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Why has an honouree relinquished his Bangla Academy Award?

Published : Sunday, 25 February, 2024 at 12:00 AM  Count : 661

Why has an honouree relinquished his Bangla Academy Award?

Why has an honouree relinquished his Bangla Academy Award?

Receiving an award from any institution in any field is an ecstasy and honor for an individual, but not accepting or rejecting the award is a grief for him and a great dishonor for the institution itself. We have recently experienced such an incident in case of Bangla Academy that saddens us all.

Zakir Talukdar, an accomplished fiction writer of the time, who won Bangla Academy Sahitya Puroshkar (Bangla Academy Literary Award) for his book "Musalmanmangal" in 2014, has recently sent back the honorary crest and the prize money to the director general of Bangla Academy via courier from Natore, the district the awardee hails from. We do not know whether this kind of instance is for the first time in our country as the award was received 10 years back. Bangla Academy Award, one of most prestigious awards given nationally, was introduced first to recognize ones intellectual faculty in art, language, literature and research, which is why whatever the crest costs, it values and dignifies much.

The award is also given to mark the creative talent of writers due to their outstanding contribution to Bangla language and literature. Introduced in 1960, the Bangla Academy Literary Award underwent several refusals in previous years, though the grounds behind these rejections differed from those experienced by Zakir Talukder.

There were cases of rejection of the worlds most prestigious medal, the Nobel Prize where laureates also had rationale for it. French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and Vietnamese revolutionist Le Duc Tho are those who had willingly turned down the awards in the long history of the Nobel Prize.

Bertrand Russell, a 20th century British philosopher, refused to accept the Nobel but later reluctantly accepted it. However, Zakir Talukders reasons for returning the Bangla Academy Award are quite different. He showed the reasons in a letter while returning the award. He left the award alleging that the standard of the institution had fallen. He expressed his wrath against the academys willfulness, undemocratic practices, and bureaucratic complications. He also accused Bangla Academy of losing acceptability to the commoners as it did not hold an executive council election in the past 25 years. He also mentioned that the standard of the academys programs, publications and awards had fallen tremendously.

Analyzing the reasons Zakir Talukader showed, it is crystal clear that he is aggrieved and dissatisfied with the activities of Bangla Academy that led him to boycott the award as a form of protest. The return of the award is an expression of his pent-up anger. So, the question is why Bangla Academy will do such things due to which a talented writer will return his award.

To find the answer, we need to know the context of the establishment of Bangla Academy. National culture, art, history, tradition, spirit of liberation war, evaluation and preservation of contemporary literature and psycho-social development and excellence through research and development are basically the objectives and ideals of Bangla Academy. Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah, popularly known as Gyantapas and a linguist, first raised his voice to call for the establishment of an academy for language at the Pakistan Literary Conference in 1948. The Daily Azad, a popular Bangla daily published in British-ruled India, also played a positive role in this regard.

Dhaka University authorities were vocal about this. As a result of which Abu Hussain Sarkar, the then prime minister of East Pakistan, inaugurated the Bangla Academy on December 3, 1955. Though the proposal was accepted earlier in 1954, its materialization went in vain due to reasons unknown apart from financial constraints.

Since the context of the post-national language movement is one of the key reasons for the establishment of Bangla Academy, it has, on a large scale, responsibilities to the society and to the state for its own activities and as citizens of the state, we all have the right to discuss or criticize the institutions functions, whether they be good or bad. Now that the academy is bestowed with the noble purpose of practicing and researching Bangla language and literature, the institution owes a lot to the government and people of the country. If the institution does not maintain transparency, fairness and credibility in awarding, we assume there will be more cases of award rejection in future again leaving cynical message in the society.

In the past too, Badruddin Umar, a Marxist-Leninist theorist of the country and Mamunur Rashid, a popular scriptwriter and director, refused their Bangla Academy Literary Awards on different grounds though the latter received Ekushey Padak in 2012. Against the backdrop, after so many years, the academys functions again result in controversies which are truly unanticipated. Rejecting or returning the award not only will raise questions about Bangla Academy among the commoners but will cause loss of confidence in it. Whether it is Bangla Academy Sahitya Puroshkar, Swadhinata Padak or Ekushey Padak, there is a long-standing complaint of not maintaining neutrality in giving them.

In 2022, a person named Md. Amir Hamza was accorded the Swadhinata Padak (Independence Award), but it was later cancelled in the face of criticism. After giving the Independence Award in literature to a man unknown in the field, reporters went over the issue and discovered it a case of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.

Amir Hamza was, in fact, a convicted accused in a murder case. The intervention of his son working as a high official in public service is found in the nomination process despite Amir Hamzas having substandard writings. Earlier in 2020, another SM Raiz Uddin Ahmed was listed for the Swadhinata Padak but his name was dropped later as storm of criticism engulfed. Changing the list in the face of criticism after the announcement of the award is certainly a disgrace to the award-giving institution and it is quite normal to raise questions or doubts about the excellence and transparency of the institution in the public mind.

There are sufficient reasons why an awardee rejects or returns the award. If any strangers or ineligible men receive awards in the literary world, society will blame the institutions assigned for the job. Now-a-days nepotism and favoritism are heard to beprioritized in any selection process irrespective of government and nongovernment levels. Such an intervention in the awarding of prizes also includes the devaluing of literary merit.

Many feel that national awards are now for pro-government poets and writers. Writers, poets or intellectuals not standing under the shadow of any particular party or group are likely to get disrupted in the process of awards. Loyalty to a political party is certainly not a criterion for receiving awards. Writers or intellectuals are sometimes found holding their pens to please a particular community or group. In some cases, in the hope of keeping names in good books of the authorities concerned, some poets and writers are there who want to have a secret nexus.

The departments or institutions responsible for nationally recognized award nominations have to be more impartial, transparent and accountable to avert repetition of award rejection. Mens confidence in awards will weaken day by day unless bureaucracy in the award nomination process is reduced on the one hand, and reliance on experts is not increased on the other.

Muhammad Nurul Huda, the director general of Bangla academy, is a poet as well as a teacher. Iworked alongside him at a private university, where I observed him as a well-thought souldedicated to teaching.It is desirable that the director general will take the allegationsof Zakir Talukder into account and try to restore the age-old tradition and dignity of the academy; otherwise credibility will remain a far cry.

The writer is Assistant Professor and Chairman, Department of English Ishakha International University

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