Watch: Ashok Vajpeyi On Dissent In India And Why He Returned His Sahitya Akademi Award

Posted on November 27, 2015 in Society, Video

By Manira Chaudhary

A nation comes together and asserts its identity, not when it frees itself from the shackles of a foreign force but when it brings together the principles and the ideas, the basis which validates its existence, and enshrines them deeply not only on paper but in the consciousness of every person living within its boundaries.

In an event held on 26th November to commemorate the day the Constitution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly, Usha Ramanathan, an internationally recognised law expert said, “Why is it that we have to take permission from the police authorities to organise a peaceful protest. Isn’t it our right? Protests are a way to make people listen to what you’re saying. It is a way to communicate with the government. Then why is it that peaceful protests and demonstrations are looked at with contempt and attacked with allegations of being anti-national?” The programme was organised by Jan Awaaz, a collective of youth from different national campaigns and was attended by eminent personalities from various national campaigns and civil liberties groups like National Alliance of People’s Movement, National Campaign for people’s Right to Information, Pension Parishad, National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, to name a few. The programme was also attended and addressed by the likes of Indira Jaisingh, Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey and former justice Rajinder Sachar and concluded with Justice Sachar administering the pledge to uphold the principles of the Constitution and to fight for justice, liberty, equality and fraternity.

The gathering to discuss the constitution interestingly had Ashok Vajpeyi as one of the speakers – the celebrated poet who made headlines when he became the second writer, after Nayantara Sehgal, to return his Sahitya Akademi Award. He invoked Hindu sacred texts and fables to prove that the act of questioning and dissent have been a part of the Indian culture and tradition and hence the ongoing phase of clamping down on people’s freedom to disagree and to express their opinion is not only incongruous but unacceptable.

Youth Ki Awaaz caught up with him to ask some pressing questions that will be equally pertinent in the future.


The ongoing ‘tolerance vs intolerance’ debate which has the country glued to prime time news, was also discussed in context of the constitutional rights allotted to people and was taken beyond the issues of Hindus-Muslims or politicians-dissenting artists. Dalit rights activists, Paul Diwakar and Bezwada Wilson stressed on the inequality and discrimination meted out to Dalits in a country whose supreme document of law guarantees equal rights and citizenship to all.

But in the times when ink-splashing and social media slander have become the order of the day for anyone who dares to express an opinion not in line with the perceived “nationalist” ideas, and when a large part of the society finds the space to exercise fundamental rights shrinking, can the fanaticism be countered with principles and logic?

Of all the rights bestowed upon the citizens, the right to dissent stands as the most vital one in any democracy. And this year, the country suddenly woke up to acknowledge this right when a spate of national honours were returned by renowned personalities including writers, film-makers and scientists to protest, in their own way, against the growing intolerance. Does the freedom guaranteed to us come with strings attached and “conditions apply*”?

Featured image source: Twitter

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