The diversity of India is no secret. The country is known for its rich tapestry of languages, traditions, and cultures, an element central to its identity. However, when one particular language is seemingly favoured over others, it’s bound to raise a few eyebrows. This is exactly what happened when the ‘Bank of Baroda Rashtrabhasha Samman’ 2023 was announced, causing quite the stir.
The Bank of Baroda, one of India’s leading public sector banks, recently announced the winner of the first edition of the ‘Bank of Baroda Rashtrabhasha Samman’. The award, which is designed to celebrate and acknowledge acclaimed novels published in different Indian languages and their Hindi translations, was bagged by Mohsin Khan, the author of the Urdu novel ‘Allah Miyan Ka Karkhana’, and Saeed Ahmad, the Hindi translator of the book.
The decision to award an Urdu novel and its Hindi translation with the ‘Rashtrabhasha Samman’ has created a furore, and rightly so. The term ‘Rashtrabhasha’ translates to ‘national language’, and in the context of India, is often associated with Hindi. Even if it is not the official national language, Hindi’s connection with the rest of the nation cannot be ruled out. However, the award’s decision to honour an Urdu novel as the inaugural winner has raised questions about the purpose and direction of this award.
The jury for this award consisted of five distinguished members from the world of literature and academia, including the renowned author and International Booker Prize winner Ms. Geetanjali Shree, Indian poet Mr. Arun Kamal, academic and food critic Mr. Pushpesh Pant, contemporary Indian poet and novelist Ms. Anamika, and Hindi fiction writer Mr. Prabhat Ranjan.
Critics have pointed out the selection of an Urdu novel and its Hindi translation might reflect a bias towards Urdu, a language with its own unique cultural heritage and charm. There is a perception that the preference might stem from an admiration for Urdu by certain jury members, which could potentially overshadow the importance of other Indian languages.
One of the key factors triggering this discourse is the presence of Mr. Pushpesh Pant in the jury, an academic known for his overt appreciation of Mughal culture, which has a strong association with Urdu. His presence on the panel might have inadvertently influenced the selection process. Furthermore, the award’s lucrative prize money has also come under scrutiny. The winning author and translator were conferred with a cash prize of Rs. 21.00 lakh and Rs. 15.00 lakh respectively, a substantial amount that further emphasises the weight age given to the chosen language.
In a country like India, where hundreds of languages coexist, the selection of an Urdu novel as the winner of the ‘Rashtrabhasha Samman’ might not send out the right message. While the initiative to promote Indian languages is commendable, care should be taken to ensure that no single language is perceived to overshadow others.
Given that this is the inaugural year of the award, the Bank of Baroda and the award’s jury might want to consider the implications of their choices in future editions. After all, India’s strength lies in its diverse linguistic heritage, and the true essence of a ‘Rashtrabhasha Samman’ would be to celebrate all Indian languages and their unique contributions to the literary world.
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