The Answer’s Floating In The River
Once, Bertolt Brecht (February 10, 1898 – August 14, 1956) had said: “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” In his play ‘Galileo‘, the German theatre practitioner, playwright and poet mentioned about five challenges faced by a true artist. Those are: the courage to tell the Truth even in the face of strong opposition, the desire to find the Truth even in the atmosphere of total secrecy, the ability to use the Truth as a weapon, the ability to find people who could protect, as well as use the Truth effectively, and the ability to inspire others to tell the Truth.
A recent editorial in the Gujarat Sahitya Academy’s journal ‘Shabdsrushti’ coined the term Literary Naxals (or Literary Hooligans) to attack the poem ‘Shav Vahini Ganga’ by poet Parul Khakhar. Khakhar, hailing from the western Indian province of Gujarat, penned the poem, as she was deeply touched by the piece of news that hundreds of corpses (mainly victims of COVID-19) were found floating in the River Ganges or buried in the sand of its banks. In her poem, the poet has strongly criticised the Government of India for its failure in tackling the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Later, the president of the Academy wrote in an editorial that Khakhar made an attempt through this poem to create anarchy and to influence the so-called Liberal people against the Nationalist Ideology of the Narendra Modi Government in New Delhi! He also mentioned that this particular poem was bad, but the poet was good… if she writes good poems in the future, readers would surely appreciate her works. Now, a strong reaction has emerged from writers, poets, playwrights, artists, filmmakers, activists and intellectuals in the province. They have condemned the Gujarat Sahitya Academy for attacking both the poem and the poet.
It should be noted that the organisation, which has made allegations against a poet, has a duty to uphold the Truth through literature. It is, indeed, unfortunate that such an institution has started judging poets and their creations not in the light of Society and Time, and has got influenced by the Political Ideology of the Ruling Class. In fact, it has to be seen if the Gujarat Sahitya Academy has any authority to dictate the authors what to write, and how to please the Ruling Class.
It has become a habit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to project the critics of the Government of India as ‘Anti-Nationals’. The Gujarat incident shows that intolerance has now spread to the Civil Society, as well. Literary institutions have also forgotten the generosity of rising above the Declared Ideology of a particular party or an (Elected) Authoritarian State, and uplifting literature and authors. The Indian State did not spare University students, social workers and journalists for criticising Government Policies in recent times. When a poet has been harassed for portraying the Truth and the Darkness of the Contemporary Time through her creation, then it means that the State is not ready to spare even a creative person. In a way, the Indian State is partly successful in injecting the idea of Shameless Nationalism to the Civil Society.
Nearly 150 intellectuals of Gujarat have issued a joint statement in protest of this behaviour of the Gujarat Sahitya Academy. They have reminded that the Academy is a Democratic and Literary Institution, and it has no right to curtail the Freedom of Expression of the authors. Authoritarianism has a tendency to control Literary and Social institutions. Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and Franco’s Spain are fine examples of this. However, such an intention did not work in the end. It is the time for today’s India to exhibit that Social Responsibility?
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