An Interview with Urdu Novelist, Rahman Abbas

Could we claim with any certainty that a writer relinquishing an award (Tagore is a prime example) would have an impact on the ruling dispensation of the day? Perhaps we can’t. Yet, many of us do believe that writers act as the conscience keepers of a nation. The return of an award might not topple a government, but such actions lend authority and moral force behind those who seek justice in moments of national crisis.

The recent killings of writers such as Prof. Kalburgi and the dreadful lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri have shaken many of us to the core about the future of India as a diverse, inclusive society. Six Kannada writers – Veeranna Madiwalar, T. Satish Javare Gowda, Sangamesh Menasinakai, Hanumath Haligeri, Shridevi V. Aloor and Chidanand Sali – have returned State Sahitya Academy Awards in protest against delay into enquiry of Prof. Kalburgi’s murder, followed by other writers such as Uday Prakash, Nayantara Sahgal, and Ashok Vajpeyi.

Urdu novelist, Rahman Abbas, is the latest author to return his Maharashtra State Sahitya Academy Award as a mark of protest against what he calls the “crushing of dissent”. He has authored three novels, one book of criticism, and a translation from Marathi to Urdu and is considered one of the most prominent Urdu novelists of the 21st century. In this brief e-mail interview, Mr. Rahman Abbas speaks to Mosarrap H. Khan:


Mosarrap H. Khan: First of all, let us salute you on your courageous decision to return the Maharashtra State Sahitya Academy Award (2013) for Urdu Literature. What exactly was going through your mind when you reached the decision?

Rahman Abbas: The silence maintained by states and central government was unbearable. Protest against this criminal silence of establishment was registered by Hindi, English and Kannada language writers and poets. But major creative talents from Urdu fraternity such as Nida Fazli, Gulzar and Javid Akhtar were mum. In this scenario, as a junior writer, it was my responsibility to come forward. However, I got the news late night that Javid Akhtar has spoken in favor of Nayantara Sahgal, who had also returned her Sahitya Academy award in protest against vicious assault on secularism.

MHK: Do you think more writers should follow the examples set by Uday Prakash, Nayantara Sahgal, Ashok Vajpeyi, you and other Kannada writers in standing up to the state?

RA: It is not just the responsibility of writers. People from different walks of life should open their mouth and protest against systematic spread of hate culture. It is time for people to get up to fight for liberty of thought and freedom of dissent.

MHK: You did have a run-in previously with the fundamentalists within the Muslim community. You have had to face charges of obscenity in your writing. Could you please elaborate what exactly transpired?

RA: The illiterate people in the camouflage of religion distort the aesthetics of religion and appear as negative forces. They have a history of standing up against creative expressions and arts. Urdu had witnessed the wrath and stupidities of this class. Ismat Chughtai and Sadaat Hasan Manto had faced obscenity charges and had defeated anti-creative elements. Similarly, a section of such people had raised objections on a few paragraphs of my debut novel, Nakhalistan Ki Talash (The Search of an Oasis). It was in September 2004. An FIR was then registered and I was arrested. However, I have full faith in our judiciary. Freedom of expression will defeat illogical ignorance.

MHK: At this moment of crisis within the Muslim community (in the wake of Mohammad Akhlaq’s lynching), would you say that Muslims in India must introspect about their share in stifling dissent and creating a culture of fear?

RA: Mohammad Akhlaq was killed by a mindset, a philosophy of hate and by the fringe elements this system has nurtured (in both communities) to enjoy political powers. This power struggle has given birth to ‘Frankenstein’, which is dividing and eating up peace of India.

MHK: Finally, how do you think creative writers and ordinary citizens come together in creating a more diverse and inclusive India?

RA: It is appreciable that writers from Hindi, Kannada, English and Urdu have come together to register protest over silence, tyranny and divisive policies of the right wing regime. Secularism and ‘unity in diversity’ are core to the Indian ethos. This is the true spirit of India. Our land will not tolerate fascist forces, inhuman policies and barbaric incidents of murdering people on the sectarian or religious grounds. India will not be allowed to turn into a ‘Hindu Afghanistan’.

MHK: Thank you!


Rahman Abbas Interview on Boom TV


Mosarrap H. Khan is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English, New York University. He is an editor of Café Dissensus.

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