Samanvay comes to a close with enlightening sessions on LGBT issues and RTI
New Delhi. November 9.Samanvay’s Day Four began with a session on the love-hate relationship between poetry and the idea of nation. Hindi poet and critic Asad Zaidi, who runs Three Essays Collective, said that nationalism and poetry have had a history of hostility and chasm; and it is not only historical but also fundamental. He added that nationalism, for poetry, is something only in passing, something that is transient and can never be of permanent concern for it. He also said that in Hindi poetry, there has been a long tradition of glorifying the nation in nationalistic way, and the tradition has only become more pronounced in these achhe din. Eminent poet from Nepal Benju Sharma chose to disagree with Zaidi and said that nation and poetry are inextricable and the poem cannot exist without the nation. She recounted her days of struggle in Nepal, and how she produced poetry of defiance and protested the overthrow of democracy and abuse of human rights in her country. She also said that she wrote poetry for the state, for democracy, and for the triumph of people. Noted Sri Lankan poet Theepachelvan also read out some of his poems which were written in wake of the atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan state against Tamils. Rajan Kurai Krishnan read out the translations of his poems.
The next session ‘My Body, My Text’ had India’s leading activists discussing issues concerning LGBT community and women. Medieval historian and gay rights activist Saleem Kidwai said that silence is something that he and other like-minded academics are very uncomfortable with. He said that it has been proved beyond contention that homosexuality is not a western import and it’s appalling to even conjecture that a human emotion needs to be transported. Tamil poet Salma read a few of her poem which had shaken Tamil literary establishment. Moderator Harish Iyer, who has been listed at #71 in the list of the 100 most influential LGBT people in the world for 2013 by The Guardian, read out the renditions of her poems. Iyer also emphasised on the need to talk about sexuality, and added that you become an activist the day you start asserting right over your body. Feminist and activist Maya Sharma shared incidents from her years of activism for rights of homosexuals. Human rights activist Simran Shaikh, who recently also appeared on the show Satyamev Jayate, said that her struggle taught her one lesson well, and that was how to represent herself. She also asked everyone to pose a question to themselves that how many of us give employment to transgenders.
In the session on Malayali columnist K R Meera elaborated the challenges of translation that the Malayali literature, even literature of pan-Indian nature, faces. Malayali poet Anvar Ali valorized translators and said that translation requires as much mettle as writing original poetry. Bilingual writer and educationist Rizio Yohannan Raj moderated the session.
Hindi poet Mrityunjay moderated the session ‘Displacement, Pathos, Songs: Bhojpuri Tale’ in which journalist Arvind Mohan shed light on the under-representation of migrants in literature. Documentary film-maker Surabhi Sharma said that the sorrow of women in Bhojpuri folklore has been sung by men. Expert on dalit politics and Bharat Bhooshan Agrawal Smruti awardee Badrinarayan said that poignance has been the leit motif of Bhojpuri folk songs.
The session on Bangla that followed revolved around the theme ‘One language, two countries’. Poet Syed Shamsul Haque, who came from Bangladesh, said that the countries may be two but Bangla is certainly one; the land may be divided but the sky is not divided. He said that people in his country have died for the love of the language and the prolonged periods of struggle have produced a different body of literature. Bangladeshi scholar Dr. Fakrul Islam stated that the products of University of Dhaka, where he is a professor, changed Bangla literature and especially after the 70s, the major poets that emerged were alumni of University of Dhaka. He added that just like the literature produced in New York has a slant different from that produced in London, same way the Bangla literature being produced in Bangladesh and Bangla literature being produced in India have different slants, and it is good for literature. He also said that 30 years later we might be having a session on one language and two literatures. Poet and Sahitya Akademi awardee Subodh Sarkar said that slowly Calcutta is becoming less and less ‘Bengali’ and that there is a growing ethnic difference, religious tension, and consequently linguistic difference. He said that 30 years later we would be having a discussion on two languages and two countries. The session was moderated by writer and academic Koushiki Dasgupta.
The penultimate session was an extremely informative session on Right to Information Act. RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj said that the law has been used by the poorest of the poor and India’s RTI act is one of the most progressive information acts in the world. The government had alleged that the law was being misused and the governance was being compromised because of the law. On a research done on 30,000 sample RTI applications collected from across the country, it was established that less than 1% of the applications were frivolously filed and the maximum applications were genuine applications filed by people below poverty line. Anjali also said that the government only provides information under compulsion of the law but there is no spirit of transparency and the political will and mindset is clearly obstructive. The government has not appointed the Information Commissioners in the states of Assam and Manipur, and for the first time the Information Commission is without a Chief Information Commissioner since the last commissioner retired. Author-journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta speaking on the information war said that Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are terrorists for some and freedom fighters for some. He said that George Orwell wrote in his novel ‘1984’ that the ‘Big Brother’ is watching you and the ‘Big Brother’ is still watching you. He said that the future wars will be over control of air, water, and information. Dalit rights activist Bhanwar Meghwanshi also shared incidents of small victories of RTI activists; the session was moderated by political scientist and academic Kaustav Banerjee.
The concluding day of the Festival ended with Vidya Shah’s splendid performance Doaab.Creative Directors of Samanvay Giriraj Kiradoo and Satyanand Nirupam thanked the audience and announced the dates for Samanvay 2015 respectively. Next year, Samanvay shall be held between 26 – 29 November.
India Habitat Centre’s Annual Languages’ Festival Samanvay is held in collaboration with National Book Trust, India. Delhi Press and REC Limited are partners to the festival while IIFCL, PTC India Limited, Bank of Maharashtra, ONGC Limited, and DD Bharati are associate partners.
Pratilipi Books and Rajkamal Prakashan Group are content partners. Our outreach partners are Aatish Theatrical Society, Pratham Books, and Oxford University Press. Le Communiqué Consultancy is handling the public relations for the entire Festival.