Gujarat writers defend free speech, Parul Khakhar writes sequel

A recent editorial in the Gujarat Sahitya Akademi newspaper Shabdsrushti coined the term “Literary Naxals” to attack the poem “Shav vahini Ganga” by the poet Amreli Parul Khakhar. Now a strong backlash has emerged from state writers, poets, playwrights, artists, filmmakers, activists and intellectuals.

A statement with more than 150 signatories says: “We believe that writing poetry in a democratic tradition and becoming a guardian of society by writing poetry, debating contemporary issues, criticizing the actions or inaction of people in the world. power through writing, is also an important part of a healthy democracy.

“Recalling an important fact declared by the highest court of the country a few days ago that criticizing the government is not sedition, we appeal to the editor of Shabdsrushti, president of the Gujarat Sahitya Akademi and the government of Gujarat to withdraw this writing which is a stain on the Gujarati language and Gujarat.

Meanwhile, the poet Khakhar who was hunted down by the pro-government troll squad for her poem wrote a sequel, ‘Tare Bolvanu Nahi‘(Thou shalt not speak) in what is seen as a clear response to attempts to silence her.

The poem was published in the popular literary bimonthly Nirikshak, which was started in 1968 by the eminent poet Uma Shanker Joshi.

Its editor, Prakash Shah, told the Citizen that he received the second poem before the controversial editorial was published in the Gujarat Sahitya Akademi newspaper. “We have highlighted it in Nirikshak. “

It opens with the lines, “You may be in great pain and scream – You will not speak.

“You can be ordered to cut your tongue, people will greet you – You will not speak.”

“Look in the story, those who spoke were shot – you won’t speak.”

The concluding lines are all the more powerful: “Even though deaf citizens celebrate your truth and urge you to repeat – You will not speak. “

Meanwhile, in its statement, the Protestant brotherhood points out how the “Gujarat Sahitya Akademi whose autonomy was wrested by the government of Gujarat, which then turned it into a government institution, publishes a newspaper called Shabdsrushti.

The June 2021 issue of Shabdsrushti contains an anonymous piece titled “No, this is not a poem, this is a misuse of a ‘poem’ for anarchy …” on page 89. The necessary obligation to write the name of the author is not honored, which should be considered immoral, criminal and dangerous according to government procedures.

“It is perfectly legitimate for a writer to write about a specific poem in his name, to express his opinion about it and to criticize it. Criticism, debate and dissent are the strength of a healthy democracy. However, this writing offers a vague criticism “about a Gujarati poem” without naming it. Likewise, without naming the poet, he condescendingly mentions that she has been a recipient of the Akademi in the past.

“The anonymous writer makes scandalous statements such as ‘the poem is bad although the poet is good’, and by such innuendos attempts to indirectly threaten the Gujarati writers by indicating in an authoritative voice what to write and what they should not write. “

Artists and intellectuals say it is reminiscent of the days of the state of emergency, when newspapers and magazines had to be approved by government officials, and is absolutely wrong.

“It is akin to hitting the pen with the hammer, sounding the death knell for the right to freedom of expression of Gujarati writers. In addition, the accusation that this poem has encouraged anti-national “literary naxals” and destructive elements who are trying to create anarchy in the country and are involved in anti-national activities by pulling on the poet’s shoulder is extremely shocking. .

“By such accusations, the anonymous writer seems to create an atmosphere of incentive towards writers who engage in creative activity in a democratic manner and become the voice of contemporary times as well as hundreds of thousands of readers. of Gujarati literature who appreciate the writings of these writers.

“In an attempt to gag the glorious literary tradition of Gujarat, this government-controlled institution which functions in a democratic structure has opened the floodgates to a practice that goes against the interests of the people and has a dangerous and fascist tendency that we strongly condemn, ”the statement said.

Gujarat has clashed with freedom of expression on several occasions over the past two decades. On occasion, films have been barred from showing, be it the Bollywood film Fanaa in 2006, on a statement made by actor Aamir Khan on the Narmada Dam, or Parzania, a film by Rahul Dholakia. on a Parsi boy who disappeared during the anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002.

At the local level too, there have been occasions when pieces like ‘Suno Nadi Kya Kehti Hai’ hit a roadblock. The play that portrays Ahmedabad’s waterfront development while tackling globalization and other issues could ultimately only be screened for a small audience.

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