For poet Rifat Abbas, refusing the Pride of Punjab award is a political statement

For poet Rifat Abbas, refusing the Pride of Punjab award is a political statement

He says: "My commitment is to the Seraikis. Their rights have been usurped by the Punjab-dominant system since 1818."
Updated 03 Mar, 2017

Poet/professor Rifat Abbas has refused to accept the Pride of Punjab Award for his services to poetry.

Within hours of the news of his nomination, Rifat had turned down the award.

“I’ve no moral ground to accept the award," he had written on Facebook. "I refuse it due to three main reasons: being a poet, being a Seraiki nationalist and being a neighbour of other nations struggling against the suppression of Punjab.”

His refusal of the award — and the Rs300,000 cheque that comes with it — has made Rifat a big celebrity in Multan and other Seraiki-speaking areas.

“From my family to friends and fans, all endorsed my decision,” the poet said to Images.

We speak to Rifat Abbas more about his decision.

Reasons for refusal

Rifat says his refusal to the award is a political decision.

The Pride of Punjab award is conferred by the Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture (PILAC), an autonomous body working for the promotion of language, art and culture of Punjab .

Rifat, however, feels that while “[he] would love to accept a Pride of Seraiki People Award,” there is “no pride in a Punjab award at all.”

“Punjab, instead of being a good neighbour, has made the Seraikis its oppressed slaves,” he argues. "Seraikis have been part of the great Indus Civilisation with their distinct culture and language. The invasion of Multan by Raja Ranjeet Singh brought it to an end in 1818. Now, after the passage of almost 200 years, Seraikis have yet to get their rights."

"Punjabi has a treasure trove of literature and culture. In fact, I’ve always been an admirer of the Punjabi language and people. My concern is with the system, which is unfortunately led by the Punjabi establishment. The system has denied rights to the segments of Pakistan." — Rifat Abbas

But why drag politics in a purely cultural/literary issue in the first place?

“Being a writer, my commitment is with the Seraikis. Their rights have been usurped by the Punjab dominant system since 1818,” he reasoned.

“After Partition, SIndhis, Baloch and Pashtuns also joined the list of victims.”

While Rifat agrees that the system has also undermined Punjabi language and culture, he insists his objection is justified.

"Punjabi has a treasure trove of literature and culture which must be saved. In fact, I’ve always been an admirer of the Punjabi language and people. My concern is with the system, which is unfortunately led by the Punjab establishment. The system has denied rights to the segments of Pakistan."

Reactions from the literary circle

Was Rifat surprised about Pilac’s decision to confer him the Pride of Punjab Award?

“No, not at all. The reason is that several Punjabi writer friends, who have read my poetry, agree with my contentions. My poetry might have appealed to them. This might have convinced them to nominate me for the award. I respect their decision. But my stand to refuse the award is moral and ideological.”

Dr Nukhbah Langah, Pakistan Seraiki Party president and head of English Department of the Foreman Christian College University, says the massive approval of Rifat's decision is testimony to the fact that Seraikis worship their poets.

“He (Rifat) should consider to take part in active movement for the rights of Seraiki people,” she says, citing the examples of South African writer Dennis Brutus and Bard of Bengal Rabindranath Tagore, whose writings inspired activism in their communities.

Rifat, however, offers sincere apologies when asked if he would like to become an active campaigner.

“I’m a poet; Let me remain a poet; I can’t be an active political worker as it is not in my nature. But I’ll continue raising political discourse through my poetry.”

A new nominee

Dr Sughra Sadaf, PILAC director general, is credited with launching awards to honour writers and artists and announced the nominations this year.

She said she had lots of respect for Rifat sahib, and agreed to his decision to turn down the award. “The Pride of Punjab award is for all those who live in Punjab,” she told Images.

“We honoured Rifat sahib as a great Seraiki poet,” she says, adding that after his refusal, the award was given to another famous Seraiki poet, Shakir Shujaabadi.

This time, PILAC, however, contacted Shujaabadi before announcing the award. Also, he was given award as Seraiki poet and representative of south Punjab. This explanation was missing when Rifat was nominated. However, he maintains that even if he was nominated as a Seraiki poet for the award, he would have thought several times before taking the award.

Dr Sughra says the award represents the people of Punjab. “The award is for all segments of Punjab; you see we’ve given awards to Surraya Mulanikar and Allah Ditta Lonewala, both famous Seraiki singers.”

Meanwhile, the fans of Rifat have arranged a reception to honour him the Pride of Seraiki People Award in Multan in March.


Hidayat ullah khan Mar 03, 2017 10:00am
I am proud of you! You conveyed a strong message to the authorities on behalf of neglected Seraiki people by refusing to accept this award! Bravo!
SATT Mar 03, 2017 11:27am
Award Wapsi in Pakistan.
Saleem khan Mar 03, 2017 11:49am
Well done Sir-proud of you
AK Mar 03, 2017 12:45pm
One should work for humanity rather than working for one ethnic cimmunity only in which he was not born due to his/her own will.
M. Emad Mar 03, 2017 01:07pm
Several East-Pakistani poets/ writers refused to accept the government awards during the last years of Ayub Khan's reign.
mba Mar 03, 2017 01:11pm
I admire Prof. Abbas for his two important and very intelligent decisions: not accepting the "Pride of Punjab" and for not entering into politics. He sounds to me a real poet: he listens to his heart first. Unfortunately, I don´t understand Seraiki. Please also add the majority of Punjabis and Muhajirs to the list of victims (I grew up in Karachi and belong to the victims-catagory: Muhajir)
Fahad Maral Mar 03, 2017 02:15pm
Ahsan Raza interviews the respected Saraiki poet Rifat Abbas about his refusing 'Pride of Punjab Award'! Saraiki nation welcomes this decision. Rifat Abbas rightly sees no pride in accepting this award and elucidates his disillusionment! Respect for Rifat Abbas!
Munis Raza Mar 03, 2017 02:41pm
Proud of you Riffat sb.
Shakeel Mar 03, 2017 03:01pm
Great work done by Ahsan Raza. He articulated it very well. Keep it up dear
Khalid Mahmood Mar 03, 2017 03:04pm
I think intellectuals and poets must rise above narrow ethnic and divisive ideologies and instead promote higher human ideals.
Khalid Mahmood Mar 03, 2017 03:07pm
Poets must promote higher human values and ideals. The task of ethinc and parochial struggles may be better left with politicians.
Ghani K (KPK) Mar 03, 2017 06:14pm
"Punjabi has a treasure trove of literature and culture which must be saved. In fact, I’ve always been an admirer of the Punjabi language and people. " Riffat Abbas Sahib, you might be the admirer of Punjabi language, generally speaking ,Punjabis themselves are not. Thy distance themselves from Punjabi language depending on their economic status. It usually begins with Urdu, followed by English as they move in the 'elitists" circle.
MJKhan Mar 03, 2017 06:25pm
As long as Punjab remains dominant as evident from the rule of Sharifs, smaller provinces will remain 2nd stringers . Split it into two parts, northern and southern Punjab , we might have equality.
Shams Durrani Mar 03, 2017 06:41pm
Great decision took by Rifat Sahib in order to realize them that prize doesn't matter rather your Love in the hearts of people will keep you alive. Siriyaki's has been deprived with the mainstream politics just because of the some so called political and bureaucrat elit. They should have given faundnenental rights to the southern belt.
Shams Durrani Mar 03, 2017 06:42pm
Great decision by Rifat.
Mian abrar Mar 03, 2017 08:20pm
Ahsan Raza, you have always been there whenever any literary figure needs you. Being a journalist myself, I value your services for education, culture and art lovers which are highly appreciable. However, this time around you have come up to raise an issue which has added to the pride of Pakistan. The refusal by laureate Rifat Abbas to accept the Pride of Punjab Award is not only a brave initiative but it also sends a clear message to the decision-makers in Punjab how the people in South Punjab think about the unjust division of resources in the province. I believe that those who are serving the Takhte Lahore must open their eyes till the time arrives that the people of Southern Punjab take to streets or take up arms to claim their due share in the provincial finance award. Hats off to Dawn management for hiring such a talented and conscious soul. Keep up the good work dear #AhsanRaza
getrefund Mar 04, 2017 02:59am
@mba if you are born in karachi, than you are not a Muhajir.
Dr. Malek Towghi --USA Mar 04, 2017 05:10am
As a Baloch and a humble Balochi writer and poet, I salute Professor Rifat Abbas, respectfully and with tons of LOVE. Sincerely, Malek Towghi, Ph.D., Liaison, Baloch Human Rights International
P Setra Mar 04, 2017 05:20am
Is Punjabi language doing so great! Without any official status.
Nasiroski Mar 04, 2017 05:26am
Man of his conviction, Bravo!!
Asif A Shah Mar 04, 2017 05:40am
Rifat Abbas! A man of conscience. However, I disagree with him. The South Punjab is a part of Punjab so far. In addition, it recognizes him as a Seraiki poet. I wish Rifat Abbas best of luck.
Mian Amir Hakim Mar 04, 2017 07:09am
I don't resent the decision by the poet. However, we have some moral responsibilities towards the country. In the present circumstances when it is facing its existiantial problems such decisions will only strengthen the will of its enemies. Alas, we are cutting the same tree we are sitting on. Ayaz Amir very rightly said in one of his columns. "There is something the matter with the water and the soil of our place".
Meesaq Zaidi Mar 04, 2017 09:01am
I endorse the decision by poet Riffat. I feel extremely disturbed to know that nothing has changed for Seraikis since 1818_ Ranjit Singh era. It will not change for centuries if people & their leaders don't ask powers to be to give them their rights like a Seraiki Sooba. Why Seraikis at all vote for people who can not get them their rights-including Sooba, may I ask ?
Saqlain Mar 04, 2017 11:09am
Welcome to ur decision sir, good way to protest but please show such protest by refusing to vote for old chuadries, laggharis, Khosa's, dreshak, syads, Qureshis, khars etc
y-fi Mar 04, 2017 12:56pm
Strong Decision
Shahid Mar 04, 2017 05:13pm
The act and proclamation of turning down the PoPA is a political statement is politically correct and true. But so is the award itself. It is more political than anything else. Unfortunately, space does not allow one going into detail here as to why it is so. What one fails to understand is when does or did the time line of the Seraiki start? If there is a moment in time, what it is? Was it natural of enforced? Even a bigger question is: can Shah Hussein, Sultan Bahoo, Bullhe Shah (real name Bu Ali Shah), Waris Shah, and among many more of the same diction, and flavor be acknowledged as Seraiki poets? If yes, where one should fix the line of Seraiki linguistics belt and territory? Indeed insan is at loss.
NHA Mar 04, 2017 05:14pm
This is publicity stunt. If you accept this logic, which in case Rifat is rather complicated,
SYED ALI ABBAS Mar 04, 2017 05:41pm
A great and fabulous work done by Ahsan Raza .... each and every aspect of news is beautifully articulated by Mr. Raza.... May you live long and have a prosperous life..... Stay blessed
Shahid Mar 04, 2017 05:43pm
@Khalid Mahmood general environment and ground realities must be pathetic enough to turn genuine poets and artists into politicians. If there is someone to blame, who is it? It cannot be all of us?
Bupi Mar 05, 2017 06:41am
@SATT Dear in fact he had refused to accept.
Bupi Mar 05, 2017 06:43am
@NHA It may be your Outlook but in realty he has done right