Dignified dissent

Sahitya Akademi award winner writer KP Ramanunni handed over the lion’s share of his prize money to the family of a victim of communal hatred. The writer’s action is civil and yet clearly expressive of dissent. It is a tight slap on the face of the government and a bold appeal to the powers that be to rein in intolerance that continues to haunt the country by fits and starts. Ramanunni has tried to draw the government’s attention to a grave issue, cracking a ‘whip’ he fashioned out of the honour granted to him. Junaid was but a 15-year-old child who fell prey to an upwelling of hatred towards his community, during a train journey from New Delhi to Ballabgarh in Haryana. He was travelling with his family after a trip to the national capital for Eid shopping. Unfortunately, Junaid is not the only such victim of incidents related to communal hatred. There were many that fell prey to violence in the name of religion, particularly in the wake of legislation against cow slaughter. Many an atrocity was committed in the name of the law, and more often than not on individuals who had nothing to do with what they were accused of. The book that won Ramanunni the award focuses on communal issues facing India and the writer has also claimed that he received letters written to him anonymously, threatening him with dire consequences if he were not to convert to Islam in six months. But unlike award wapsi, several instances of which had happened not long ago following the murder of prominent writer MM Kalburgi, this bold action by the writer should disturb the conscience of those in the corridors of power. If award wapsi was considered disrespectful of a recognition given by the readership of the country, the given instance does not offer any scope for complaint. The prize money in this instance has gone towards a worthy cause and there are many other causes that writers could espouse and rally behind without disrespecting the award itself. No one can now fault Ramanunni for his action given that he has not disrespected the award per se. The likely flipside of the writer’s action, though, is that it could lead to others following the example blindly and also for fame. If that happens, it might not set a positive pattern across the country. There are rumors aplenty that writers and poets in this nation resort to very many methods to corner such recognitions. However, if the same litterateurs start taking up serious social causes and exemplify that their chosen causes stand tall in comparison to the awards, the establishment would be compelled to pay attention.

In this particular case, another positive factor is that a writer such as Ramanunni has been chosen for the award which is a testimony that at least the selection has seemingly been unbiased. That the writer has given a strong message against communal violence through his action indicates that the government is not favouring sycophants for the awards. This, somehow, protects the dignity of the awards themselves. The craze for recognition and awards is not limited to India alone. It seems as if even the not-so- rich and not-yet-famous would do anything to become recipients of some vague awards. It might be interesting to note that a few enterprising people of countries in the Far East and Africa have converted conferring such awards into full scale business. Usually, the person or organization desirous of receiving an award has to shell out large sums to hold the conferences and they also buy their own passage. Invites are issued, guests wine and dine and the organizer makes a neat little packet. During this process, sometime in between, the protagonist is invited to speak a few words and a brass statue encased in glass changes hands. All to honour the effortless efforts the winner had made to some unknown cause in her or his native country. Applause.

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