Gujarati writers, poets and artists condemn state Sahitya Academy for maligning poet Parul Khakkar

As many as 172 well-known writers, theatre artistes, poets and others have demanded an apology from the Academy chairman and the editor of its journal. The complete list of signatories appended

Poet Parul Khakkar
Poet Parul Khakkar

Nachiketa Desai

Gujarati writers, theatre artistes, painters and public intellectuals have reacted sharply to the BJP government-sponsored Gujarat Sahitya Akademi’s harangue against poet Parul Khakkar, describing it as a threat to creativity and the arts.

In a letter signed jointly by 172 eminent personalities associated with literature, performing art, theatre, academics, social work and legal profession, they called the Gujarat Sahitya Akademi’s description of poet Parul Khakkar as ‘Literary Naxal’ as a blatant move to browbeat independent creative writers.

Parul Khakkar’s 14-line Gujarati poem titled ‘Shav Vahini Ganga’, which she had written to express her anguish over hundreds of dead bodies of COVID-19 victims floating in the river, had gone viral in social media and was translated into several major Indian languages as well as in German. In an unsigned piece published in the state Sahitya Academy's journal, the poem was criticised as disruptive and overtly political.

The open letter addressed to the Chairman of the Gujarat Sahitya Akademi demands an apology for publishing the anonymous article against Parul Khakkar decrying her as a ‘Literary Naxal’ out to create anarchy.

The letter points out that Gujarat Sahitya Akademi whose autonomy was wrested by the Gujarat government, which turned it into a government institution, publishes a journal named Shabdsrushti. The June 2021 issue of Shabdsrushti carried an anonymous piece titled “No, This Is Not a Poem, It Is Misuse of a ‘Poem’ for Anarchy…” on page 89. The necessary obligation of mentioning the author’s name was not followed which was immoral, criminal and dangerous, the letter says.

“It is perfectly legitimate for a writer to write a critique under his or her name and criticise a literary work. Criticism, debate and dissent are the strength of a healthy democracy. However, this writing offers a vague criticism ‘about one Gujarati poem’ without naming it. Similarly, without naming the poet it mentions patronizingly that she has been a beneficiary of the Akademi in the past,” the open letter noted.

“The anonymous writer makes outrageous statements such as ‘the poem is bad though the poet is good’, and through such insinuations attempts to issue an indirect threat to Gujarati writers indicating in an authoritative voice what they should write and what they should not write. This is akin to beating the pen with the hammer, a death knell for the right to freedom of expression of Gujarati writers,” the letter adds.

Moreover, the accusation that this poem has encouraged anti national “literary Naxals” and destructive elements are trying to create anarchy in the country and are involved in anti-national activities is shocking, the letter goes on to say.

Through such accusations the anonymous writer seems to be inciting public opinion against writers who engage in independent creative activity and reflect contemporary times and voice the sentiments of many including readers of Gujarati literature, the letter says.

In an attempt to gag the glorious literary tradition of Gujarat this government-controlled institution has opened the floodgates for a practice that goes against the interests of the people and has a dangerous and fascist tendency which we strongly condemn, the letter says.

“We believe that to become a custodian of society through writing poetry, to debate contemporary issues, to criticize actions or inaction of those in power through writing is an important part of a healthy democracy,” the letter said.

“Recalling the observation of the highest court of the country that to criticize the government is not sedition, we appeal to the editor of Shabdsrushti, chairperson of Gujarat Sahitya Akademi and the government of Gujarat to withdraw this writing, which is a blot on the Gujarati language and Gujarat,” the letter concludes.

The following is the complete list of signatories to the letter in alphabetical order:

Aatish Indrekar Chhara, Abhijit Joshi, Abhijit Vyas, Aditi Desai, Amit Dave, Amita Shah, Amitabh Madia, Amrit Gangar, Anand Mazgaonkar, Anand Pandya, Anandvardhan Yagnik, Anil Joshi, Babu Suthar, Barin Mehta, Bhanubhai Purohit, Bharat Mehta, Bhargav Oza, Bhavana Ramrakhyani, Bhavik Raja, Bina Jadav, Bindu Prasad, Bipin Patel, Bipin Shroff, Chandu Maheriya, Chinar Shah, Dakxin Chhara, Dankesh Oza, Dev Desai, Dilip Dholakia, Dipak Doshi, Dipti Joshi, Divyasha Doshi, Diwan Thakor, Dwarikanath Rath, Francis Parmar, Gala Joshi, Gargeya Trivedi, Gaurang Jani, Ghanshyam Shah, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Hajibhai Baadi, Hanif Lakdawala, Harish Brahmbhatt, Harish Mangalam, Hemant Shah, Hemantkumar Shah, Himanshi Shelat, Hiren Gandhi, Ila Joshi, Iliyas Shaikh, Indira Hirway, Ishwarsinh Chauhan, Jagdish Patel, Jagrut Gadit, Jatin Sheth, Jayanti Patel, Jayesh Dudhrejiya, Jayshree Soni, Jharna Pathak, Jignesh Mevani, Joseph Mecwan, Jyoti Bhatt, Kabir Thakor, Kalpana Sutariya, Kalpesh Dalal, Kamal Vora, Kamlesh Oza, Kanji Patel, Kartar Sinh, Kaushik Amin, Kaushik Mehta, Ketan Rupera, Dr. Kiran Chauhan, Kiran Trivedi, Kishor Goud, Kusum Dhabi, Kusum Popat, Lalubha Chauhan, Madhavi Desai, Madhubhai Bhavsar, Madhusudan Vyas, Mahashweta Jani, Mahesh Yagnik, Mallika Sarabhai, Manhar Oza, Manilal Gala, Manishi Jani, Manjari Meghani, Meenakshi Joshi, Mehboob Desai, Mehul Devkala, Mehul Manguben, Miki Desai, MInal Dave, Mohan Trivedi, Nafisa Barot, Natubhai Nimbark, Natubhai Parmar, Natwar Gandhi, Neha Raval, Neha Shah, Nikhil Gandhi, Nirjhari Sinha, Pallavi Gandhi, Pancham Shukla, Pankti Desai, Panna Erasmus, Panna Naik, Parth Trivedi, Persis Ginwalla, Prabodh Parikh, Prafull Raval, Prakash N. Shah, Prasad Chako, Pratishtha Pandya, Pravin Pandya, Preety Sengupta, Raja Pathak, Raman Soni, Rajesh Thakar, Rajni Dave, Raju Patel, Ramesh Bapodara, Rameh Oza, Ramesh Savani, Ramsagar Parihar, Reeti Shah, Rohit Prajapati, Ruchir Joshi, Rupa Mehta, Rupali Burke, Ruta Shah, Sahil Parmar, Salil Tripathi, Samir Bhatt, Samiksha Trivedi, Sandhya Bhatt, Sanjay Bhave, Sanjay Chhel, Sanjeev Shah, Saroop Dhruv, Saumya Balsari, Sharifa Vijaliwala, Sheba George, Shefali Balsari Shah, Sidhdharth Gujarati, Subhash Joshi, Sudhir Chandra, Sukhdev Patel, Suman Shah, Svati Joshi, Swati Desai, Swati Goswami, Takhubhai Saandsur, Tanmay Timir, Timir Amin, Urvish Kothari, Utpala Desai, Uttam Parmar, Vaibhav Kothari, Vajesinh Parghi, Varsha Ganguly, Veena Pandya, Vijay Mehta, Vipool Kalyani, Yagnesh Dave, Yashwant Mehta, Yoseph Macwan, Zakia Soman.

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