Thiruvananthapuram: Taking a contrary stand on return of Sahitiya Akademi awards by eminent writers, former Union Minister Shashi Tharoor today commented that although writers have every right to stand up for their freedom of expression, returning the awards amount to “dishonouring” the recognition.
“Personally, I regret the fact that a section of writers have returned the Akademi awards. Award is a recognition of intellectual, literary, creative or academic merits. It is not a political act,” he told PTI on the sidelines of a function here.
“Sahitya Akademi is actually an independent institution, and the concerns we have are political ones. For writers, I think there is no need to confuse these two.
One should oppose the present climate...one should stand up for freedom...but one should not dishonour the award,” he said. An established writer and columnist, Tharoor said awards are “society's tributes to the achievements of writers and neither the achievements nor the tributes can be rolled back.”
However, the Congress leader said he was very much glad that so many writers had stood up for their cause at a time when many others had preferred silence.
“Writers are justified in their concern because the atmosphere of intellectual freedom is essential to promote and permit creativity in writing. Freedom of expression is something which any writer has a moral obligation to pick up for,” the 59-year-old MP from the state capital said.
Stating that freedom of expression is not just an abstract right in the constitution, Tharoor noted it was “as important as the blood that flows in our vein or the ink that flows in the pen”.
If the Sahitya Akademi is a disappointment to these writers, the Akademi itself must be pressured to review its stand on these issues, the former diplomat felt.
“Many prominent Malayalam writers including M T Vasudevan Nair, Paul Zacharia and Sugathakumari have not returned their Akademi honours. I do not think that they are any less committed to freedom,” he said.
When asked about the shrinking liberal space as lamented by writers and activists, Tharoor said he has been deeply concerned over the trend.
“If we are silent, if we are intimidated, if we shrink away, then the liberal space will also shrink...it is in our hands,” he said.
Though the government has a powerful influence and the political process can be a constrain on the liberal space, they are not the only guarantees of that space, Tharoor said.
“We ourselves in Indian society have to stand up for and guarantee the space. I hope we will do so more and more and if all these returned awards become a significant thrust in terms of reversing the tide, then they would serve the purpose even if the method itself may not be the one that I share,” he said.
Tharoor said a number of recent incidents, including mounting intolerance from people in position, irresponsible loose talks by leaders, banning of a singer because of his nationality, blackening of the face of an organiser of a book release and so on; put India in a bad light before the international community.