This is the second time the festival has been in a controversy

Bangalore Lit Fest is separate from my views says Vikram Sampath as two writers cancelArif Raja, Dayananda TK, Vikram Sampath (From left)
news Friday, November 27, 2015 - 19:51

The Bangalore Literature Festival has been embroiled in a controversy after two Kannada writers withdrew their participation over various reasons connected with numerous public personalities returning their awards.

Kannada writers Dayananda TK and National Award winner Arif Raza separately wrote to the organizers on Thursday evening stating that they were withdrawing their participation. On Friday, festival directors Shinie Antony and Vikram Sampath issued a clarification on the festival’s website, urging them to reconsider.

Withdrawal of participation 

Dayananda told The News Minute that he decided against participating in the festival, which is in its fourth year, after he learned of an article by one of the directors, Vikram Sampath. On October 15, historian and author Sampath had written a piece titled “Why I won’t return my Akademi Award” for Mint.

However, while respecting Sampath’s right to express his views, he added, that to him, literature festivals were “the examination of a language's contemporary creativity, commitment to engagement with communities’ dilemmas, a platform to stand with people who had been crushed by the ruling classes”.

He said that he disagreed with the views of many of the festival’s organizers who had “misconceptions” about writers who were returning awards. He also raised objection to Sampath being a signatory to a letter which was signed by a number of historians which was a response to another group of historians who had condemned what they called rising intolerance.

Dayananda, a Bengaluru-based writer, said he decided to cancel his participation as he thought “It is unbecoming of any writer to support the tacit silence of the powers that be in the face of repression.”

Raichur-based Arif Raza too cited Samapth’s piece for Mint, as one of the reasons for his decision. He said that Sampath’s argument that no one had returned awards during the Emergency was factually incorrect. He said that Tagore had returned his Knighthood following the Jallianwala Bagh massacre under the British. During the Emergency, Kannada writer K Shivaram Karanth had returned his Padma Shri while Chandrashekar Patil had lost his job and languished in jail for several months.

“When Godhra, Kambalapally and Khairlanji happened, thousands of writers took to the streets to protest through movements. I think that in comparison with such struggles, the protests of the present by returning awards, is the least of protests.”

He added: “To assume that one automatically becomes regressive if one doesn’t return an award, or is progressive if one does, is also foolishness.”

Sampath’s defence 

On Thursday, Vikram Sampath told The News Minute that it was unfair to “blur the lines between (his own) personal views and those of the festival, which are neutral”.

On Dayananda’s remark about writers’ response to the government’s “silence” on atrocities, Sampath said, “I’m not a spokesperson of the government”.

He said that the writers who had returned awards had to “pick issues” and decide whether they were objecting to the state government for not catching Kannada writer MM Kalburgi’s killers for six months or with the central government.

Sampath also said he objected to being called names. While he was open to “intellectual criticism”, name-calling and “branding” as a proponent of one ideology or another was unacceptable. He took exception to the use of the word “fascist”. He also said that he had been critical of the BJP in the past.

In his letter, Raza had said that “In a democracy even to discuss whether to return an award or not, was a type of fascism.”

To the objections raised to his having signed a petition as a response to a group of historians, Sampath said that the petition had not been signed by a right-wing fringe, but by respected academicians cutting across humanities disciplines.

“There is no single view of history. There are tribal, sub-altern, right-wing, left-wing views. There can’t be just one,” he said, adding that it was not right to “pigeon-hole” someone as belonging to one ideological affiliation or another.

Festival’s clarification

In a statement, festival directors Shinie Antony and Vikram Sampath said that the festival aimed to “democratically discuss, dissent and debate varied view points and opinions and not merely a single strand of thought” and that to “ascribe motives to us is simply mischievous and unwarranted”.

"Individuals and particularly writers, including the organizers, are entitled to their opinions in a free country like ours. However BLF as a whole is neutral and impartial and subscribes to no single ideology or viewpoint.” 

“While we respect the decision of the writers who have chosen not to participate in the festival due to certain misgivings, we feel they have deprived a vast section of the audience to listen to their viewpoint. We would still urge them to reconsider and participate in the festival so that their views are heard by all,” they said.

Past controversy

The literature festival is no stranger to controversy. Ahead of the first edition of the festival, questions had been raised over the invitation to SL Bhyrappa, who was accused of portraying Muslims and women in a derogatory manner in some of his novels, especially Avarana.

During the press conference held to announce the event, organizers were asked about this. According to journalists who were present, Sampath responded by saying that everybody had a right to his or her opinion. He had said, “This is a lit fest meant for anybody who has written a book. It is not a political event.”

Asked whether even someone like Hitler could be extended an invitation since he too had written a book, Sampath had responded by saying, “If Hitler were alive today, yes, we would have invited him.”

Sampath told The News Minute that he had no recollection of such a conversation having taken place at the press conference, which was held at a hotel near MG Road.

“Why would I invite someone like Hitler? He’s dead. Next someone will ask me whether we would invite Rama, Jesus, Prophet Mohammed. How much will this be stretched to?” he said.

Editor's note: The sentence referring to author Bhyrappa has been altered as the previous line sounded like a piece of opinion. It was accused that Bhyrappa's book Aavarana had sought to divide society on communal lines. 

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