Several noted Hindi litterateurs and writers have slammed the targeting of author Geetanjali Shree nee Pandey through the attempted registration of an FIR against her in Uttar Pradesh, calling it another “despicable” moment of great alarm and shame. Shree brought laurels to Indian literature when the English translation of her work, Ret Samadhi (Tomb of Sand), became the first Hindi language novel to win the prestigious International Booker Prize this year. A complaint was filed against Geetanjali Shree by a Hathras resident who claimed that her book Ret Samadhi had hurt Hindu sentiments.
However, Hindi writers who have known Shree for years and have read her works believe that this is just politicking of a very low order. They also point out that after she won international acclaim, no one in the government stepped up to congratulate her. Instead, she was unreasonably targeted on social media as several fundamentalists attacked her because she had done her post-graduation from Jawaharlal Nehru University.
‘Instead of being felicitated by the State, Shree was unfairly targeted’
As well-known Hindi poet and writer Bharat Tiwari said, “When it comes to Geetanjali Shree, we have seen that since she received the Booker, and became the first author in Hindi to get one, neither did the Prime Minister nor the UP chief minister congratulated her. In fact, on social media, we saw a lot of hate against her – she was described as part of the ‘JNU gang’.”
“Everyone knows the tilt of the state. They would have been on the hunt for an opportunity, on the lookout for something in her work to target her with and create a controversy,” he said, referring to the registration of the FIR, which led to the cancellation of a felicitation program she was invited to in Agra.
‘Those who don’t follow state’s idea of tradition become anti-national’
“These are times when people’s sentiments get hurt very easily. It is tragic. We have two traditions – one is our Hindustani tradition and the other is the one today’s powers-that-be believe is ‘real tradition’. So anyone who does not it in the parameter of what the state believes to be ‘real tradition and culture’ is branded as an anti-national,” Tiwari added.
The writer-poet said, “It is very unfortunate that while such a big award should have been viewed as a watershed moment in Hindi literature, we are losing that in petty politics. This is one moment where we can take a jumpstart and take Hindi to a different level, but we are moving in a different direction.”
‘Despicable and a matter of collective concern for all writers’
Journalist and author Mrinal Pande said it was shocking that a petty point has been used to target Shree. “I am really taken aback by this because I am a long-time admirer of Geetanjali Shree’s writings and she is a brilliant person and one of the best writers in Hindi and other languages. I am shocked beyond words that somebody should pick up on a petty point like this and make such a big deal out of it. She deserves all the praise and respect that she has got not just in India, but also abroad,” she said.
Pointing out that “Geetanjali has always kept her head down on the radar – she is not one of those people who have stood up and come out as chest-beating radicals”, Pande insisted that the award-winning writer has “always been away from most of these literary dos which create controversy”.
The former editor-in-chief of Hindi daily Hindustan said: “I am really surprised that someone so gentle and self-effacing should be subjected to this and it is a matter of collective concern for all writers of all languages. I hope they redress this as soon as possible because she is one of the most prominent voices in Hindi literature.”
On what the impact on Hindi literature of such a move is, she said, “I wouldn’t really connect it because it looks more like something addressed to a particular writer. So I would just keep it focused to where it should be focussed – on her personally as a writer. I think she is brilliant and she deserves all the support and praise that she gets and more.”
Pande, who is also a known television personality, called the action against Geetanjali “despicable”. “I think such things are not just despicable, they are also alarming because there are in any periods, or in any literature, very few writers who are truly good and she is one of them. That she is being subjected to this is a matter of great alarm and shame,” she said.
‘Illiterate people, ignorant of literary expressions make such complaints’
Writer and former editor of Jansatta, Om Thanvi, said, “Unfortunately many people in our country are illiterate, meaning they are not unlettered or did not go to school, but that despite acquiring education they remain ignorant about or do not have the understanding of the different modes of expression of literature and various arts.”
“What Nupur Sharma or Yati Narsinghanand say may be political in nature, but what is said in literature cannot be taken at the same face value. It is usually in a manner of speaking,” he said. “I have read the award-winning book by Geetanjali Shree and I did not find anything in it that was objectionable or could have led to controversy.”
‘Not in Geetanjali’s nature to write anything controversial, provocative’
Moreover, he said, “When I was editor of Jansatta, the Hindi daily of Indian Express group, she used to regularly write articles for us. It was not in her nature to write anything controversial or provocative. I never found her to be thinking extra loudly on political, communal, or religious issues. So, whosoever has complained against her obviously does not understand literature.”
Stating that he was sure that there would be no ground to take cognizance of the complaint, Thanvi said that “the award-winning novel is about the society, about the elderly and family relations, it is not religious by any standard”.
Thanvi said it was really unfortunate that some people have also been attacking Shree on social media. “She is a writer who believes in working silently. She may have her sympathy for activism and her thinking may be progressive, but she has never used literature as a tool for activism or to promote her ideology. At least I have never come across any such instance in the over 30 years that I have known her.”
‘Action against the author shows communalism is on the rise
On the government not congratulating Geetanjali when she was selected for the prestigious Booker Prize award, he said, it should have been a cause for celebration but the prime minister did not congratulate her and neither did his staff deem it necessary to issue words of appreciation for her.
“And then, when Indian society respects her work, invites her, felicitates her, they try and thwart that too. This only shows how narrow-mindedness and communalism are spreading,” he said.
Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that an FIR has already been registered against Shree. The police have responded to the complaint it received with a statement to the effect that they will take appropriate action after studying her novel.