Indian lyricist, poet and political activist Javad Ahktar has just won the Richard Dawkins award for his “contribution to secularism, free thinking, for critical thinking, holding religious dogma up to scrutiny, advancing human progress and humanist values“. He is the first individual of Indian nationality to receive this.
The award, which was started in 2003 by evolutionary biologist and renowned British atheist Richard Dawkins, has long been a mark of prestige among the irreligious. Until 2019 the award was presented by the Atheist Alliance of America but was later shifted to being hosted by the Centre for Inquiry. The Centre described the criteria in 2019 as “The recipient will be a distinguished individual from the worlds of science, scholarship, education or entertainment, who publicly proclaims the values of secularism and rationalism, upholding scientific truth wherever it may lead”.
Speaking on Indian media, Mr Ahktar described the achievement as a “pleasant surprise”, adding later that religious ideologies, especially in politics, keep individuals in a Dark Ages mentality that impedes social progress.
Members of the writer’s family have openly celebrated as well, with his wife, the esteemed actress Shabana Azmi, calling it a “huge honour” and his son Farhan saying that he “unequivocally deserve it” and that he was “so proud”.
Last year the award was handed to British comedian Ricky Gervais for his long time advocacy for the non-religious perspective, notably tackling the subject in his hit Netflix series “Afterlife”.
Other winners of the award have included Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher and Stephen Fry.
The veteran lyricist has already garnered an enviable collection of awards over the course of a long career, including 5 National Film awards for his music.
In 2019 he got into a high profile social media fight with Pakistan’s president Imran Khan over the issue of Kashmir, claiming that the former cricketer was throwing a “no-ball”. In 2009 he was nominated by the president as one of 12 special “nominated members” in the country’s lower house of parliament, but retired from the position in 2016.