, participated in a morcha organised by the Students Islamic Movement of India against Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, in 1989. The processionists carried placards that said “Kill Rushdie”. The morcha ended in police firing in which 11 protestors died.
Abbas had first-hand experience of state censorship when his first novel, Nakhalistan ki Talaash (2004), had an obscenity charge slapped on it for which he had to spend two nights in Arthur Road jail. “That’s where I realised the value of writing and how much you have to sacrifice for it,” he said. The case is still pending.
His three novels take on issues confronting Indian Muslims. Nakhalistan ki Talaashis the story of a Muslim student dealing with his first love, and the forces out to radicalise him after the 1992-93 Mumbai riots and the Kashmir azadi struggle. An Urdu professor in a Mumbai college asked his students to read it; one of them found the novel’s love scenes offensive, and the Urdu press raged against him. The controversy led to Abbas having to resign from his teaching job after a delegation led by a minister met the management. “When so many long-bearded fellows land up, what can one do,” the chairman of the institution had defended himself to Abbas.
The same minister handed him the State Sahitya Akademi Award for his third novel, Khuda ke saaye mein aankh micholi (2011) which describes the dilemma of an atheist, “struggling to live with and without god”. Abbas’ second novel Ek Mamnua Muhabbat Ki Kahani (2009) deals with a phenomenon rarely discussed: the “purification” of Konkani Muslims. Hailing from Chiplun, Abbas has seen “the region’s composite culture, where everyone went to dargahs, there was no purdah, and shehnai played at all weddings, change over the last 20 years into a Middle Eastern Wahabi culture, thanks to the Tableeghi Jamaat. They are killing India’s inclusive culture as much as the RSS is.”
Abbas is hopeful, however. Replying to questions by students at the Thadomal Shahani Centre for Media and Communications on Friday, where he had been invited by the Media and Communications Centre, Abbas quoted the Upanishads on the primacy of the word (“shabd”), and pointed out that for the first time, “#Sahitya Akademi” was trending in social media.