Offense Against Oriya Language: India’s National Academy of Letters Collaborates with Hijackers of Sahitya Award,2011

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Climate of corruption has so severely affected India that even the National Academy of Letters – the Kendra Sahitya Akademi – is being looked at askance as the breeding center of clandestine deals and favoritism in selection of books for annual awards that the nation offers to the best of works in Indian languages .

Selection of Achihna Basabhumi, authored by Kolkata based Kalpana Kumari Devi, with a dubious dateline of 2009 for its annual award in Oriya language for the year 2011 has regenerated this suspicion.

It is seen that the book was not in the ground list prepared for the purpose of selection. Therefore, it is clear that it was inserted into the short list placed before the Juri from beyond the ground list prepared by the expert appointed by the Akademi.

Whosoever had made this book included in the list before the Jury, can certainly be held as the main manipulator of the award. The Akademi is not disclosing the name of whosoever has clamped this book on the Jury beyond the ground list.

The Jury was legally bound to reject this book on two grounds: firstly, for use of derogatory words against lower caste people as shown in these pages earlier and secondly, for absence of materials that should have shown the book as the “most outstanding” one to merit the national award. An attempt to evaluate how far it was the “most outstanding” could have revealed that its claim to have been published in 2009 to qualify for consideration for the award was dubious. But no such attempt was made, because, the Jury was either gained over by whosoever had lobbied for this book or was too pusillanimous to use its wisdom against pressure from the Akademi to recommend this book for the award.

So, surely the Jury has failed to perform its assigned duty in the manner stipulated in the Rules of the Akademi and, as subsequent discussion would show, has done the worst possible damage to the dignity of Oriya language by dancing to the tune of award hijackers.

Unless, its recommendation in favor of Achihna Basabhumi is rejected by the Akademi, its credibility and the dignity of the award would remain impaired, to the chagrin of all who love their language.

Rules of the Akademi raped

At least 50 % of the members of the Akademi’s Oriya Advisory Board (LAB) have told me that they had not suggested any name for appointment as expert to prepare a ground list for the award.

All of them have told me that they do not know the name of the expert who prepared the ground list with books that were not to be considered “most outstanding” on the matrix of the Rules.

Rules stipulate that, from amongst the persons recommended by the Board members, one or at best two would be appointed by the Academy President as expert or experts, to prepare the ground list of books eligible for the award.

When Board members had not recommended any person for appointment as expert, where from the Academy President got a man to prepare the ground list?

It is apprehended that the so-called expert was either a ghost expert or was appointed by manipulation; because, it is discernible that the ground list was prepared by a sophomore, not an expert on Oriya literature inasmuch as 11 books out of the 16 in the ground list belonged to a single publisher, which also included two of his own titles and one of his wife. Had an expert or a team of two experts, as provided for under the Rules, prepared the ground list, then 11 out of 16 books could never have come into that list from a single publisher.

Mafias in Academy loot the awards

The selection of Achihna Basabhumi, also of the same publisher of the afore said 11 books, inserted into the shortlist from beyond the ground list, for the national literature award 2011, as the most outstanding book published in Oriya language during the relevant period has provoked even the superbly polite and gentle face in Oriya literature, Sri Satakadi Hota to say before TV cameras that Sahitya Akademi Awards are being looted like mafias loot the mines. Sri Hota is a member of the General Council of the Akademi with enough experience in its functionalities. In an interview, (Chhota Srustira Samahar Chandan: Vol-V, Issue 1) he has not only corroborated his telecasted version, but also has put it on records that for the last few years he has been consciously watching how the Sahitya Awards are being fixed in contravention of the Rules, willfully carried out.

Another noted activist in the area of Oriya literature, Journalist Barendra Krushna Dhal, has even resigned from the Akademi’s LAB in protest against favoritism resorted to in selection of this book, specifically as, to his observation, the Akademi is incorrigibly corrupt in such selections.

Noted poet Rajendra K. Panda, also a member of the LAB was so shocked by selection of this book that on 22 December 2011, he had to share his feelings on his facebook wall in these words: “I woke up with a surprise. Kalpana Kumari Devi has been selected to receive this year’s award of Sahitya Akademi for Odia. I confess, I have not read any of her books; it shows my ignorance. Of course, I had seen some of her short stories years back; they were lackluster; may be, she grew in her dimensions later, about which I didn’t know”.

Deceitfulness of Chandra Sekhar Rath

These reactions had provoked author-cum-journalist Asit Mohanty, who also leads the Mukta Sahitya Manch, to meet one of the selectors of this book, Jury member Chandra Sekhar Rath to find out how and why this book was selected for the coveted award. The text of the interview is published in Orissa’s top circulated daily, the Sambad, on 3 January 2012. Here, in answering to Mohanty, Rath has vomited that he succumbed to the pressure from the convener of the Advisory Board, Bibhuti Patnaik in selection of this book.

More shocking than the allegation against Bibhuti Patnaik is the dastardly deceitfulness of Rath as revealed in this interview. He has no qualms in saying that, though reluctant to chose this book for the award, he was morally bound to select the book. “I am aware of the dissatisfaction in the public over selection of this book and I have no hesitation in saying that I am also not satisfied. But, by this, I am not trying to disown my responsibility. Coincidentally I had to be a part of this decision and I am dissatisfied with myself for what I had to morally do”, he has said.

Hypocrisy! could there be a different name of thine?

Rath was asked: Have you any objection to reveal the names of the books that were before the Jury for selection? Instead of revealing the names of the books, he has rushed into saying how the award was fixed.

Pointing out that the kingpin in award fixation was the regional secretary of Sahitya Akademi, Ramkumar Mukhopadhyaya, Rath has said, it is this official, who, beyond known provisions of the Rules, imposed upon the Jury Sri Bibhuti Patnaik to preside over and participate in final selection of the book for the award.

“To my knowledge, role of the convener is limited to organize the session of the Jury and to provide the Jury with unrestrained opportunity to take the decision. Participation of the convener in decision making was an unknown proposition. But as the regional secretary of the Akademi himself gave this direction, even though surprised, I did not feel it necessary to seek clarification on the new rule and kept quite. As such, in place of three members in the Juri, we became four. Then voice of the convener remained predominant from start to end of the session”, has said Sri Rath.

Is it expected of Sri Rath, a man of seniority and fame as a writer, to indulge in such acrobatics that clearly is designed to mislead the people?

If the Akademi secretary had wrongfully instructed that the session of the Jury was to be controlled by the convener and the convener was jumping his jurisdiction and imposing himself upon the Jury, why had he not objected to that in the meeting on records?

If it was a foul play against our literature, why did he not try to foil it on the spot?

Is it not an afterthought to divert public attention from the farce, he, as a member of the Jury, has made of the award?

Is it not a design shrewdly contrived to escape exposure by throwing the mud to someone else?

If he has any honesty, he should answer these questions.

However, as Rath has alleged that the decision of the Jury was influenced, we would like to go further into what he has said. Because history of offense against our mother tongue needs be kept on records.

He has said, “From amongst us, a member at the start of the session stated that there was no book in the list that could be considered as outstanding to qualify for the award. I politely differed. Because, to my impression, all most all the authors under consideration were eminent and accordingly, all the books were fit for the award”.

To him, all of the books placed before the Jury were so superb that it was difficult to reject any of them. “The problem with me was not in selecting one of the books; it was in rejecting the rest ten titles”, he has said.

If he is true in his this statement, why has he, as quoted supra, declared, “I have no hesitation in saying that I am also not satisfied” with selection of Achihna Basabhumi for the award?

Let him clarify, if he likes.

But let us proceed to see what further he has said.

He has said, “I had proposed that one book each from the four segments of literature be chosen first and from those four books, in the second stage, the best book be recommended for award. But the convener declared that there was no necessity of a second shortlist and insisted upon selection from the novel segment alone.I cannot say if the book now selected could have come into the list if the second shortlist should have been prepared. Yet, as because the proposal for the second shortlist was harped on, two or three books were discarded in a haste. Difference of opinion also had arisen. When a particular novel was influential to a Jury member, it was discarded because of views that the same was not at all a novel. Another novel was kept out of consideration, because its author was considered young enough to wait for awards. The third one being the only one of that year, besides being a compilation of published materials, was considered unfit for the award. In all such decisions, the tone of the convener was the dominant tone. Then, he placed the (now selected) book with his supportive opinion thereon”.

Thus saying, he has further said, “My personal predicament was that, if I was not supporting him, then difference of opinion was a must. But, adoption of his proposal by majority support was a certainty. The second predicament was, failure to take an unanimous decision in favor of a book would not be worthwhile in national arena. And, works of letters of this area would not be free from controversy. So, without going into any argument, I put my signature of approval thereon. This is for me, a defeat on moral ground. May be, I do not possess the required courage and ability for impartial evaluation needed for a clear, fearless decision”.

If Rath was really addressed to dignity of Oriya language, he should not have bared the Jury proceedings in such a style. And, if what he has divulged is factually correct, why has he not tendered his resignation as yet, specifically as he now confesses that he does not possess the required courage and ability for impartial evaluation of a literary work needed for delivering a clear fearless decision in matter of awards?

Convener’s clarification

Convener Bibhuti Pattanaik issued a clarification in print media, from which it transpires that out of the 11 books placed before the Jury, only six books somewhat had got mention in the discussion. They were, besides Achihna Basabhumi of Kalpanakumari Devi, Aranyare Yetedin of poet Hara Prasad Parcha Patnaik, Kanta O Anyanya Galpa of Gourahari Das, Chitra Turaga of Padmaja Pal, Mukti Yuddha of Satakadi Hota and Paunshagadara Sunara Dhuli, Mo Dhanamali of Debraj Lenka.

Out of these six books, three books – Kanta O Anyanya Galpa, Chitra Turaga and Mukti Yuddha – were from three different publishers and the rest three books were from the same publisher who was favored with 11 of his published titles in the ground list of 16 books.

When, to Jury member Debdas Chhotray, as informed by Sri Pattanaik, none of these books were “outstanding” to merit the national award, Chandra Sekhar Rath had put his preference on Parichha Patnaik’s Aranyare Yetedin and Pal’s Chitra Turaga. The other Jury member Shrinibas Mishra had declared from the beginning that none of the books except Kalpanakumari’s Achihna Basabhumi had any merit for the national award.

As the agenda of selection was shepherded into the limits of novels alone, Parichha Patnaik’s as well as Pal’s works were kept out of purview of the Jury.

In such circumstances, both Chhotray and Rath were prevailed upon to expand their views, whereupon, Chhotray announced his first preference for Debraj Lenka’s Paunshagadara Sunars Dhuli, Mo Dhanamali and second preference for Achihna Basabhumi.

When Rath was reluctant to prefer Lenka’s book on the ground of some indecent expressions depicted therein, Mishra had found Hota’s Mukti Yuddha unfit for the award on the ground of projection of Naxalites therein as freedom fighters.

So, taking into accounts the first preference of Mishra and second preference of Chhotray for Achihna Basabhumi, this book was selected for the award whereto Rath also subscribed his endorsement in the meeting itself, Pattanaik has said.

Wrongs rampant

But this clarification issued by the convener has bared how wrongs are rampant in selection, exposing inter alia his own wrongful participation therein.

Even as he has not countered Rath’s allegation that the Akademi’s regional secretary Ramkumar Mukhopadhyaya had clamped him on the Jury to preside over its session, he has, on his own accord, said that he has intervened in proceedings of the Jury. As for instance, he has said, “I had first stressed upon limiting the selection to novels only as from this segment more numbers of books had come into zone of final consideration” and when consideration was thus shepherded into the arena novels only, “I objected to taking cognizance of Debraj Lenka’s 98 page book as a complete novel”.

Had the convener thus not steered the selection process, Parichha Patnai’s beautiful poems compiled in Aranyare Yetedina (I have read this book so may times, every time feeling its freshness) or Gourahari’s stories in Kanta O Anyanya Galpa or Pal’s Chitra Turaga might have been chosen for the award beyond the segment of novel.

In the segment of novel, the only segment adopted for award, the selection seems to have been fixed.

Hota’s Mukti Yuddha was discarded, as to perception of Mishra, it equated Naxals with freedom fighters. Is quality of literature to be weighed on whether or not the author supports economy of inequality? Nonsense.

Lenka’s Paunshagadara Sunara Dhuli, Mo Dhanamali was rejected as the convener refused to accept it as a complete novel and Rath found in its pages certain expression that did not commensurate with standard language.

It is surprising that this Rath did not find any objectionable expression in Achihna Basabhumi though derogatory words are used against people of lower castes many a times in the book. Is it upper caste class design?

The convener may throw necessary light on this aspect.

Like Hota’s powerful novel Mukti Yuddha was discarded because it eulogized the revolutionaries, Paricha Patnaik’s Aranyare Yetedina was kept out of consideration, because it had also certain poems therein like Mukti Yatra that despite putting premium on patience, eulogized the Naxal activities in an environment of exploitation.

Was it because it was necessary to keep every iota of progressive expression out Sahitya Award to please the government run by right viruses?

The convener may throw necessary light on this aspect.

But who will be responsible for the gang rape on the Akademi’s reigning Procedure that govern the award?

Gang rape of Akademi’s reigning Procedure

Akademi’s reigning Procedure lays down under the head of “The Jury and its Functions” that:

The recommendations of Referees in the Preliminary Panel shall be considered by a three member Jury. The Jury members shall be selected by the President after considering the recommendations in this behalf by the members of the Language Advisory Board concerned.

The Akademi shall purchase the books recommended by the Referees in the Preliminary Panel and send them to the Jury members and to the Convener.

The Convener shall act as the link between the Jury and the Akademi. He/she will ensure that the meeting of the Jury is conducted properly and satisfactorily and will countersign the report of the Jury.

The Jury members shall, either by consensus or by majority, recommend a book for the award. They may also recommend that, in their opinion, no book is eligible for the award during the year. In the event of a member not being able to attend the meeting, he/she may convey his/her view in writing.

In view of these stipulations, there should have been only a three member Jury to examine the Oriya books placed before it and to select one of them for the award. The convener having admittedly participated to the extent of intervention in the proceeding of the Juri had de facto turned it into a four member body in contravention of the Procedure even in the presence of the regional secretary of the Akademi, who according to what Rath has stated, had clamped him on the Jury to chair over it.

According to the procedure noted above, the role of the Convener was limited to acting as the link between the Jury and the Akademi. He was to ensure that the meeting of the Jury was conducted properly and satisfactorily; but not to intervene in proceedings thereof. But as he, on his own accord, has disclosed, he intervened to the extent of capturing the award by his close friend Kalpanakumari for her novel Achihna Basabhumi with all the three members of the Jury accepting his intervention under the very eyes of Mukhopadhyaya, the Akademi official. I do not know if there is any precedence of such a gang rape of Akademi’s Rules and Procedure in process of facilitating award hijacking.

Selection through sharp practice

To which book the award should be given? To the “most outstanding” book of a recognized language.

The procedure for selecting a book laid down under the head of Sahitya Akademi Award says:

Subject to the provision of rule 1(2), there shall be an award every year for the most outstanding book by an Indian author, first published in any of the languages recognized by the Sahitya Akademi during the three years prior to the year, immediately preceding the year of the award.

By way of Illustration, it is said, that, “for the award of 2004, books published between 2000 and 2002 would be considered”.

This means, for the award of 2011, the selected book was to have been published during the period covering 2007 to 2009. But the selection was done through sharp practice and in contravention of this time tag and in contempt against stipulation on “most outstanding” status of the book.

Backdated publication

The final year of the qualifying period fitting into the zone of consideration for Sahitya Award 2011 was 2009.

But the book Achihna Basabhumi was not even written by this year.

This is clear from the interview its authoress had given to Yugashree Yuganaree as is published in its edition of February 2010.

To the query as to why she had no published work since 1986, she had said in the interview, “For intervening 20 year, I had given up writing. All the responsibilities of the household were on my shoulder. Children were in their demanding childhood. Novel writing is taxing and time-consuming. (Therefore) In the intervening period I my writing was limited to short stories only. Now again I have started writing novel” (Yugashree Yuganaree, February 2010, p.7)

So, according to her own statement, she had not written novel during 20 years up to 2010. And, hence, the book Achihna Basabhumi was not written before 2010.

There is reason to apprehend that the book was not published even before 2011. This is because, the book was not found in any of the book fairs either in 2010 or in 2011.

Had it been really published in 2009, its publisher who could flood the ground list of 16 books with as many as 11 from his publications alone as against 5 from other publishers, could not have kept away the book from the book fairs.

There is no review of the book in media worth the name in 2009, the claimed year of its publication.

There was no media review of the book even in 2010 and 2011.

On the other hand, when its publisher (the owner of the publishing brands Kahani and Akshara) Girija Kumar Baliarsingh has claimed that this book was published befor November 2009, there is no trace of this book in the 6th final edition, 2009 of Odia Pustak Prakasahan Suchi (Index of Oriya published works) that has covered all the books published till end of November, 2009. It is noteworthy that this index has, in its body, as many as 28 novels published by this publisher by end of November 2009 on the basis of data supplied by Baliarsingh, the publisher. But Achihna Basabhumi does not find a place in it, because the publisher did not submit its name as it was not published by then.

The ISBN records do not show that this book was published in 2009.

But before the ink of the convener’s signature on the Jury minutes dried up on blind acceptance of 2009 as its publication year, the book has come out with its second edition, 2012. so immensely popular is this book!

If the book is so immensely popular that its first edition is sold away so quickly, how is it that no writer worth the name has seen this book as yet?

How could its first edition got sold so soon sans media review and away from book fairs? It is a conundrum to whosoever has any interest in the history of book-selling in Orissa.

Its selection for 2011 award has generated unprecedented protests in this State. It is hard to believe that there must be any amongst book lovers of Orissa to whose attention the news of its selection and protests on its claimed age has not come as yet. But none of them has given any indication so far that he or she has seen the book in 2009 or even 2010 or even 2011.

On the other hand, in trying to pooh-pooh the questions on its publication dateline, its publisher Girija Baliarsingh has, in a statement asserted that he had published the book by November, 2009, but had not marketed it, as mistakes sic passim, a complete overhaul thereof was essential. The overhauling was certainly not completed before its manipulated insertion into the final list, as otherwise, it could have been placed in the ground list obviously by a paid agent attired as expert. However, by taking refuge in the necessity of overhauling, the publisher has admitted that the book had not reached the market by the relevant year of 2009.

So the book was not really published in 2009 and hence had no qualification for consideration for the Sahitya Award, 2011.

Whosoever had enlisted this book for consideration had certainly placed a backdated publication and the Jury has certainly erred against Oriya language as well as the Akademi by entertaining this backdated edition.

Paid agent(s) in the attire of expert

In the scheme of Sahitya Award given to the “most outstanding” book in every Indian language, the role of the expert is primordial. Rules require that preparation of the ground list of “most outstanding” books must be assigned to an expert or at best two experts as the President of the Akademi would prefer.

Rules further require that members of the LAB would each recommend up to five persons for appointment as “expert” out of which the President of the Akademi will have to chose one expert, or “at his discretion” two experts to prepare the ground list “strictly” conforming “to the criteria of eligibility laid down under these rules”.

The catch word here is “members”. The Akademi must have to collect from each of the LAB member the names for appointment of the “expert(s) and unless there is a vacancy by way of death, no LAB member can be granted the liberty of abstaining from submitting his/her preferred names for appointment of the “expert”.

But the Akademi is now being used by literature “mafia” (as Satakadi Hota, quoted supra, has used the term) to hijack the Sahitya Award. This hijacking would not be possible if the Akademi appoints real “expert(s)” for preparation of the ground list. And, therefore submission of names for appointment as “expert(s) is not being stressed upon. This facilitates preparation of the ground list of “most outstanding” books by paid agents of aspirant authors and/or publishers, attired as “experts”, bagging the appointment.

This is discernible in the matter of Oriya language in 2011 award context.

As 50 % of the LAB members had told me (noted supra) so also Barendra Krushna Dhal, another member of LAB, has revealed in writing that he had not recommended any name for appointment as “expert” (The Samaja: 18 January 2012).

Thus the Akademi had no names from “members” of the LAB and hence, appointment of “expert”, if any, was improper, farcical and arbitrary.

To this so-called “expert” it did not appear prudent to pick up the “most outstanding” books from Orissa’s vast numbers of publishers/authors for the ground list by conforming strictly “to the criteria of eligibility laid down under these rules” .

The “expert” is so expert in Oriya language that the list it prepared was limited to only 16 books out of which as many as 11 books came from the stable of a single publisher!

In the circumstances, therefore, it is suspected that the “expert” was not a real expert, but a paid agent attired as expert, appointed to prepare a ground list of any books under the guise of choosing the “most outstanding” ones.

Rightly, therefore, Chhoray, as noted supra, considered none of those books as “most outstanding”.

It would not be out of context to say that when the final list for placement before the Jury was prepared, as many as 12 books constituting 75 % of the books in the ground list prepared by the so-called “expert” were thrown out as unworthy of consideration.

It shows that from the very start, the most aggressive award hijacker had inserted his tentacles into the selection system.

Labyrinth of manipulation

In the labyrinth of manipulation, selection of the “most outstanding” book did not stay a prerequisite for the Sahitya Award, as, besides the sophomore(s) attired as expert(s), a member of the Jury – Shrinibas Mishra – was, from the beginning, harping on selection of Achihna Basabhumi for the award, despite it being in noway the “most outstanding” book published during the stipulated period.

Chhotray had given his second preference to it, that shows that in his view this book was not the “most outstanding”.

And Rath, the other Jury member, who ultimately had to succumb to pressure, was, till the last moment against choice of this book. So, to him also, this book was not the “most outstanding”.

Besides, none of these three members of the Jury had taken any step to determine that this book was surely the “most outstanding” and published in 2009.

What does “most outstanding” mean?

The plain meaning of the word “outstanding” means, standing out from a group : conspicuous; and marked by eminence and distinction noticeable.

Therefore, to mark a book as “most outstanding” its comparison with other books of the group is essential. This was neither done by the “expert” while preparing the ground list, nor by the person who referred it to Jury and not by the Jury that ultimately recommended it.

A plain reading of the book vis-a-vis others in the group should also not have sufficed to show the book as the “most outstanding” even if in scheme of sequences, structure of language, style of expression, purpose of presentation and other literary properties, it would have looked sounder than its contestants in the perceptions of the Jury members; because, it had to stand the test of marketing with “noticeable distinction” and also “eminence” to come out as the “most outstanding” book of the relevant period. Exceeding others in sale is the second prerequisite on which determination of the book as the “most outstanding” rests.

Spirit of the time tag killed

The Jury members have not understood this, or if they have understood, they have not given importance to the unavoidable prerequisite that, the book chosen for the award must have exceeded other books in sale and acceptability by the readers.

The Rule requires this and therefore it has provided for selecting a book published “during the three years prior to the year, immediately preceding the year of the award”.

The sole purpose of this time tag is addressed to market study to determine as to which of the book is “most sold” to decide which one of the books under zone of consideration is the “most outstanding” book on the basis of its acceptability to the readers.

This market study was never conducted and the books were never compared on the basis of sale either by the “expert” or by the Jury and more shockingly, the Akademi has never studied the sale status of the books in run for the award to assess as to whether in readers’ view the book so selected was the “most outstanding”.

It is sad that the spirit of the time tag is killed and Rules of the Akademi are raped and rendered inconsequential as its functionaries have collaborated with award hijackers.