Insult to Orissa: Its Body of Letters Sleeps over Writers’ Demand to Recall the Best Novelist Award Given to a Plagiarist

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Orissa administration has become so very immoral and corrupt that even the official body of letters – Orissa Sahitya Akademi – is sleeping over a just and proper demand to recall the best novel award it has given to a plagiarizer, even after being notified by eminent authors of the State about the mischief.

The alleged plagiarist, Manoj Kumar Mohapatra, whose book ‘Nirvana’ has bagged the best prize in the segment of original novels with retrospective effect from 2007, is a top executive in the mining division of IMFA, an industrial house run by the family of a member of Parliament, marked very close to the Chief Minister of the State as well as to the power wielders at the centre and so close that, despite habitual default in repayment, his firm could organize waiver of bank loans to the tune of Rs.2300/- crores in 2007 with the entire non-communist political class keeping mum and the high judiciary refusing to see through the game, as to the judges, the two PIL cases filed successively against the waiver did not merit judicial consideration; because, the first one was “barred by delay” and the second was “barred by the principles of res-judicata and delay”. The Judiciary also stayed away from ‘judicial activism’ in this matter and hence the country never came to know whether the waiver was genuine or a loot.

Mohapatra is backed by this industrious house of industry.

The moment he bagged the award, IMFA lost no time in putting its “pride” on records and gave him a space to say that he personally was “equally proud that being an employee of corporate sector like IMFA (he) got this award which is a rare phenomena in the literary world”.

But soon it was to come to light that the book ‘Nirvana’ for which he got the “most prestigious Odisha Sahitya Academy Puraskar” (in the words of IMFA), was not an original novel, but a heavily plagiarized Oriya version of Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author Thick Nhat Hanh’s ‘Old Path White Clouds’.

Dr. Bibudharanjan, a mercilessly uncompromising researcher, whom a very oppressive State fails to deter from exposing wrongs of howsoever revered a celebrity is, as is evidenced in his book ‘Michha Mahatma’ which the Government has proscribed but none has dared to rebut, first confronted Mohapatra with plagiarism resorted to in his work and latter, as no response was received, discussed the issue in the October 2011 issue of Saamnaa under the caption Buddhachori that attracted attention of the readers and authors of Orissa, who felt ashamed of Orissa Sahitya Akademi’s best novel award going to a fraudulently produced work of plagiarism.

Citing Dr. Bibudharanjan’s Saamnaa story, eminent authors and literary activists united under the banner of Mukta Sahitya Mancha raised a collective protest against honoring of a plagiarist as the best novelist by the State’s official body of letters and demanded that the honor given to Mohapatra with retrospective effect be immediately recalled, at least, in the interest of Orissa’s literary dignity.

But who in the Akademi bothers for Orissa’s dignity, when the firm of the Chief Minister’s blue-eyed boy expresses “pride” in bagging of the award – howsoever fraudulently it be – by one of its employees?

In fact, many in the Sahitya Akademi, eager to ingratiate themselves with the wielder of power that could hoodwink the entire nation in the matter of loan waiver involving a massive sum of Rs.2300 crores, had neither any qualms in organizing the best novel award for the plagiarist nor have any, in not waking up to the call of the authors of the State to salvage Oriya prestige by recalling the said award so wrongfully given to the plagiarist.

Clumsily created as a Society under the Societies Registration Act, the Orissa Sahitya Akademi is entirely controlled by the State Government and manned by their handpicked men and women. Therefore, by pleasing persons that matter in power, any award aspirant is able to fetch the prize of his/her choice even with retrospective effect and/or felicitation.

This is why, there are persons, with role in or proximity to power, capable of making compromises or whose black purses were able to afford, have, in the past, entered into the galaxy of authors by bagging awards from the Akademi. This is so shamelessly practiced that there are instances where such awards are stayed or struck down by Courts of law. Genuine writers of Orissa are worried over this.

But the Sahitya Akademi has no worry.

Probably, it is the Court again where the Award in question may take a test on issues of probity, legality and tenability.

Even as no fraudulent work can withstand any test on the matrix of probity, the legality of consideration of the alleged work for the award in the Akademi level will not stand the test of law.

In its constitution, elaborating its aims and objectives, provisions are made to restrict its awards only to the “outstanding works”.

It is authorized “to award prizes and distinctions and to give recognition to individual writers for outstanding works” as per clause (b) of its provisions on “organization and functions”. So “outstanding work” is the only criteria on which awards are to be offered. A fraudulent production or a work of plagiarism cannot be an outstanding work. When legality of the award rests with outstanding distinction of the work considered for award, a fraudulently produced work of plagiarism cannot have any legal ground to merit even consideration for the award. Hence, on ground of legality, the award for best novel given to Mohapatra’s Nirvana is not tenable.

The book is a depiction of the life of Buddha in a form of a novel. In its preface, Mohapatra has given hints to his study of several books on Buddha including ‘Old Path White Clouds‘ before finalizing the scheme of his book. So it was imperative for the Akademi or its selection committee constituted for the purpose to compare his work with the source materials to see if the same was not vitiated with plagiarism. If the Akademi or its authorized committee has not done so, then a wrong is done. If the comparison is made, then plagiarism must have been noticed. If the Akademi has ignored it, then it is a blatant wrong. Dr. Bibudharanjan has rendered the best of services to Oriya literature by exposing the black-sheep and the Mukta Sahitya Manch has taken the most appropriate step in demanding immediate correctional steps in the matter to save Orissa from a global embarrassment.

It is not that this matter is a matter that goes on without the knowledge of the State Government.

Let it be known that it is a matter of worst implication for the image of Orissa. Delay in action against the users of fraudulent means in this particular matter is an offense against the State. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik having given the award was a party – might be unknowingly – to this offense. But by not taking any action against the Akademi despite exposure that has rocked the State, he certainly is knowingly a party now to the continuing offense against Orissa and her literary dignity.

This has to stop at any cost.

Let it be known to the Chief Minister that awarding a book – fraudulently copied down from a foreign language through plagiaristic means – with the best prize for original work in Oriya language by the State’s official body of letters, is an insult to Orissa, which can never be countenanced.

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