• Attack on Padmavati, Kancha Ilaiah Reminiscent of the Attack on Punjabi Writers

    Chaman Lal

    November 24, 2017

    While protests related to Padmavati are creating headlines everywhere, very little attention has been paid to what has been happening to Punjabi writers. Two Punjabi writers have been subjected to harassment at the hands of the state and private institutions recently. One of them is Sahitya Akademi award winning senior writer Baldev Singh Sadaknama, a well-known novelist writing in Punjabi, who had also been hailed as the Shiromani Punjabi writer by the Punjab Government. In solidarity with all Indian writers, he had returned his Sahitya Akademi award in the year 2015. Baldev Singh Sadaknama wrote a novel on Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s life titled “Suraj di Akh” (Eye of the Sun), taking into account various interpretations of Ranjit Singh’s life. Ranjit Singh was considered a great warrior king, founder of the first Sikh or Khalsa in parts of India – the rule which continued for nearly fifty years till 1849, but had many other untold aspects to his life too. Sadaknama had undertaken a lot of research before depicting multiple aspects of his personality, yet just like the attack on Kancha Ilaiah’s book and the attack on the makers of Padmavati by the Karni Sena, some Khalistani-minded elements attacked him and filed a complaint with the police against him. Punjabi writers did protest against such elements, as Sadaknama was once the President of the Kendriya Punjabi Lekhak Sabha as well. Sadaknama felt as harassed as Perumal Murugan, and he also announced his desire to stop writing.


    Baldev Singh Sadaknama/ Image courtesy: The Tribune India


    Surjit Garg/ Image courtesy: Ghaint Punjab


    If Sadaknama has been harassed by religious fundamentalists, Punjabi poet Surjit Gag has gone through worse. Surjit Gag was arrested under section 295-A, the colonial law against “hurt feelings” as an FIR was lodged against him by the same Khalistani elements about a poem addressed to Guru Nanak, with whom, the poet tries to feel as intimate as with a friend. Apparently, this intimacy offended the “religious feelings” of such elements, which is nothing but an excuse to terrorise creative writers. The worst form of law, more prevalent in Pakistan against minorities like Christians, is now becoming too frequently used in India against creative artists. Gag was arrested and had to stay in jail for more than two months before being bailed out. Both the poets were abused on facebook and through statements and police complaints. It is sad that there was not much protest over Gag’s arrest in Punjab, except some press statements. All these trends have to be fought wherever they stifle artists’ voices.


    Chaman Lal ([email protected]) retired from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, as professor, and was part of the radical literary movement of the 1970s in Punjab.

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