An important issue went unnoticed by the larger mass and mass media of Karnataka while everyone’s eyes were set on Porngate and the triple ex-ministers. Medha Patkar, an icon of democratic struggle and third power in India, declined the Basawa Puraskar 2010 conferred on her by the Government of Karnataka.
Medha Patkar who is the founder of Narmada Bachao Andolan, founded 27 years ago, is not an unknown figure in Karnataka. She has been an active participant and voice in various struggles and movements in Karnataka including the recent resistance and opposition against the POSCO and also the fight against the Mangalore Special Economic Zone.
While declining the award she said, “”It would have been an honour to receive Basava award in the name of revolutionary saint poet, philosopher Shri Basaveshwara of 12th century who promoted social change, reform and communal harmony. However, collective opinion of movements I am associated with suggests thatKarnataka Government has not been able to deal with the mining scam and other scandals” and added, “The Lokayukta controversy is not yet over and there are disagreements with people’s movements on certain policies related to farmers, workers, unorganised sector workers, slum dwellers and government’s attempt at privatization and corporatization of scarce natural resources – land, water, forests and minerals. I, therefore, would like to state with humility my inability to accept the award which you may be free to give to any other deserving activist.”
Department of Kannada and Culture, Government had announced presenting the Basava Puraskar 2010 to Medha Patkar by a government notification dated December 3, 2011. The award is inclusive of a citation and Rs. 10 Lakh. The award is given for those who contribute towards social change and promote the principles which Saint Basaveshwara championed.
The declining of the Basawa Award for the above mentioned reasons came at the time when the state and also the nation was raising ethical concerns regarding the Porngate, which happened at the same time. Though the latter one created more ripples than the earlier incident the issues raised by the earlier is of greater weight than the latter one. Undoubtedly Porngate is a shame. A mistake. A blasphemy. But it is quite unhealthy that while the issues mentioned by Medha Patkar like scams, illegal mining, privatization, corporatization, policies etc becomes, for the mass and the mass media, more of a legal and policy matter and not an ethical matter while the issue of Porngate becomes a major ethical and moral issue.
In such a juncture Medha with her declining of the award and by pointing at the reasons for the decline, makes the issues of scams, illegal mining, ploicies, privatization, corporatization an ethical issue. For the conscience keeper of the nation that Medha Patkar is, she has rightly declined the award and also raised important issues of which the state has to be ashamed.
Returning of the Knighthood by Tagore in 1919 as a protest against the Jalianwallah Bagh massacre, the returning of the Padmabhushan award by Shivaram Karanth in protest of the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in its heart not just mark a protest but also turn events of history into ethical issues and also perform a kind of politics of identification by partying themselves with some and against some. Such acts performed by the greats have a Gandhian quality to them for they make the oppressive state to look within and rethink about the issues for which its honour and awards have been refused and returned. Medha in a similar fashion while protesting against the policies of the Government has also pushed the government to rethink about its policies. In that way, the declining of the award is not just a dissent but also a political act and also participatory act in democracy for it is also an attempt in negotiation with the government on behalf of the people for the people.
While this article is being written Medha Patkar said, “Awards bring you a new identity and erases your earlier identity which is your identity interlinked with the movement. This erasure of one identity and bringing in of another identity can cause damages to the movement. Hence it is important to decline such awards.”
In the short story ‘Tale of Three Stairs’ by Hristo Smirnenski a man of the people when goes to represent his people to the king he is stopped at three steps by a devil each and each devil asks him for a gift to move ahead. The first devil asks for his ears the second for his eyes and the third devil asks for his heart and memory. So in the end when he meets the King he speaks the language of the King as he cannot hear the cry of his people, cannot see the naked bleeding bodies of his people and also has no memory about their suffering. Thus the man of the people becomes the man of the state.
The Maulvi in Girish Karnad’s play Tughlaq is a critique of the King. On realizing that the Maulvi is a threat the King honours the Maulvi which is plotting to erase the trust of people on him.
While a lot can be spoken about why Medha doesn’t take part in active politics and what is the big deal in accepting an award conferred by the Government one should look at her act of politics in the light of the story by Hristo Smirnenski and the play by Girish Karnad. Remember the line from Basavanna in whose memory and name the award is being given, “Hogali Hogali Honna Shoolakke Erisidarayya,” (Praises held my hand and took to the golden gallows) which calls for refusing of “hogalike” i.e. praises in words or in material or in kind in any form for it can lead to “honna shoola.”
At the same time what needs to be understood is that the act of Medha Patkar in refusing the award is not an anti-state act, as many who romanticize the idea of nation state and who are drugged by the idea of development, would want to. She puts the state and the government to shame but doesn’t insult them. She in her act of dissent is participating in democracy by pressurizing the government to relook at their policies.
While she is not very hopeful about the state giving a thought to its policies she did say, while contacted, that the people in the movement and those who are sympathizers of the movement will gain some moral and ethical strength from this. About the policies of the state being changed she said, “I am not so powerful nor is the state so sensible and caring.”
No foreign fund or any foreign cash award has been received by the Narmada Bachao Andolan, said Medha and in the same breath while accepting that movements need money she said, “We cannot have a movement with answering people with lots of ifs and buts regarding its funding and its cash awards.” In saying so she shows the ethical strengths of the true democratic fights which are lacking in economical strength.
There may be many doubting if the act of dissent, the act of returning the award is actually a constructive act a political act and if the state will be affected in any way in this battle of the right against the might. When such doubts pop up one needs to revisit the lines of Basavanna:
Kari ghana ankusha kiridennabahude? Baaradayya
Giri ghana, vajra kiridennabahude? Baaradayya
Tamandha ghana jyoti kiridennabahude? Baaradayya
Can the huge elephant underestimate the mammoth’s stick? It shouldn’t.
Can the huge mountains underestimate the tiny diamond? It shouldn’t.
Can the vastly spread darkness underestimate the little lamp? It shouldn’t.
(Written for the Sunday Magazine of the Kannada daily Udayavani.
Published on 19 Feb 2012)