By Prof. Chaman Lal
To protest against attack on JNU,the best academic institution of the country and one of the best in world,As an alumnus and retired faculty member from JNU,I am returning MHRD award given to me by Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee,with then MHRD minister Dr. M M Joshi on 30th April 2003 for year 2000-01.
Since Central HINDI Directorate office declined to accept award cheque and memento, I am sending it through courier service directly to MHRD at Shastri Bhavan
Professor Chaman Lal (Retired) Dated: — 20th February
Professor& Former Chairperson
Centre of Indian Languages (SLL&CS)
Former Visiting Professor, The University of the West Indies, Trinidad Tobago
Former President JNUTA
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi-110067
Shastri Bhavan New Delhi via
Central Hindi Directorate,
Subject: Return of 2000-01 ‘Non Hindi speaking area Hindi writer Award’
I have no idea who is heading the Directorate these days, so am addressing this letter unnamed.
You can see from your records that I was given the ‘Non Hindi speaking area Hindi writer Award’ on 30th April 2003 by the then Prime Minister, Sh. Atal Behari Vajpayee. The then MHRD minister Dr. M M Joshi had presided over the function. I am attaching some photographs of the event for your convenience.
This award was given to me for my translation of selected poetry of Punjabi poet Surjit Patar – ‘Kabhi Nahin Socha Tha’ – in Hindi from my mother tongue Punjabi. Incidentally Surjit Patar returned his Sahitya Akademi award along with other 12 Punjabi writers last October to protest against the assassination of Dr. M M Kalburgi.
This was my first state award. Later, I was awarded the ‘Sahitya Akademi Prize for Translation’ for the year 2001 for the translation of the Punjabi poet Pash in Hindi (Pash was assassinated by Khalistanis) and the ‘Punjab State ‘Shiromani Hindi Sahitkar’ Award for year 2003, apart from innumerable honors from public institutions in India and abroad.
With the social conditions in the country worsening day by day the assassination of Dr. M M Kalburgi, Sahitya Akademi award winner, by some extremist religious body activists led many of our writers to protest by returning their state awards, especially Sahitya Akademi awards. I also joined my fellow writers in solidarity and returned my prize on 12th October 2015. Incidentally, all three awards came to me during the NDA regime in the centre -1999-2004. These awards were returned because of the atmosphere of extreme intolerance created in country after 2014, in the name of ‘Cow’, ‘beef’, ‘nationalism’ etc. Govind Pansare and Dr. Narender Dabholkar and many more had already become victims of these extremist religious groups, as was Punjabi Poet Pash in 1988 at the hands of Khalistani terrorists. No effort was made to check and control these elements, rather many ruling party MP’s were aggravating the crisis by supporting these elements, which included glorification of Mahatma Gandhi’s murderer, Nathuram Godse.
Incidentally Mahatma Gandhi may be dubbed as the ‘first anti national’ of independent India, as he fasted for releasing 55 crore rupees due to newly created state of Pakistan, with the partition of India in 1947. In fact, slogans now being heard on Delhi roads – ‘Desh Ke Gaddaron ko goli maro’(Shoot the traitors of the country) against JNU students these days were raised against Mahatma Gandhi in those days and ultimately he was assassinated by those who were inciting people with these slogans. Ironically Mahatma Gandhi had not joined the celebrations of independence in Delhi on 15th August, as he was fasting in Noakhali with his loyal followers like Bibi Amtus Salam to control the devil of communal riots. Mahatma Gandhi who at one time wished to live for 125 years, expressed his wish at that time ‘not to live anymore’ after seeing the level of communal clashes in country. The assassin of Gandhi is a hero of today’s Hindutva forces, patronized by this government despite paying lip service to Gandhi.
We hundred plus awards returning writers/artists/filmmakers and other citizens were hoping that things will improve after our protest, but our hopes proved illusory. Not only were we derided and insulted, including 88-90 years old respected writers/scientists-Krishna Sobti, Nayantara Sehgal and P M Bhargava, we were charged with being Congress agents, favourites and leftists, who got undue awards during previous regimes and were now ‘intolerant’ of new the government. In my case, if at all I was ‘favoured’, it was not during the Congress regime, but the previous NDA regime.
In October 2015, JNU and other university students started #OccupyUGC campaign which was dealt with by a rather heavy hand and then Central University of Hyderabad students started an agitation against discrimination of Dalit students, which were dealt so harshly that one of the brightest research scholars of the University, Rohith Vemula was forced to commit suicide on 17th January 2016. Support for Rohith Vemula engulfed the whole country. Earlier, FTII Pune students were being treated very harshly. In this connection, when after a function in Jawaharlal Nehru University was held on 9th February, about which some controversy arose, JNU Students Union’s elected President Kanhaiya Kumar was picked up by the Delhi police and charged with Sedition! This naturally led to a massive student protest not only in JNU, but all over the country and JNU Teachers Association (JNUTA) also extended its support. To make the things worse, irresponsible statements were given by Home Minister, MHRD Minister and Delhi police chief, which led to brutal attacks on not only Kanhaiya Kumar inside the court, but on media men also by some black coat wearing goons. Most dangerous was the open violation of Supreme Court’s directions and mistreatment of six lawyers sent by Supreme Court by certain black coated hooligans inside the court. This has never happened even during British colonial regime. Bhagat Singh was beaten inside the court by British police, but never by unruly hooligans with police patronization.
Even in JNU history, such horrible police interference never took place. I myself have been victim of emergency, spending seven months in prison and getting my admission to JNU delayed for two years, despite being selected. Yet I can say today that despite Indira Gandhi’s authoritarianism, she was correct in her understanding of certain Hindutva groups, as was her father,Jawaharlal Nehru. These groups collaborated with British colonialism during the freedom struggle and played the game of dividing Indian national unity by creating communal rifts, which was criticized by none else than Bhagat Singh. These are the people who have now come to power by deceiving people with deceptive slogans and playing the same colonial days game of dividing people and creating communal violence, just to acquire and preserve power.
The most ominous sign of their dangerous game is of involving army people and inciting their families in the name of ‘nationalism’ and pitting them against JNU. Worse still people not related to JNU were incited by BJP MP Sadhvi Prachi and they entered the University with the University officials’ shameful collaboration and tried to terrorize the JNU community. At least Jadavpur University faculty and students foiled such attempt by ABVP directly patronized by MHRD minister, which has already caused the suicide of Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad, by making a massive human chain at the University gate. I am afraid that with the kind of head hunting going on for JNU students, if another tragedy like that of Rohith Vemula occurred, I shudder to think of its reaction all over the country.
I have not only retired as Professor from JNU, I have been JNUTA President during year 2007, I am also a JNU alumnus, remaining a student during 1977-82 and getting my PhD degree from this University. It was but natural that I got disturbed, upset and anxious at the happenings in JNU and outside, vilifying my ‘alma mater’ in the worst manner. Further, the MHRD minister’s own conduct during the Rohith Vemula movement and during the attack on JNU has been most vindictive towards the University. She was having a grouse against the students of JNU due to their #OccupyUGC and #StandWithRohith movements, which has embarrassed her own self and her government throughout the world. She could not attack JNU, during the term of outgoing VC Prof. S K Sopory, who never allowed police to enter campus and dealt with such problems, even like the present one of alleged ‘anti national’ sloganeering, at the University level itself. That is why the whole University – students, faculty and staff – supported him for his democratic and dedicated administrative conduct.
The MHRD minister was itching for revenge so she got a new VC of her choice, pliant to her whims and within two weeks of his taking over, he allowed police to enter campus, on the basis of a controversial video complaint filed with Delhi police, without even any preliminary enquiry at University level. He violated even the JNU standard procedures of taking into confidence Deans and Chairpersons of Schools/centers. Four senior Deans protested on his allowing the police in campus and they joined the JNUTA call for solidarity with JNUSU.
In a similar situation at Jadavpur University, the Vice Chancellor categorically declared that he would not file any complaint with the police nor allow police to enter campus and settle the issue at university level. He rather stood with the Jadavpur faculty and students in a human chain to stop anti-social elements entering the campus. In contrast, JNU VC allowed the police with open arms, following the example of his ideal Hyderabad University VC, Appa Rao. In fact, sending police inside JNU campus on the basis of a suspicious video of a discredited news channel, directly interfered with the autonomy of the university. The JNU administration could have dealt with this problem using JNU’s internal mechanism without creating a national crisis. It seems the Central government was rather keen to create this crisis and they did it through their pliant new VC.
Under such circumstances, my conscience has been pricking me since the arrest of the JNUSU President and I can no more bear the burden on my conscience. I am thus returning the award given to me directly from MHRD with the signature of then MHRD Minister Dr. M M Joshi, since the Central Hindi Directorate is a branch of higher education section of MHRD. When the MHRD with the Govt. of India’s express wish, is bent upon destroying my alma mater JNU, which is considered the best University of the country and which is appreciated by world renowned scholars like Noam Chomsky, Nobel prize winning writer Orhan Pamuk and innumerable scholars from hundreds of Universities from India and abroad, then the least I can do is to record my protest by returning the award, which was given to me by MHRD itself 15 years ago, by the same NDA govt., which is in power today!
I shall hand over the plaque and a cheque of fifty thousand rupees given to me as part of the award to your office . I understand, you have no role in all this tragic happenings in JNU, but I request you to forward my letter and cheque to the MHRD, so that my protest is registered in records of MHRD. Since the procedure of award is through your office, I am submitting my award back to your office for necessary action of either forwarding or dealing with it at your own level.
I also know full well that by returning the award, I am again putting myself to danger of a vendetta at the hands of MHRD minister and this government, which is known for not showing any respect to even Vice Chancellors of the Universities. Thus I will be sending copies of my letter to the President of India and the Chief Justice of India, so that if anything happens to my life or limb, because of my protest against the attack on JNU, this government shall be held responsible.
Returning state awards and honours form is considered the most decent form of protest the world over and people are respected for it, even by those in power. Yet during the return of my first award, I have been subjected to all kinds of indignities on television and on social media by trolls. This happened despite the fact that out of my fifty plus books in Hindi, Punjabi and English, some translated into Urdu, Marathi, Bengali, Telugu, Gujarati etc, nearly fifteen books are related to Bhagat Singh and other revolutionary freedom fighters. But my ‘nationalism’ is under question under this government, which has no record to show of its ‘nationalism’ by way of any role in freedom struggle of its party or its ancestors! I have my own ‘Nationalism’, based on Bhagat Singh’s ideas of exploitation free Socialist India, further based on Gandhi’s nationalism of ‘Communal Harmony’, Nehru’s nationalism of ‘Scientific Temper and Knowledge’, Ambedkar’s nationalism of ‘Social Justice/equal rights/status/dignity for Dalits/Adivasis’, Subhas Bose’s nationalism of ‘Socialist India, all of whom have fought for the freedom of this ‘Nation’ from British colonialism. I certainly disapprove the so called ‘Nationalism’ of RSS/Hindutva thinkers like Golwalkar and Savarkar, who either did not participate in the freedom struggle or abjectly apologized ample times, of ‘Communal Divide and violence against minorities/Dalits’, leading to one BJP MLA in Rajasthan having the audacity to demand Rahul Gandhi ‘be shot dead/hanged for treason’! And another BJP leader asking for ‘beheading him and putting his head at JNU gate’! I don’t think that there is any difference between ISIS statements and actions in their Caliphate in Syria-Iraq, and these statements if not yet turned into action!
I may disagree with Rahul Gandhi’s politics, but his great great grandfather Motilal Nehru, his great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, his great grand aunti-uncle-Vijaylakshmi Pandit/Ranjit Pandit, his grandmother Indira Gandhi- all suffered imprisonment during the freedom struggle in contrast with these ‘phony nationalists’! So much for their zeal to kill people in the name of their own concept of ‘nationalism’, which means subjecting citizens to their narrow and sectarian religious kind of nationalism, which has no place for secular enlightened knowledge based scientific temper, so dear to Jawaharlal Nehru, on whose name JNU was established and which is being destroyed by present dispensation by all means, as already Nehru Memorial Museum and Library(NMML), National Book Trust(NBT), and ICHR have been destroyed by anti-knowledge ministers of HRD and Culture! Yet, like thousands of JNU alumnus, present faculty and students, I #StandWithJNU and am ready to pay whatever price this government wants me to pay, even getting killed by some of their patronized ‘nationalists’!
Winner of 2000-01 award for Non Hindi speaking area Hindi writer