The former president of the Goa Konkani Academy, Madhav Borkar, has got it absolutely right when he says that the Academy stands defamed and that it is a big loss to the Academy as a whole. When saying this, Borkar was referring to the polemics surrounding the Goa Konkani Academy award to a collection of poems by Vishnu Wagh, the leaking of the award even before it could be announced, the protests that followed it and finally the government withdrawing 32 undeclared awards given by the Academy. The last, as already reported, is unprecedented, and while the government action in withdrawing such a large number of awards, appears to be rather harsh, the entire controversy was perhaps unwarranted and needs to be addressed with a clear mind.
The government too has skirted the controversy of Wagh books, with sources indicating that the prime reason for the withdrawal of the awards is conflict of interest as some jury members had recommended their own books. The other reason was that Wagh’s book was being considered for the award had been leaked. The plan now, of the government, is to constitute a committee so as to centralise all the literary awards given by the Konkani and Marathi Academys and also the Directorate of Art and Culture. While that may be acceptable, this committee, whenever it is formed, has to be apolitical and look at the literary and artistic merit of the works and not be swayed by political considerations.
It must be absolutely disheartening to the literary community in Goa – writers and critics – that this controversy over the award arose when a member of the jury felt that the work for which the award was being considered could be considered ‘communal’ in nature, and had the potential to incite communal flames.
Literature and art cannot be viewed through the narrow prism of communalism and therefore this issue has to be viewed on a larger perspective of literature and creativity. For this is not just about poetry penned by Vishnu Wagh. Nor is it just about the withdrawal of awards. This is about literature, art and creativity, and also the freedom of speech that is guaranteed to the citizens of this country. There is a creative licence that in fiction and poetry gives the writer the liberty to reinterpret facts.
Without taking away anything from the argument that the poetry in question could be controversial, very simply and particularly in the case of awards, literature has to be judged by its artistic merit, by the creativity that has gone into its making. Literature cannot be undermined for its potential to create social disturbances, or because it portrays a certain section of society in a negative light. Even in this case, while there are opponents to this particular collection of Wagh’s poetry, there are also those who are for it, backing it and even recommending it for an award.
It is now for the Goa Konkani Academy to respond to the entire controversy, rather than merely react to it, with the introspection that comes from intellectual deliberations. Its former president has already said that the Academy stands defamed, and so it has to rise from this crisis stronger as the Konkani language and its literature are important for Goa and its culture and should not be weakened by any provocation. This should actually be seen by the members of the Academy as an opportunity to strengthen the institution and its functioning. That will truly make it rise from the ‘loss’ it has suffered.