Srinagar: Kashmiri writer and poet, Ghulam Nabi Khayal, has become the first literary figure from the Valley to join the ranks of writers across the country who have returned their Sahitya Akademi awards in protest against the institution’s silence on the murder of Kannada writer MM Kalburgi as well as against the spiral of intolerance being witnessed in the country today.
The 75-year old writer, who won the award for his book Gashik Minaar (Luminaries) in 1975, and has authored 30 books in Kashmiri, Urdu and English, has said the “growing hatred and attacks” on minorities in the country is the reason for his gesture. He has also appealed to Sahitya Akademi awardees from Kashmir to join him in the protest. As of Wednesday, as many as 25 writers from across the country, had returned their Sahitya Akademi awards.
“I can’t fight these communal forces physically so I have decided to lodge a silent protest by returning the award,” Khayal told The Wire. Expressing his anxiety at the prevailing state of affairs he said, “In the past one year, since the BJP-led NDA government assumed power at the Centre, India is increasingly being pushed back into the Dark Ages. I have never seen such an alarming communal atmosphere in the country in my entire life.” Saying that “divisive and communal forces have been let loose against the minorities,” the recipient of many prestigious literary awards indicated that he would return the award to the Akademi on Wednesday.
Khayal, who has also been a well-known name in journalism in Kashmir, rued the fact that “in Uttar Pradesh, a Muslim is killed on the basis of rumours that he has stored beef in his house, and in Jammu, Kashmiri truck drivers are attacked on the mere suspicion that a cow has been slaughtered in the district. This is not the country that our great leaders had envisioned.” He was alluding to the murder of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri and to an incident that occurred in Udhampur district of Jammu last Friday when a load carrier en route from New Delhi to Kashmir was attacked with petrol bombs by a mob, causing serious burn injuries to two persons. The incident took place after the carcass of a cow was found on the roadside. Police investigation revealed that the cow had died after consuming some poisonous substance. Four persons were arrested in connection with the assault while the injured were lifted to AIIMS for treatment.
Urging fellow recipients of Sahitya Akademi awards from the Valley to help create greater solidarity against growing intolerance in the country, the veteran writer expressed the hope that “they will join me in the protest.” At least 40 writers and authors have received the Sahitya Akademi award for their works in Kashmiri, prominent among them the poet Rehman Rahi, Ghulam Nabi Firaq, and historian MY Taing.
Although Khayal is the first Kashmiri literary figure this time around to return his Sahitya Akademi award, there have been similar gestures in the past also. Celebrated short story writer and novelist Akhtar Mohiuddin, who was recognised by the Akademi for his short story collection Sat Sangar, returned his Sahitya Akademi award in 1984 to protest the hanging of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) founder Muhammad Maqbool Bhat in Tihar jail. He was among the very few local writers who identified themselves with the ongoing political struggle in Kashmir. His collections of short stories published posthumously reveals a mind constantly grappling with the violent transformations in Kashmiri society.
In the early 1990s, Akhtar returned his Padma Shri award – the fourth highest civilian award in India – given to him in 1968, in protest against the rising graph of human rights violation in Kashmir following the Gaw Kadal massacre of 1990 in which nearly 50 civilians were killed.