By Ranjit K. Sahu
The recent returning of awards by some celebrities in lieu of the happenings calls for a closer scrutiny of their action, not in terms of their social impact but more in terms of their implications on the award itself. While it is common knowledge now that not only in India but in many other countries and organizations, awards is not solely based on the merit of the recipient but also has one or more secondary albeit not so obvious reason for their conferring. This is not to discredit those who deserve it but then modern masses are well informed and gleefully celebrate when genuine persons are honored. There have been many instances when controversy arose due to the award being given to a person whose qualifications are dubious or of lesser credential than another. Stalwarts like Mohammed Rafi and P. Susheela have been conferred awards disproportionate to their immense contributions. So giving awards has been controversial in the past also. But the above stalwarts did not return what was conferred and respected the verdict. Sadly today we have artists/writers disregarding and devaluing these awards through their actions.
It has become a trend to return awards to register protest against (what artists see as) the government’s inefficiency. It is necessary to evaluate the contribution of such actions in changing the perception about the award in the common man’s view. When Vyjanthimala Bali declined an award for a supporting role in the film Devdas, she had enough justification for her action. Similarly Mrs. S. Janaki refusing the award was well valid as her contributions are immense. These protests were even given credit by the public. Thus declining an award is logical and acceptable under certain cases, as seen in case of the artists of yesteryears. These were formal and elegant way of protest and did not have any demeaning effect on the award itself. In the present scenario however, there are gross differences. First of all these awardees had been recognized for their contribution (whether or not they truly deserved) by the government of India or the Indian state (which they had accepted). Moreover, the awards are representation of what is a legal process of recognizing the citizens for their contributions. It is essential the awardees realize that they were honored for their literary merit and not anything else. Secondly these awards are being declined after being accepted. This defies logic.
Literature and writings often reflect the evolution occurring in a society and at times act as a catalyst for the same but there is a difference between the two. Writing to bring about a societal change is different from writing to pour out one’s grievances against existing injustices. Some of these awardees may have penned substance that might have possibly brought in some change in the perception of people and government but it is likely it was insignificant. That is obvious from the fact that most of these awardees were unknown to the public till they started throwing away their awards terming it a protest (what may be considered a blunder by many). As they were neither recognized for their societal activities nor honored for their philanthropic ventures, returning the award does not synchronize their actions with their intentions. They were at best recognized for a literary creation! It is therefore unacceptable that these writers return their awards using a disconnected incident as a pretext. Additionally it shows that they do not respect the verdict of the government of India which was elected in the past as these are not being returned to the same government that honored them. They cannot register their protest by returning it to a government which has not recognized them for their contribution in the first place.
Moreover the writers are free to express their opinion (and being writers they are well aware of the conventional and acceptable way of protesting through expression of their opinions in writings) or dissatisfaction at the happenings. That they are able to protest is a demonstration that their freedom of expression has not been curtailed. Many fora are available to citizens to express their anguish at government inaction or action but returning an award by so called elite citizenry is the most unpalatable form of protest. It is an ineffective process as the general public does not really care if the award is returned as many would not even remember the previous year’s awardees. At its worst it is a type of intellectual farce that makes a charade of the whole process of conferring the award, devaluing it and destroying the purpose for which it was created. It is hoped that people would use their common sense and responsibility more than their emotions or status to protest compatible with their social status.
About The Author: Ranjit Sahu, was born in India and is a doctorate in biotechnology. He has published two books in poetry ( 2005: A Year of Love and Drunk ) and his poems have appeared in the website of Poetry.com. Presently, he is working on several volumes of poems with different themes.