A Parliamentary committee on Monday recommended that the Centre should make recipients of government awards sign an undertaking that they would not return them at any stage as a mark of protest.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture noted that 39 artists, including acclaimed writer Nayantara Sahgal, had in 2015 returned their awards to the Sahitya Akademi. The show of protest were widely known as ‘award wapsi’.
They accused the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre of suppressing criticism, targeting minorities and fanning religious tension. The artists were also protesting against the murder of rationalist MM Kalburgi on August 30, 2015.
In a report, the Parliamentary panel on Monday questioned those recipients who had returned their awards but continued their association with the Akademi after allegedly insulting it.
“Such inappropriate incidents involving return of awards undermine the achievements of other awardees and also impact the overall prestige and reputation of the awards,” said the panel headed by YSR Congress’ V Vijaisai Reddy and comprising 10 Rajya Sabha MPs and 31 Lok Sabha MPs.
The committee said that political issues are outside the ambit of the cultural realms and the autonomous functioning of institutions. Therefore, it suggested that a system should be put in place to ensure that artists and other intellectuals “cannot dishonour the award” in future.
“There is no place for politics,” the report stated. “The committee, therefore, suggests that whenever an award is given, the consent of the recipient must be taken, so that he/she does not return it because of political reasons; as it is disgraceful to the country. The committee recommends prior concurrence of short-listed candidates for awards before finalisation.”
But one of the panel member objected to the suggestion that artists should be made to sign an undertaking, saying that the committee should instead urge the government to examine the issues leading to such protests.
“India is a democratic country, and our Constitution has provided to every citizen the freedom of speech and expression and also the freedom to protest in any form,” the panel member said. “Returning awards is only a form of protest.”
Another member supported the dissenting committee member.