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AHMEDABAD: Aqeel Shatir, a budding Urdu poet of the city, has decided to take on the Gujarat Urdu Sahitya Academy, which has penalised him for including an allegedly defamatory paragraph on Chief Minister Narendra Modi in a foreword to his book of poems published with government aid.
Claiming that the copies of the book on sale do not contain the objectionable paragraph, Mr. Shatir has questioned the Academy's wisdom in seeking refund. “Will my mere returning the money restore Mr. Modi's image among the people?”
But the Academy has not stated why Mr. Shatir's explanation is not amenable to it; nor has it taken up his challenge to prove that the copies on sale did not carry the objectionable paragraph. “Not me, but the Academy should be blamed for damaging the Chief Minister's image by putting back on the public domain a non-existent and long-forgotten issue,” he says. “How can the damage be repaired by my paying back the money as asked by the Academy?”
The paragraph critical of Mr. Modi for the 2002 communal riots was written by another poet Raunaq Afroz Bhiwandi, one of the famous Urdu writers who wrote the foreword to Mr. Shatir's first book of poems Abhi Zinda Hoon Main (I am Still Alive). The book was published in October 2008, with the Academy's assistance of Rs.10, 000, which is meant for budding writers who need help to bring out their works.
Mr. Shatir maintains that his poems were not based on the riots. But Mr. Bhiwandi thought so and incorporated a paragraph against Mr. Modi in his five-page foreword. Unfortunately, the book with the contentious paragraph was printed before Mr. Shatir's attention was drawn to it by another Urdu writer and Academy member Mohiuddin Bombaywala, who was among the 80-odd recipients of the book “gifted” by Mr. Shatir during the launch.
“As soon as my attention was drawn to it, I removed the pages containing the paragraph from all the remaining copies before they were put up for sale in the market,” claims Mr. Shatir. “The copies gifted to the noted writers that carried the objectionable paragraph were only meant for private circulation.”
However, the Academy served a notice on him on November 15, more than two years after the book was published. It asked him to explain why he should not be directed to refund the money “with interest” for “publicly damaging” Mr. Modi's image. His December 1 reply, explaining the position and refuting the allegation that the copies on sale continued to carry the paragraph, was rejected by the Academy.
A three-line order, issued by Academy Registrar Harshad Trivedi on December 24, told Mr. Shatir that his explanation “has not been accepted, and you should immediately return the amount with interest to the Academy.”
“I am going to fight it out,” says Mr. Shatir, an amateur photo-journalist and an STD-PCO owner.
Further, the order did not mention when he must pay back the money and the rate of interest as well as the period of interest. “How can the government-run Academy ask me to pay back without specifying the necessary details?”
In the past, Mr. Shatir tapped the Right to Information Act to pose questions about the Academy's style of functioning and the alleged irregularities in the disbursement of funds “in the name of rewards and awards to the deserving writers.”
And he has vowed to carry on his work. “Whether or not I am forced to refund the money, I am going to bombard the Academy with more searching questions under the RTI and expose its wrongdoings.”
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