I was appalled at the treatment meted out by India’s National Academy of Letters (the Sahitya Akademi) to the Dalit poet, ND Rajkumar, at an event this week. Mr Rajkumar himself describes the incident here, on the website of Navayana (an independent press and publisher based in India).*
Mr Rajkumar says he was invited to speak on the topic, ‘My Poetry and I’ by the Sahitya Akademi on November 16th. He was introduced as part of a tradition of Tamil writers. In his speech, Mr Rajkumar took exception to being part of that tradition, and clarified that he did not believe himself to be part of it. He said,
I began by saying: “The respected Isaac Samuel Nayagam introduced me as being of the same tradition as Kannadasan, Mu. Mehta and Vairamuthu [all respected Tamil poets, past and present]. I would like to humbly suggest that I do not place myself in the same literary tradition. I function in a radically different literary field. I have no opinion on their literary work. Fine.
This is what happened next:
Immediately, five members from the audience stood up and shouted deeply hurtful imprecations at me, humiliating and silencing me. One of the five, the advocate Radhakrishnan, president of a charitable organization named after the late chief minister Kamarajar, as well as an outfit called Sivaji Charitable Organization, stood up and made a fist at me. Pointing his finger at me in a threatening fashion, he asked whether I would be able to leave the hall safely after having ‘insulted’ Kannadasan. The others with Radhakrishnan also stood up and shouted threats, not allowing me to continue with my speech.
I did not criticize Kannadasan or even speak about him. I merely pointed out that I did not belong to his tradition. I requested in a calm, soft voice that I be allowed to speak on the topic given to me. Yet, they kept shouting threats at me, creating such a racket that I could not speak. I turned to the organizers and asked them to provide me with the appropriate environment so I could speak. But they, ignoring the rioters, came up on the stage, grabbed me and forced me to sit down
How long will Dalit voices be silenced?
Add your name to Navayana’s protest here
Read S Anand’s (of Navayana) post, about the incident, here
*corrected. I originally called it a Dalit press, but that’s not accurate.