While I can sympathize with writers in India returning awards for feeling suffocated in the prevailing intellectual atmosphere generated by right wing groups, I want to raise a more fundamental issue.
Where is the great literature in India today ? Where are the Sarat Chandra, Premchand, Subramania Bharati, Faiz and Manto of today ? Where are the Dickens, Bernard Shaw, Victor Hugo, Maxim Gorki, Balzac, Maupassant, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Upton Sinclair, Erich Maria Remarque, and Pablo Neruda of today ?
Our writers write mainly to make money, and have no genuine social commitment. They have become largely commercialized, like the rest of society.
As I have explained in my article ' The Role of Art and Literature ' ( see online and on my blog justicekatju.blogspot.in ), there are broadly two theories of art and literature. The first is called art for art's sake, and the second is called art for social purpose.
Those who belong to the first school believe that the purpose of art and literature is only to create a work of beauty for pleasure, or for entertainment. If art is created for a social purpose, it ceases to be art and becomes propaganda. Followers of this school are Keats in English literature, Alexander Dumas in French, Edgar Allan Poe in American, Agyeya and the chayavadi poets in Hindi, and Tagore in Bengali literature.
On the other hand those who belong to the school of art for social purpose believe that art should help society, by attacking oppressive institutions, customs and ideas, and by inspiring people to fight against them and secure a better life.
In a poor country like India only the second school is acceptable. Art and literature in India should attack inhuman and outdated feudal and backward practises like the caste system, and inspire people to fight for better lives as Sarat Chandra, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Subramania Bharati, Faiz etc did.
But are our writers doing so ? I am afraid the answer has to be in the negative All they care for is making money.
What difference then does it make whether our writers retain their awards or return them ?