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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 51 New Delhi December 12, 2015

My Take on Award Wapsi

Sunday 13 December 2015

by Mathew Varghese

Award wapsi has suddenly become fashionable among the writers and artists. The number is growing steadily. There is so much intolerance how can we be silent?—is the rhetoric. Don’t you call it a rhetoric! It is a rational and logical way to protest against the intolerance in society. But why now? You gladly took it because it was the previous government and now that the government has changed you are finding an excuse to embarrass the government.

But my concerns are genuine and I really want to protest. There were so many instances of intolerances, violence against communities; you did not protest then. But don’t I have right to choose when I can protest? How do you decide that, how do you decide what you are going to protest against? Why can’t I decide that? Why did you not protest when that event happened in the Middle East? That was international, not India. So you protest only for Indian things? Then why did you not protest when that event happened in Bengal or Nagaland? I was only in school; how could I protest? So you have an age when you can begin to protest? What is the right age to begin, College days? When you are 18 or 21?

Should there be a different age for girls and boys? A legal age to protest. I do not understand this, why can’t I choose when to protest, what to protest about, whom to join and in what manner should it be? My choice, who are you to interfere? You don’t like you are welcome to choose your manner of protest against my protest. As long as it is non-violent, non-vulgar, non-abusive, non- insulting, non-ethnic, non-religious, non-gender biased and sensitive to my right to dignity as a human being. That is a long list you might as well not protest. Well that is your choice but rules are rules.

Who set the rules? Who is to police the rules? Do you need a written rule for everything? If you have a written rule, then the law takes over your discretion is not needed. So the right to protest must be with discretion and rational thought. That is what democratic process is all about, rational human beings using rational thought processes to come to rational decisions agreeable to the majority at the same time sensitive to the needs of the majority.

Ha! Democratic processes! It is all about majority vs minority. Then minorities will get nothing, forget about awards: I think you got it all wrong, it is majority for minorities not vs minorities.

National awards. Eagerly waited for by most. There are not many Nachiketas around in modern India. Thenaïve and timid wait patiently for awards. Aggressively lobbied for by the smart ones. Passively lobbied for by the clever ones. Once you get it, so much excitement afterwards. Telling friends. Cell phones, land-lines, Face-books, Twitters, e-mails and whatever method by which you can communicate. You want everyone to know you have arrived. You got a National award! Not a joke! Hard work. The world must know. Of course everyone must have read the paper or the channels. They keep repeating ad nauseum, so everyone gets a chance to hear sometime in the day or night. Not just friends, you want everyone to know. Why not? You deserved it. So the world should know. They have to know. More important than friends your foes must know. To think of all their jibes and criticisms! Now they will know who they were dealing with!

But how could you accept an award from this government? The government run by this party? The award is given by the government that has a majority party, but the party is different, the government is different. The government is not a party. The government represents the nation. So it is a national award and if you return the award, it is anti-national. But, surely exercising your democratic right to dissent can’t be viewed as anti-national. But the government of a party has an ideology. But are all awards ideologically motivated? No, but many are.

So, what do you do, refuse all awards because there will always be some ideology behind every government? So you accept an award only if you agree with the ideology of the award-giving government. Then the award is not only for your work, but also partly because you are in agreement with their ideology. So there is an ideological conflict of interest. Well, but not everyone has an ideological conflict of interest. But it is possible it exists, is it not? You can also agree to receive an award to safe keep. What do you mean by safe keep? Safe keep until you have a just time and a just cause to return it in protest. You mean you can use the award as a weapon of protest in future? Ha! An award weapon.

You can also have a prophylactic award. What do you mean, prophylactic award? In school when a child is naughty you make him the monitor so that he behaves better and many children do behave responsibly after becoming the monitor. So you can give, for example, a peace award if you suspect the leader is likely to wage a war.

So then, all awards must be by autonomous, apolitical, non-Ideological organisations. But how is that possible? Organisations usually have like-minded people. They will have their own set of ideologies. Like-minded people are like minded because they share many common ideological thoughts. Even the Nobel Committees have been known to be ideologically motivated. So many writers did not get their awards they deserved because of their political leanings. So many were given the awards mainly because of their political leanings. But then, there will be no awards. So what? You can have an award-free society. Freedom from awards! One more freedom to fight for!

If all awards must be banned what happens to all those awards that have been given so far? Should it be retrospective banning or pros-pective banning? If only prospective banning the population will have to be in two time zones—period before the awards (BA) and period after the awards (AA)—year BA and year AA.

Until such freedom is attained, what should one do?

Returning the award could also give the impression that I did not value or cherish my award. How do you assume that? Obviously, that is why you are throwing it away. No when you protest the non-violent will internalise their anger and they might be giving up what they value most to show that it hurt them the most. So the people that return awards might be valuing far more than you image

Should I retain or return my award? No I think the freedom of choice is just that. Take your call. Why should you be worried as long as you are peaceful? Why do you have to be defensive about anything in this? If you think you deserve to keep the award more than the value you attach to the cause you are protesting, then keep it. But if you think your voice is better heard when you return it then you return it. It may appear to be a copycat contagion, but if it adds value to the protest, then do it.

I think true freedom should entail one more freedom, the freedom to take back my award when my protest has met with the right response. Reconciliation should be part of all democratic processes. But nobody should have the right to prevent you from doing one way or the other, choosing one time or the other, choosing one cause or the other, choosing one ideology over the other. I do it my way in my time. Who is anybody to question me on why I agreed to receive the award, why I chose to keep the award and when I choose to return the award?

That’s my take.

Dr Mathew Varghese is a renowned orthopaedician associated with the St Stephen’s Hospital, Delhi.