Two Marathi writers have returned awards given to them by the Maharashtra government to protest the state’s decision to withdraw the honour conferred upon the translated memoir of activist Kobad Ghandy.

On December 6, the Marathi Language Department of the state government had accorded the Late Yashwantrao Chavan Literature Award 2021 to Anagha Lele for her Marathi translation of Ghandy’s Fractured Freedom: A Prison Memoir.

However, following social media outrage about Ghandy’s Maoist links, the state government issued an order on Monday stating that the award selection committee’s decision has been reversed for “administrative reasons”, PTI reported.

The selection committee has also been scrapped, according to the news agency.

In protest, Marathi writers Sharad Bhaviskar and Anand Karandikar returned their awards.

Karandikar told the Hindustan Times that he did not agree with Ghandy’s ideas, but the government’s decision was “absolute gagging of freedom of thought and expression”. Ghandy has every right to express his thoughts, and Lele had merely translated the book, Karandikar said.

Bhaviskar told The New Indian Express that the government’s decision was fascist in nature. “Why did the incumbent state government overrule the committee’s decision?” he questioned. “It’s a people’s award. We want to know who took the decision to cancel the award.”

Meanwhile, a member of the award selection committee – Pradnya Daya Pawar – announced her resignation from the state Literature and Culture Board to protest the decision.

In a Facebook post, Pawar said that the decision to scrap the selection committee was taken in a unilateral manner. “This was an insult to the selection committee, and most importantly, to the democratic process,” she said.

Kulkarni also wrote to the Literature and Culture Board, asking it not to request him to be a part of such a selection committee in future. He said that he is a Gandhian and is opposed to the Naxalite ideology, and asserted that it was wrong to claim that those who supported the translator were supporters of Naxalism.

“It [Maharashtra government’s decision] would have been understandable if the book had been banned, but that is not the case” Kulkarni said. “Such a stand is completely wrong when it was not even the book itself, but only the translation, that got the award.”

Also read: Why I am a communist: Activist Kobad Ghandy on ideology and Utopia

Ghandy, who is a chartered accountant by training, joined the Maoist movement in the late 1970s. He was arrested in 2009 on charges of establishing a network of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) in Delhi. Ghandy was acquitted of terror charges by Delhi’s Patiala House Court in June 2016.

However, he continued to remain in jail – except for brief periods – before being released on bail in 2019.

The banned CPI (Maoist) expelled him from the outfit in December last year, accusing him of indulging in anti-party activities and abandoning the Maoist ideology.

Notably, the CPI (Maoist) also had reservations about Ghandy’s memoir, which he wrote after being released from jail in 2019, according to The Hindu. The banned outfit said that Ghandy had abandoned the basic tenets of “Marxism-Leninism-Maoist ideology” and adopted the bourgeois philosophy of “idealism, happiness and spiritualism”.

In defence of the government’s decision to withdraw the award, Maharashtra’s Marathi Bhasha Department Minister Deepak Kesarkar said that a book that promotes Naxalism cannot be awarded, India Today reported.

“In literature, there is freedom of writing,” he said. “But what is banned cannot be written. Banning has a different process. Even if the book Fractured Freedom is not banned, Naxalism cannot be exalted in the state.”

Meanwhile, several social media users criticised the government’s decision.