Bihar Rajbhasa Puraskar: Games dwijs play

Just spare a glance at the awards jury. The convener, Madhav Kaushik, is a Brahmin, who is also the convener of the Sahitya Akademi. The others in the jury were Anamika, Nasira Sharma, Kamal Kishore Goenka, Shanti Jain and Vinod Bandhu, all of whom come from dwij castes or communities. No OBC or Dalit was on the panel, writes Aditya Anand

Bihar’s politics has been “Mandalized” but the fields of literature, art and culture are still untouched. The state boasts a large number of Bahujan writers, but over the last 30 years of Mandal Raj in the state, Savarna writers and journalists have been dominating the Bihar government’s Rajbhasha Puraskar (Awards) – both as members of the jury and as recipients. Mind you, Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar – two chief ministers with a formidable popular base – have ruled the state during this period. The OBC (Other Backward Classes) and Dalit intellectuals, who gloat over the representation of their communities in politics, should realize that the dominance may have enriched their leaders, but it has had no significant impact on their communities. Of the 14 people picked for the 2021 awards by the Rajbhasha Vibhag (Department) recently, 12 are from upper castes or communities and one each is a Dalit, OBC and EBC (Extremely Backward Classes). Savarnas form around 12 per cent of the state’s population but they constitute around 100 per cent of the awardees. The Bahujan, who make up the majority, have a disappointing presence on the list of awardees. 

Awards to whom and why

The Rajbhasha department has chosen Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari for its top award – Dr Rajendra Prasad Shikhar Samman – which has a cash component of Rs 300,000. Tiwari is a Brahmin from Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. A long time ago, he used to bring out a magazine called Dastavej. His writings have been centred on literary criticism but he has yet to make a mark in Hindi criticism. It is said that after entering the Sahitya Akademi, Delhi, he has obliged people from all over the country. Though he is no longer with the Akademi, yet his influence persists. 

It is unfortunate that an award which was once given to a celebrated researcher like Ramniranjan Parimlendu is now going to a non-literary personality.  

The Babasaheb Bhimaro Ambedkar Puraskar, which has a cash component of Rs 250,000, has been given to Ashok Kumar. Four awards of Rs 200,000 each have gone to Mrinal Pande, Sushila Takbhaure, Satyanarayan, Ram Shrestha Deewana and Jabir Hussain. These awards are named after Karpoori Thakur, B.P. Mandal, Nagarjun, Dinkar and Renu respectively. The awardees include a Brahmin, a Dalit, a Kayastha, an OBC and a Savarna Muslim. Three of them are residents of Patna while two are from Mumbai and are currently based in Delhi. Mrinal Pande and Satyanarayan, the winners of Karpoori Thakur and Nagarjun awards respectively, are known opponents of the ideologies of Karpoori Thakur and Nagarjun. This is a unique example of casteism and opportunism. The minimum the jury should have done was to ensure that the awardees were those who respected the beliefs and thinking of the personalities after whom their awards are named. Mrinal Pande has been opposed to reservations. When Yogendra Yadav, Anil Chamadia and Jitendra Kumar released a booklet on the representation of various communities in media, Pande, as the editor of Hindustan, had opposed it. Mrinal Pande’s writings show no concern for caste struggles. Honouring her with an award named after Karpoori Thakur is nothing but an insult to Karpoori Thakur. Similarly, Satyanarayan, the recipient of Nagarjun Award, has been dead opposed to Nagarjun. He was the first signatory on a petition opposing the nomination of Nagarjun for Dr Rajendra Prasad Shikhar Samman in an earlier edition of the awards.

More questions over awards

The seven writers who have been chosen for the Rs 50,000 award are Poonam Singh, Vanja, Geetashri, Rakesh Sinha Ravi, Bhagwati Prasad Dwivedi, Chaya Sinha and Anant Vijay. They have been chosen for awards named after Mahadevi Verma, Gangasharan, Vidyapati, Mohanlal Mahto Viyogi, Bhikhari Thakur, George Abraham Grierson and Father Camille Bulcke, respectively. Three of them are Bhumihars, one each is a Brahmin and a Rajput and two are Kayasths. Of the four women awardees, two are Bhumihars and one is a Kayastha. Anant Vijay is a Bhumihar. The minimal representation of Bahujan writers on the list betrays the casteist composition of the jury. Poonam Singh and Geetashri – both come from Muzaffarpur and both are Bhumihars. Are there no other male and female writers in Bihar? What, except casteism and regional bias, can explain the selection of these people? There are worthy Savarna women authors in Bihar like Neelima Sinha and Soma Bharti. Then, there is Utima Keshri, a leading, veteran poetess. There are Bahujan women critics like Sunita Gupta. But they were kept out of the reckoning and their names were not even considered.  

Winners of Bihar government’s Rajbhasha Vibhag Puraskars and their castes 

AwardAmountAwardeeCaste
Dr Rajendra Prasad Shikhar Samman         Rs 300,000             Vishwanath Tiwari Brahmin
Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar Puraskar Rs 250,000 Dr Ashok KumarLohar
Jannayak Karpoori Thakur Puraskar Rs 200,000Mrinal Pande Brahmin
B.P. Mandal PuraskarRs 200,000Sushila TakbhaureDalit
Nagarjun PuraskarRs 200,000SatyanarayanKayastha
Dinkar PuraskarRs 200,000Ram Shrestha Deewana Yadav
Phanishwarnath Renu PuraskarRs 200,000Jabir HusainAshraf Muslim
Mahadevi Verma PuraskarRs 50,000Dr Poonam SinghBhumihar
Gangasharan PuraskarRs 50,000VanjaSavarna (Kerala)
Vidyapati PuraskarRs 50,000GeetashreeBhumihar
Mohanlal Mahto Viyogi PuraskarRs 50,000Rakesh Sinha Ravi Kayasth
Bhikhari Thakur SammanRs 50,000Bhagwati Prasad Dwivedi  Brahmin
Dr Grierson PuraskarRs 50,000Dr Chaya Sinha Kayastha
Father Camille Bulcke PuraskarRs 50,000Anant VijayBhumihar

The government could have chosen a committed writer like Harinarayan Thakur, who also comes from Muzaffarpur, for the Karpoori Thakur Samman. Writers like Nandkishore Nandan, Rana Pratap and Jai Nandan were also overlooked due to the pro-Savarna bias. Other Bahujan litterateurs from the state like Kamlesh Verma, Ashwini Kumar Pankaj and Sudha Singh, who are doing exemplary creative writing in Hindi, could also have been chosen for the awards. Father Camille Bulcke is remembered for his contribution to the development of the Hindi language. Anant Vijay is known for his opportunism and has not done anything for the language. 

The caste of the jury

Just take a look at the awards jury. Its convener, Madhav Kaushik, is a Brahmin, who is also the convener of the Sahitya Akademi. The others in the jury were Anamika, Nasira Sharma, Kamal Kishore Goenka, Shanti Jain (who passed away) and Vinod Bandhu, all of whom come from Dwij castes or communities. No OBC or Dalit figured on the panel. It is really shocking that a “pure dwij” journalist like Vinod Bandhi was also a part of the jury. 

It may be mentioned here that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar himself holds the Rajbhasha portfolio. Before approving the list of the awardees, did he not ponder for a minute whether they are worthy of the honour? Who are they? What is their claim to fame? 

Insiders say that OBC writer Dr Ram Bachan Rai had become a pawn of Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari when the latter headed the Sahitya Akademi. Rai has been Akademi’s local member for a long time. Did Tiwari get his disciple Madhav Kaushik nominated as the convener of the Bihar Rajbhasha Puraskar Samiti as a quid pro quo for Rai’s continued membership of the Akademi?

Villains behind the scenes 

Writers and leaders coming from backward castes have played no mean role in this entire game. The likes of Dr Ram Bachan Rai and Premkumar Mani have good contacts in the government. As they were also in politics, they have influence over the Rajbhasha Department. This year’s jury was formed as per the wishes of Ram Bachan Rai and the result is for all to see. Earlier, when Premkumar Mani was close to Nitish Kumar, he had Namvar Singh, Manager Pandey and Devendra Choubey nominated to the jury. Namvar Singh made sure Nandkishore Nawal, Arun Kamal and his own younger brother Kashinath Singh got the awards.

Kunal Kumar, who has been an officer in the Rajbhasha Department, says that the rules don’t allow anyone close to or related to a member of the jury to be nominated for an award. But the rules did not come in the way of Namvar Singh when he picked his brother and critics Nandkishore Nawal and Arun Kamal for the awards. 

Be that as it may, the present generation, steeped in Mandal consciousness, will have to unite and end the domination of Savarnas by submitting a memorandum to their leadership. Janwadi Lekhak Sangh, Jan Sanskriti Manch or the Pragatisheel Lekhak Sangh – none of them will take this initiative because the Savarna leadership of these bodies wants to maintain the status quo. That is because awards provide them a means to pander to their egos. Long ago, Rajendra Yadav, editor of well-known literary magazine Hans, was nominated for an award instituted by the Bihar government. When he decided to travel to Patna to receive the honour, among others, the Jan Sanskriti Manch, Bihar and Ramji Rai, editor of leftist journal Samkaleen Janmat, pleaded with him to call off the visit. At the time, Bihar was in the news for the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre and they held the Lalu government responsible for it. Everyone knows the truth. But Ramji Rai didn’t utter a word when Namvar Singh picked his brother Kashinath Singh and Nandkishore Nawal for the awards. At the time, too, Bihar was in the news. Ranvir Sena chief Brahmeshwar Mukhiya had been murdered and his supporters had caused mayhem on the streets of Patna at the behest of the Bihar government. But since the awards were serving their class interests, leftists like Ramji Rai did not react to it. 

(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)


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