How AAP minister Kapil Mishra prevailed on Hindi Akademi to 'insult' writers
On a day it should be showcasing its efforts for the spread of India's national language, Delhi's Hindi Akademi has found itself mired in controversy. Some writers and journalists have accused the Akademi of insulting them in the name of distributing Bhashadoot Samman.
The allegations were made public against the Delhi government-run body on social media on Tuesday, a day before the Hindi Diwas.
On 9 September, Delhi's Minister for Art, Culture and Languages Kapil Mishra announced to honour people with Bhashadoot Samman for their contribution to popularising Hindi through the digital medium.
Several writers and journalists in Delhi received calls from the Akademi the next day, informing them about the felicitation. A formal email was also sent to notify them, apparently signed by the Akademi's secretary Dr Jeet Ram Bhatt.
The sequence of events that followed, however, can only be termed as a blot on the tradition of Bhashadoot Samman.
Several sources confirmed to Catch that the Akademi's secretary emailed at least five people -- Shivendra Singh, Abhishek Srivastava, Arun Dev, Ashok Kumar Pandey and Santosh Chaturvedi. There could be more names on this list.
Abhishek Srivastava says he declined to accept the award and asked the Akademi to give it to "a more appropriate person". He is apparently not comfortable with the idea of being endowed with such decorations.
The other people who accepted the honour, however, were in for a rude shock. On 12 September, they received a brief letter from the Akademi's office stating, "Sir, please note that the letter sent on 10.09.2016 was sent by mistake. The departmental decision is still pending in this regard. Therefore, the letter should be considered as void. We regret the inconvenience caused by this human error."
Interestingly, this voided letter acknowledged the earlier unnumbered letter. In fact, it put the latter on record, raising serious questions about the body's functioning. The story behind this gaffe runs deeper, though.
On Tuesday, Arun Dev posted both the letters on Facebook. Dev teaches at the JNU and runs a blog titled Samalochan. The letters he released were identical to those received by Abhishek Srivastava. Later, Ashok Pandey, Shivendra Singh and Santosh Chaturvedi came out with the same news.
Seen as a slight to the Hindi intelligentsia, the contradictory pair of letters duly went viral on social media. Catch spoke with the Akademi's officials and members of the committee that decides the recipients, and learned that the award will still be given to nine other people.
This raises serious questions. Was the earlier letter sent after deciding the names of the recipients? Under what circumstances was this list cancelled? Who chose the new nine persons for the award?
The Akademi's vice president Maitreyi Pushpa said, "I had sent some names while the minister was supposed to decide the others. However, the final list does not figure any of the names that I had suggested." It is these people who were later issued the cancellation letter.
Asked who was responsible for the faux pas, Maitreyi replied, "The secretary must have sent the earlier letter considering my list as final." Does this mean the vice-president's consent was not taken in finalising the new list? "I have no role in deciding the new names. Only the minister can say who will he give the award," Pushpa said.
Would she now participate in the felicitation ceremony as the invitation letter mentions her name? Pushpa replied, "I have not taken a final decision in this regard." The sources, however, claimed she might skip the event to register her protest.
"The Akademi is badly affected by politics. Everything is decided by the minister's office. I don't know why they have cancelled the list given by Maitreyi ji," says an Akademi official on the condition of anonymity.
Surprisingly, the invitation cards for the award ceremony were printed on 12 September, the day the "erroneous" letter was sent to the five persons. This means the minister had already decided to overrule the choice of awardees suggested by Pushpa.
Now, it has snowballed into a major controversy. Social media is buzzing with messages expressing dissatisfaction over the Akademi's "insult" to the writers. A dispute is also brewing over the names chosen by the minister, most of whom allegedly have dubious ideological and literary credentials.
The governing committee of the Akademi includes eminent personalities such as journalists Om Thanvi, Priyadarshan and Bhasha Singh, and some members are believed to be close to the right-wing groups, ideologically and otherwise.
There are fissures in the governing committee over the issue. Bhasha Singh told Catch she was not even aware that she was a member of the committee. She denied any knowledge about the list of awardees.
Priyadarshan said, "I have no idea about the controversy. However, the news suggests some writers were insulted. It is really unfortunate. I will discuss the matter with the Akademi's vice-president."
Reports suggest that the young writer Rahul Dev, one of the nine new recipients, has publicly declined to accept the honour. He has reportedly announced his decision on Facebook.
The awards have always been a subject of dispute in the Hindi literary world. This controversy, though, marks a new low. Indian politicians have always preferred sycophants over fiercely independent minds. This probably is why the minister's word outweighed that of the Akademi vice-president's in this matter. All eyes are now on the next move of Maitreyi Pushpa.