Ministry of Culture hurts Hindu sentiments – Award for pornographic portrayal of Draupadi

published on February 1, 2010

Akademi sets bad precedent

Balbir Punj-

The Sahitya Akademi under the ministry of culture has selected the Telugu novel Draupadi for its annual award in the outstanding literary work in that language category. The novel by Yarlagadda Lakshmi Prasad is an unabashedly base, pornographic portrayal of the central character of the Mahabharata, completely contrary to how the great epic delineates her.

Even as a literary piece the book or its contents do not stand scrutiny. For instance, Draupadi is fantasising about sex when one of the Pandava brothers, Nakul, comes to inform her of the killing of all her five sons at the end of the Mahabharata war. How could anybody, that too a woman, be indulging in such fantasy when the war has devastated all the noble families known to her?

The original epic shows Draupadi as a woman of great fortitude and high moral fibre. This is why, says the epic, she has been seen as successfully resisting the attempt to disrobe her and Lord Krishna himself comes to her rescue and foil the dishonour sought to be meted out to her by the Kauravas. She also gets a boon from the lord that enables her to feed the Pandava brothers in the long years of their exile.

Had the novelist merely wanted to present a different Draupadi in his novel, people would have simply ignored the book that he has written. But his purpose is seen in the pornographic undertone of the entire novel, the imagined events he attributes in her life and the dialogues that seek to display her as a lascivious character. The purpose of the author is not literary but to mock at the faith of millions who hold the Mahabharata character as an exemplary woman who comes through a series of misfortunes.

Even then, that work could have been ignored. But the Sahitya Akademi choosing it as an outstanding work in Telugu literature is an insult to Telugu itself. The akademi is not only awarding it but will be spending taxpayers’ money to translate this pornographic work into different Indian languages.

This is the height of insolence of a group of people who have no respect for the sentiments of the majority of Indians and Indian womanhood. In a representation to the President of India T H Chaudhury, a former technocrat and chairman of the VSNL, has demanded that she does not sully her hand by giving away an award to a book that denigrates womanhood page after page.

Why is the government ignoring the hurt sentiments of millions of Hindus in choosing this book for the award? Is it a product of the same mental make-up that once enabled an official affidavit to be submitted to the Supreme Court that questioned the historic reality of Rama?

However, in the same government there are forces that are extra-careful to act when even a whisper of concern is expressed in any literary or artistic or other work that is claimed to be against Muslim sentiment. While any critical work regarding anything concerning Islamic sentiment immediately brings violent protests and the government hastens to ban these works, no concern is shown for Hindu sentiments. Remember how the ‘secular’ establishment had responded to Muslim concerns over the Danish cartoons and Tasleema Nasreen, who was hounded out of Kolkata under the pressure of Islamic fundamentalists.

Every time such atrocities are committed in the name of artistic freedom or freedom of expression against Hindu sentiments, the so-called secular constituency leaps to defend the perpetrator of such atrocity and wisdom is doled out quoting the Constitution. Such advice to Hindus ignores the considerable case that has build up over the years to distinguish where the freedom of expression of an author ends and where the freedom of other people begins. This is no thin line.

Freedom to write cannot be a licence to abuse. Misinterpretation can be ignored, misjudgements, even in critical works, can be overlooked but deliberate distortions and malicious attributions do not deserve the protection of the right to freedom of speech and expression. Even so, nobody is asking for a ban on Y L Prasad’s book; any citizen of this country has the right to protest when such malicious works are sought to be put on the pedestal at taxpayers’ cost.

Those who quote the Nobel Prize given to Boris Pasternak, the Russian author for his work Dr Zhivago in this context, fail to observe this distinction. Dr Zhivago was a critical portrayal of the contradictions in the Soviet revolution — it said nothing demeaning of anyone, no pornographic passages, the events in it told a story and had deep roots in the path that the Bolshevik revolution took and consumed the very people who led the revolution.

Prasad has not written a critique of Mahabharata; he has produced an overt sexual fantasy and pinned it on an epic character. Even so, Prasad can have his book. What one is objecting to is the government’s eagerness to reward such malice, while it is extra anxious to proscribe even a straw that is claimed to hurt the minorities.

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