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 festivalâ€™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 â€śWhy I wonâ€™t return my Akademi Awardâ€ť for Mint.
However, while respecting Sampathâ€™s right to express his views, he added, that to him, literature festivals were â€śthe examination of a language's contemporary creativity, commitment to engagement with communitiesâ€™ dilemmas, a platform to stand with people who had been crushed by the ruling classesâ€ť.
He said that he disagreed with the views of many of the festivalâ€™s organizers who had â€śmisconceptionsâ€ť 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 â€śIt is unbecoming of any writer to support the tacit silence of the powers that be in the face of repression.â€ť
Raichur-based Arif Raza too cited Samapthâ€™s piece for Mint, as one of the reasons for his decision. He said that Sampathâ€™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.
â€śWhen 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.â€ť
He added: â€śTo assume that one automatically becomes regressive if one doesnâ€™t return an award, or is progressive if one does, is also foolishness.â€ť
On Thursday, Vikram Sampath told The News Minute that it was unfair to â€śblur the lines between (his own) personal views and those of the festival, which are neutralâ€ť.
On Dayanandaâ€™s remark about writersâ€™ response to the governmentâ€™s â€śsilenceâ€ť on atrocities, Sampath said, â€śIâ€™m not a spokesperson of the governmentâ€ť.
He said that the writers who had returned awards had to â€śpick issuesâ€ť and decide whether they were objecting to the state government for not catching Kannada writer MM Kalburgiâ€™s killers for six months or with the central government.
Sampath also said he objected to being called names. While he was open to â€śintellectual criticismâ€ť, name-calling and â€śbrandingâ€ť as a proponent of one ideology or another was unacceptable. He took exception to the use of the word â€śfascistâ€ť. He also said that he had been critical of the BJP in the past.
In his letter, Raza had said that â€śIn a democracy even to discuss whether to return an award or not, was a type of fascism.â€ť
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.
â€śThere is no single view of history. There are tribal, sub-altern, right-wing, left-wing views. There canâ€™t be just one,â€ť he said, adding that it was not right to â€śpigeon-holeâ€ť someone as belonging to one ideological affiliation or another.
In a statement, festival directors Shinie Antony and Vikram Sampath said that the festival aimed to â€śdemocratically discuss, dissent and debate varied view points and opinions and not merely a single strand of thoughtâ€ť and that to â€śascribe motives to us is simply mischievous and unwarrantedâ€ť.
"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.â€ť
â€śWhile 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,â€ť they said.
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, â€śThis is a lit fest meant for anybody who has written a book. It is not a political event.â€ť
Asked whether even someone like Hitler could be extended an invitation since he too had written a book, Sampath had responded by saying, â€śIf Hitler were alive today, yes, we would have invited him.â€ť
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.
â€śWhy would I invite someone like Hitler? Heâ€™s dead. Next someone will ask me whether we would invite Rama, Jesus, Prophet Mohammed. How much will this be stretched to?â€ť 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.