NEW DELHI -- Authors like him had no option but to "dramatise" their protest against growing intolerance by returning awards for a "visible" impact, noted poet Ashok Vajpeyi said on Thursday.
He also claimed that President Pranab Mukherjee has expressed the view that "puraskar wapsi" was a way of expressing dissent.
Speaking on the sidelines of an event organised to mark Constitution Day in Delhi, he asserted that writers had raised voices against "intolerance" for one-and-half years, but no one took notice of it, compelling them to take such a step.
Vajpeyi, who was among the writers who returned their awards, accused RSS of "distorting" the definition of Hindu religion and insisted that the government should do its job of protecting interests of people.
"We had no option but to dramatise (protest) because no one paid attention to the issues we raised earlier. Had we not done so (returned awards), you would not be asking us questions (now).
"For a year-and-a-half, I had been writing on these issues in my column, but it had no impact. Thirty of us issued a statement, but majority of newspapers did not even carry it. So, we thought of this (returning award) as the socially visible action," Vajpeyi said.
He further claimed that during an interaction with Mukherjee on Wednesday, the President admitted that the return of awards by writers and intellectuals was "evidently spontaneous" and a way of protest that has triggered a nation-wide debate on the issue of intolerance.
"Now even the Parliament wants to discuss it," he added. Vajpeyi also dismissed allegations that awards returning was a "motivated" protest and ridiculed Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh for his reported charges that the demonstrators were "paid" for the same by Congress.
"The minister says from holy soil of US that Congress paid us for returning awards. Yesterday someone asked me that we were paid Rs 15 lakh for the protest. Forget my case, but will anyone be able to buy authors like Romila Thapar? She had refused to accept Padma award from Congress government. How can anyone question her integrity," he asked.
Vajpeyi termed the allegations as ones aimed at "character assassination" of demonstrators as the ruling class lacked logic. The poet though maintained he will not take back the award once returned even if situation "improves" and added "puraskar wapsi" was never an issue for the scholars, but the "growing intolerance" in the country.
"There is no question of taking it back. But there is no intention to insult the awards. We are not demeaning that. We are only using it to attract attention towards a certain issue, to express our dissent against what is happening via a spontaneous protest," Vajpeyi added. The poet further accused RSS of trying to "cementise" Hindu religion which, he said, is "diverse" in nature, into one/singular concept.
"Hindu religion is diverse in nature. RSS is trying to cementise it. Bringing in one God, one book concept. This can't happen as Hindu religion by nature is diverse. RSS is distorting definition of Hindu religion. "This definition will turn 90 years next year... It has been trying to turn India into Hindu Rashtra. But it has failed," he noted.
Vajpeyi also advised those attending the event to ask questions "fearlessly" in the present democratic setup as it had been the tradition of the country for ages and needs to be kept intact. "Our tradition has been of raising questions fearlessly. We have questioned Gods too. Nachiketa had questioned Yama. Yaksha had questioned Yudhisthir and other Pandavas. So, questioning is an age-old tradition. We cannot relinquish it. Democracy has only strengthened the tradition. We have to keep it intact," he said.
The gathering of civil society members was also addressed by former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Rajinder Sachar, who also administered a pledge by reading out text of preamble to the attendees.
Besides the duo, lawyers Indira Jaising and Usha Ramanathan, social activist Nikhil Dey, Paul Diwakar of National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, Bezwada Wilson of the Safai Karmchari Aandolan addressed the gathering.
Contact HuffPost India
Also see on HuffPost: