On the occasion of Hindi Diwas, celebrated on 14 September, Delhi's Hindi Academy has found itself embroiled in a controversy. Some writers and journalists have accused the Academy of insulting them in the name of felicitating them with the 'Bhashadoot Samman'.
Reportedly, the allegations were made public against the Delhi government-run body on social media on Tuesday, a day prior to Hindi Diwas.
On 9 September, the Delhi government's Minister for Art, Culture & Languages Kapil Mishra had announced that the journalists and writers will be honoured with the 'Bhashadoot Samman' for their contribution in popularising Hindi through the digital medium.
Those who were awarded were reportedly informed about the felicitation the following day. Initially, the Academy called them and later a formal e-mail was also sent to notify the recipients. The Academy's secretary, Dr Jeet Ram Bhatt, apparently signed it.
However, the sequence of events didn't go that well.
Different sources have confirmed that the Academy's secretary had e-mailed at least five people namely Shivendra Singh, Abhishek Srivastava, Arun Dev, Ashok Kumar Pandey and Santosh Chaturvedi. There could be more names in this list.
Abhishek Srivastava has claimed that he declined to accept the award asking the Academy to give it to "a more appropriate person".
However, others who accepted the honour were in for a rude shock. On 12 September, they received a brief letter from the Academy's office stating the following:
"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."
The story behind this gaffe runs deeper. It was revealed on Tuesday when Arun Dev posted both the letters on Facebook. Dev teaches at JNU and runs a blog titled 'Samalochan.' The letters he released were identical to the ones received by Abhishek Srivastava. Later, Ashok Pandey, Shivendra Singh and Santosh Chaturvedi also came out with the same news.
The letters went viral on social media. Catch spoke to the Academy officials as well as the members of the committee that zeroes in on the recipients. It was revealed that the award will still be conferred on nine other people.
This raises some 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?
We contacted the Academy's vice-president Maitreyi Pushpa. She revealed a different angle to the story. According to her, "I had sent some names while the minister was supposed to decide the other ones. However, the final list does not figure any of the names I had suggested." And these were the people who were later issued the cancellation letters.
When asked who is responsible for this faux pas, Maitreyi replies, "The secretary must have sent the earlier letter considering my list as final." But, had the minister bypassed the vice president's consent 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," says Pushpa.
Catch asked her whether she would now participate in the felicitation ceremony as the invitation letter mentions her name. She replied, "I have not taken a final decision in this regard." Sources claim Maitreyi might skip the event to register her protest.
"The Academy is badly affected by politics. Everything is decided by the minister's (Kapil Mishra) office. I don't know why they have cancelled the list given by Maitreyi Ji," says an Academy official on condition of anonymity.
Surprisingly, the invitation cards of the award ceremony were printed on 12 September, the day the "erroneous" letter was sent to five persons. This means the minister had already decided to override the choice of awardees suggested by Maitreyi.
The goof-up has snowballed into a major controversy. Facebook is abuzz with messages expressing dissatisfaction over the Academy's insult to the writers. The dispute is also over the personalities chosen by the minister, most of whom have dubious ideological and literary credentials.
The governing committee of the Academy includes eminent personalities like senior journalist Om Thanvi, poet and journalist Priyadarshan and journalist Bhasha Singh. Some of these members are believed to be close to the rightist ideology, as are the nine people included in the new list.
There are fissures even in the governing committee over the issue. The journalist Bhasha Singh told Catch that she was not even aware that she was the committee member. She denies any knowledge about the list of awardees.
Another committee member Priyadarshan is suffering from viral fever these days. "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 vice president (Maitreyi Pushpa)," Priyadarshan states.
Om Thanvi ,senior journalist and one of the members of the committee, could not be contacted despite repeated attempts.
Media reports suggest that the young writer Rahul Dev, one of the recipients included in the list of nine people (not to be confused with the former Jansatta editor of the same name), has publicly declined to accept the honour. He has reportedly announced his decision on his Facebook wall.
- Atul Chaurasia