Raghunandana’s ‘no’ and after

The theatre director’s decision to turn down the Sangeet Natak Akademi award triggers a debate among Bengaluru theatre people

S Raghunandana has written and directed several big Kannada plays, including Gunde Gowdana Charitre.

Well-known theatre director S Raghunandana turned down the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi award on Wednesday. The Bengalurean’s decision has sparked off a debate among fellow theatre practitioners.

His statement, in full:
“The Sangeet Natak Akademi is an autonomous institution and has been, on the whole, upholding its principles of autonomy through the years. I thank the Akademi for giving me, along with others, its award for the year 2018.

However, today there is mob lynching and violence in the name of God and religion, and even in the matter of what one eats. The powers-that-be are directly, or indirectly, responsible for these deadly acts of murder and violence. They are directly, or indirectly, supporting the hate campaign that uses all means, including those offered by internet technology, to fulfill its unholy aims. An attempt is being made to put in place systems that will teach lessons of hate and irrationality to students everywhere, from those in institutions of the highest education to those in schools and colleges.

The very meaning of what it is to be an Indian, and the adage Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, are being distorted and erased. But, is not hybridity Shivam indeed? Crores of people like me can only lament: Cry, the Beloved Country. Young people such as Kanhaiya Kumar who should shape the future of India and the world at large are facing charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy. Others – intellectuals and social activists – are facing trial under UAPA. Most of them have not even got bail and are spending time in prison. These are people who have always stood up for the cause of the most exploited and downtrodden of our country and everywhere else. They have argued on behalf of the exploited in the courts, have written books and articles about their suffering, have guided them to fight non-violently, have always followed the tenets prescribed by the Constitution of India, and have upheld its spirit and values. They have waged their righteous struggle with not a thought for themselves. Yet they are in prison.

Our rulers have decided that the best way to silence the poor and the powerless is to throttle the voices of these conscientious intellectuals and activists. This has always been so, regardless of the party, or parties, in power. These wonderful men and women, young and old, are our truest patriots. They tread the path of true Dharma and uphold its values. They want, work for, and live for nothing but the good of all beings, sentient and non-sentient.

I cannot, as a theatre artist, poet and playwright, accept this award when such injustice is being done to these dharmamargis in my country, in the name of my country. My atmasakshi, my antaryami does not permit me to. This is not a protest. It comes out of despair, a helpless inability to accept the award. I respect the Akademi, and all those who have received this award, now and in the past. I thank the members of the Akademi, and apologise. May there be Shivakarunya.”

Bengaluru theatre practitioners react to his decision:

‘Support his stand’

“I completely sympathise and agree completely with Rahunandan’s intention. I appreciate his decision. He has turned down a national award to express his despair about the order of things in the country, right now. Tagore returned his Nobel Prize in protest. When rational thought is being controlled, what can one do but protest in this sort of manner?

It’s a pity that we have thinkers, academics who are having to do this kind of thing. A quote by Evelyn Beatrice Hall says, ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’. This is exactly what we are losing now.’

-- Jagdish Raja
Co-founder, Jagriti Theatre.

‘Not right’

“The Akademi and the government are different entities. The Akademi is run by an autonomous body and they agreed to bestow the award on his despite his anti-establishment views. The body took the right decision to award such a deserving person the award but the decision to turn down the award is not right.”

Ganesh Shenoy
Sanchaya theatre group, Jayanagar

Peers, chose him’

“I respect Raghunandan’s decision and integrity. But, the people who nominated him are not the representatives of the government. It’s not the government awarding him but people appreciating him for his contribution towards theatre. If he does not agree with what is happening, he should express it through his art. Simply rejecting the award is not going to achieve anything; many others who are accepting it. This could also encourage undeserving candidates being awarded.”

-- Suresh Anagalli
Theatre director

‘Awardees are critics’

“I am disappointed by his decision. An award is an appreciation for a particular area or locality. He represents language and all the work he has done with reputed theatre bodies. All those efforts are being recognised here.

All people being awarded are critics of the government. If there was any political motive, the awards it would have gone to those who believe in the current government’s ideology. The Akademi is not run by the government; it is Raghunandan’s own peers who have recognised him.

The right way to fight would be to write and direct more powerful works. Also, what if the Akademi stops giving out awards to deserving people?”

-- Abhishek Iyengar, co-founder of WeMove Theatre.

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