- He is the first Indian recipient of the award for critical thinking and upholding human values.
Veteran lyricist, screenwriter and poet, Javed Akhtar, has become the first Indian to win the Richard Dawkins Award, presented annually by the Center for Inquiry (CFI). The award felicitates a distinguished individual “who publicly proclaims the values of secularism and rationalism, upholding scientific truth wherever it may lead.”
A respected social commentator, activist, rationalist and a free thinker, Akhtar has never shied away from expressing his views on politics, religion, and public life in India and the world. He has often spoken out against religious fundamentalism and restrictions on freedom of speech. He has been vocal critic of India’s controversial citizenship laws as well as the rampant growth of Islamophobia in the country.
The award is named after British evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins, known for his landmark book, “The Selfish Gene” (1976) and his advocacy of atheism and scientific thinking. The award by established in 2003 by the Atheist Alliance of America, and was moved to the Center for Inquiry last year.
Previous recipients of the award include thinker and magician James Randi, writer, producer, and director Ann Druyan, TV host Bill Maher and writer-journalist Christopher Hitchens.
Akhtar’s wife Shabana Azmi took to Twitter to announce the award. “Javed Akhtar wins Richard Dawkins Award 2020 for critical thinking, holding religious dogma up to scrutiny, advancing human progress and humanist values. Awesome,” she tweeted on June 7.
Similarly, Akhtar’s children — director, producer, actor and singer Farhan Khan, and director Zoya Akhtar took to the microblogging site to congratulate their father.
Akhtar told Indian media that his win will tell the world that there are people in India who express views which are sometimes not popular. “Democracy has given us a gift, and we will always protect it.”
He told NDTV that he wasn’t sure “that these people would know what I am saying, what I am writing, what I am speaking from different podiums. But thank you very much. Mr. Richard Dawkins’ letter was a very very pleasant surprise.”
Akhtar told the Hindustan Times that he’s been atheist for many years, and has been following Dawkin’s work. He told the Hindustan Times that Dawkin’s “God Delusion,” was “the first book I read in my life, written by an atheist. There was so much in the book that I used to think about myself, and then there was so much that I had learnt from the book.”
Akhtar belongs to a family lineage that can be traced back to seven generations of writers. The highly-respected Urdu poet Majaz was his mother’s brother and the work of Muzter Khairabadi, his grandfather, is looked upon as a milestone in Urdu poetry. A former Member of Parliament, Akhtar was the leading force behind the Copyright Amendment bill that restores dignity to lyrics and music composers. He is the recipient of five National Awards for best lyricist, 15 Filmfare Awards for Best Script Writer and Best Lyricist, a Sahitya Akademi Award, the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Shri.
Some of Akhtar’s most successful works were in the late 1970s and 1980s with Salim Khan as half of the script-writing duo credited as Salim-Javed.His recent works include “Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India” (2001), “Om Shanti Om” (2007) and “Jodhaa Akbar” (2008).