UPDATE 15 Sept, 10:45am(IST): With great respect for the work done by the Hindi Academy, Delhi: Due to the reasons stated here, and because of other developments that have recently come to light, I have decided to decline this award. I will not be accepting it when I am in India next month.
UPDATE 2 16 Sept, 8:20am(IST): I have been asked if the allegations of political interference in this award played a part in this decision. While I don’t see the need for me to comment more on this than I already have, yes, they did, because they amplified the concerns I outline below.
I was recently contacted by officials in the Delhi Government and the Delhi Hindi Academy, who informed me that I had been selected as a recipient of the inaugural भाषादूत सम्मान – bhashadoot sammaan – awarded for service to Hindi language and literature. This award was presented yesterday at a Hindi Diwas ceremony at the Hindi Bhawan Sabhaghar. While my duties in Australia prevented me from attending this event, I am honoured to receive this award, and thank the officials at the Hindi Academy for considering me.
During the ceremony, an attendee sent me the list of awardees. I have now had a chance to look at it more closely. This is a deserving group of individuals working in areas of Hindi literature, journalism, and online technology, and I congratulate each of these recipients.
But one aspect of the list troubled me. Nine individuals have received this award. None of the awardees are women.
These are exciting times for Hindi. When considering who to present this award to, perhaps it was difficult to reflect the diversity of innovative work being done in Hindi language and literature.
As examples of the diverse works being done in Hindi, I humbly submit this small list of Hindi writers and scholars, and request the Hindi Academy to give greater weight to consideration of gender diversity in future deliberations.
This award gives preference to individuals whose work makes use of online technology, an area where women have excelled in India:
1. One example is Mumbai-based writer and stage actress Vibha Rani, who works at the interface of literature, song, and performance. She brings her knowledge of Maithili song traditions of her native Bihar to bear on her Hindi writing and work as an actress on the Hindi stage. Her YouTube videos on Mathili culture are aimed at a Hindi-speaking audience, and have opened our eyes to the richness of North India’s cultural traditions
2. Closer to my own home, Rekha Rajvanshi is a major promoter of Hindi in Australia. She has published several collections of poetry, and has taught Hindi at the University of Sydney, she runs a Hindi blog that features Australian Hindi writing, and she is currently organising a conference on Hindi language in Australia—perhaps the largest gatherings of Hindi scholars, teachers, and writers ever held on this continent.
3. Daisy Rockwell is a US-based Hindi scholar and translator. She has published definitive translations of works by Upendranath Ashk, Bhisham Sahani, and others. She has often used social media to crowdsource thorny translation problems, thereby giving the online Hindi community a direct say in how legendary Hindi works are presented in English.
4. Shubham Shree’s poetry so directly mimics the speech and thought patterns of urban Hindi-speaking youth, that some have erroneously criticised it as not being Hindi at all. Given this award’s preference for innovative use of digital technology, it would be worth taking another look at her piece “Poetry Management”, in which she imagines an alternate world in which India’s youth lose their minds not for Bollywood, but for “Reliance Digital Poetry.”