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Jnanpith winner: 'Right-wing groups have brought shame to India'

By Neeta Kolhatkar, for
March 20, 2015 14:42 IST
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Professor Bhalchandra Nemade, winner of the 2014 Jnanpith Award. Photograph: Sanjay Sawant/

Image: Professor Bhalchandra Nemade, winner of the 2014 Jnanpith Award. Photograph: Sanjay Sawant/


'I stand by what I said. It is understandable that Rushdie got angry and called me names. But it also means it hurt him because there was some truth in what I said.'

'Rebellious writers like me are not allowed to come into the mainstream.'

Jnanpith Award winner Bhalchandra Nemade discusses writing in one's native language and the Rushdie controversy with Neeta Kolhatkar in an exclusive interview for
Photographs: Sanjay Sawant/

After he won the 2014 Jnanpith Award -- India's highest literary award last month -- Bhalchandra Nemade provoked a literary storm when he said he saw no merits in Salman Rushdie's Booker Prize-winning novel, Midnight's Children.

Responding via Twitter, Rushdie reportedly accused the Marathi novelist of igniting the politics of language and tweeted: 'Grumpy old *&^%@#$ Just take your prize and say thank you nicely. I doubt you've even read the work you attack.'

Among others, Mahesh Elkunchwar, the legendary playwright told The Hindu newspaper that he felt Rushdie's response was 'school-boyish, churlish.'

Sadly, many young Indians may be more familiar with Rushdie's name (even though they may not have read his novels) than they are with Bhalchandra Nemade who is acknowledged as one of the titans of Indian literature.

The irony is that Professor Nemade and Rushdie may be closer in their approach towards religious fundamentalism than they are in their literary tastes.

The Maharashtra government has banned the slaughter of oxen. Do you think this is acceptable in a democracy? Can the majority community dictate terms to minorities?

This is absolutely inappropriate. One community or religion cannot dominate the others. These leaders are worse than dictators. But there is no point protesting or reacting.

We have accepted this kind of democracy and these are aberrations in our system. Such issues are unavoidable because people have voted these leaders to power.

We have to make our procedures stronger to make our democracy more effective.

In such situations people will only protest, notify their objections. But anger will not help bring any change.

The checks and balances should be woven into our democratic process where people of such dogmatic ideologies are not made ministers or governing authorities.

Till then our opposition is only superficial and we won't be able to make any impact.

Professor Bhalchandra Nemade, winner of the 2014 Jnanpith Award. Photograph: Sanjay Sawant/

Image: Professor Bhalchandra Nemade, winner of the 2014 Jnanpith Award, at his suburban Mumbai home. Photograph: Sanjay Sawant/


Right-wing violence is increasing. This ideology is alleged to have killed rationalist Dr Narendra Dabholkar and social reformer Govind Pansare. Do you think this ideology is distorted?

Right wing groups have brought shame to our country; there is no doubt about it. Their violence killed Gandhiji.

But we need to see the killings of Pansare and Dabholkar in perspective. This is a systematic conspiracy to erase a certain type of ideology and scientific reason in India.

We have seen how various groups operate clandestinely in other countries. Like the CIA has operated in other parts of the world.

These intelligence agencies and powerful groups from outside want this kind of killings to take place. They create a controlled sort of unrest in different countries.

I am sure right wing organisations or any Indian group do not have the capability to conduct such killings. They are incapable of thinking at such a level.

We have seen what the United States did in Egypt, Syria and other parts of the world. But we do not seem to believe such forces are capable of unleashing violence in our country. These groups are far more intelligent and create political disturbances to suit their agenda.

This is exactly what is being done in the Ukraine, where certain groups are funded to rebel. They ensure the tide across the world turns anti-Russia. The murder of Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov is said to have been done at the behest of (Russian President) Vladimir Putin.

But in reality it is not so easy even for the head of Russia to kill an Opposition leader with such ease and promptness.

Do you feel Hindu organisations have distorted the Hindu religion?

Yes, of course. The Brahminical tradition can be uprooted only through effective education and sound reasoning.

Now this is not possible through the rote education that we have. It only ensures that people do not remain illiterate. Our whole education system needs a complete overhaul.

Promoting literacy is the goal of our existing education system. Our whole machinery too works around such an education.

This sort of existence cannot erase traditional beliefs held by our masses. They only become more vulnerable through such perverse tradition and beliefs.

Real history is never taught, rebellious writers like me and many others are not allowed to come into the mainstream.

We only take consolation in the fact that at least 40,000, 50,000 read it (novels written by people like him) and talk about countering such dogmatic views.

Professor Bhalchandra Nemade, winner of the 2014 Jnanpith Award. Photograph: Sanjay Sawant/

Image: Professor Bhalchandra Nemade, winner of the 2014 Jnanpith Award, at the table where he writes. Photograph: Sanjay Sawant/


In a previous interview, at the time of your book release in 2010, you had told me that Brahmins and right wing Hindu organisations have distorted the Hindu religion.

That Hinduism was horizontal and parallel, these right wing groups and Brahmins made it vertical and dogmatic.

That is my strong belief, which is supported by documents in our scriptures and the Hindu religion.

Like I said in my book, the Hindu religion till the 9th century did not have untouchability.

There was no caste system. People of different religions and castes lived together, interacted without any restrictions and there were inter-marriages without opposition.

All this (casteism) started only from the 11th, 12th century. Castes began to drift away from each other. Untouchability came into existence, and rather strongly.

This showed the rise of the Brahmins. Untouchability was started deliberately by Brahmins to show their dominance.

These are vikrutta (perverted) ideologies and we are seeing it grow in our modern times. This attitude is reflected in their attitude towards even women.

You triggered a controversy when you said Indians should not write literature in English or even study English.

When a child is born, it has been proved scientifically that the baby understands the mother's language.

That is why it is called the mother tongue. The brain is receptive to understand and conceptualise in that language. In European countries like France, Germany, most of the Asian countries, the government communicates in their native language. Education is in both English and their native language.

I am not asking everybody to study Marathi. In our country we suffer from a colonial mentality. We are still slaves to English.

Why have all our governments failed to provide education till the master's degree? Why do our labourers, under-privileged have to spend beyond their means to educate their children in English in order to get a decent job? Why can't they get a master's degree in science in the Marathi language?

We need to bring our education to that benchmark, we need to upgrade our books, get good teachers. What is wrong in what I have said or believe in?

Do you think the Salman Rushdie controversy could have been avoided?

I stand by the belief that one writes best in one's own language.

People have broken barriers and come out with revolutionary writing in the Marathi language. It has been seen in the South too. They are strongly rooted to their language.

In many Indian languages people have been able to break away from Brahminical impositions. There is excellent writing in Indian languages and they have been widely appreciated.

When Indians have written in English, they have written according to the expected standards and styles as demanded by the traditional language.

I stand by what I said. It is understandable that Rushdie got angry and called me names.

But it also means it hurt him because there was some truth in what I said.

This was expected and I am not surprised.

There are no writers who have broken barriers and the dominance of the whites. That kind of writing is not widely accepted and has not become mainstream.

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Neeta Kolhatkar, for in Mumbai