The Goa Konkani Akademi, a state government body, has rejected the purchase and circulation of a book of poems titled The Words, written and published by 2019 Sahitya Akademi Award winner Neelba Khandekar, The Indian Express reported on Tuesday. Khandekar told the newspaper that Sneha Morajkar, the former Acting President of the Akademi, had cancelled the order last year citing “objectionable and obscene content”.
A three-member committee of the Goa Konkani Akademi, formed in August 2018, had approved 64 books, including Khandekar’s The Words, for official circulation. A purchase order was issued on January 19, 2019, for 90 copies of The Words. However, the Akademi’s executive committee eventually cancelled the order.
Khandekar said the two words the committee found objectionable were “yoni” and “thann” (vagina and breasts in Konkani). They were part of the poem Gangrape, which won the 2019 Sahitya Akademi Award. The jury had at the time described Khandekar’s poem as “a piece of art”, and the “strongest piece of work”.
Prakash Parienkar, one of the three members of the panel which approved the 64 books, said it was a policy decision to exclude Khandekar’s book. “We were briefed by Sneha Morajkar that the Akademi has received some letters from outside raising objections to the poetry and that it was a policy decision,” he said.
Parienkar praised Khandekar’s poetry, describing it as based on “unique, but real topics”. He said that because of the decision to reject The Words, there can no longer be a scholarly investigation of the work. “Having read the book for approval, we didn’t find anything in any of the poems vulgar,” Parienkar said. “It was Sneha Morajkar who had found it objectionable. We were told that it could be dangerous if the book goes into the hands of children.”
However, Morajkar claimed it was the committee’s unanimous decision to reject the book. “It’s being put on me now as Khandekar’s book went to win an award,” she said. “They are now in a soup and they cannot blame me. We are simple people, not ‘hi-fi’.” She also claimed she was not offended by the words “yoni” and “thann”.
Khandekar, a retired upper-division clerk from the Indian Navy, is now filing Right to Information applications to find out why the two words were objectionable, and shuffling between Panaji and Margao. “This [the rejection] also puts the language in a very serious space and vulnerable to such bureaucratic interventions, as the censure is not just on poetry, but on the very usage of these words,” he said.
Khandekar has so far filed four RTI applications. A response to one of the RTI pleas, received on Monday, confirms that there was no record that the Akademi had received any letter objecting to the poem. The minutes of a meeting of the Akademi on September 13 last year, which The Indian Express said it has reviewed, showed that two members asked if the book can be published after the poem with “objectionable words” was removed. In response, Morajkar said this cannot be done as the book has already been published.