Celebrated Indian poet, lyricist, scriptwriter and social activist Javed Akhtar has been conferred an honorary Doctor of Literature degree at a ceremony at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.
Akhtar, a renowned Urdu poet who has also penned thousands of chart-toppers for Indian cinema, was honoured as part of the SOAS 2023 cohort for his creative endeavours as a distinguished writer and his dedication to social justice as an activist.
Akhtar said: “I am really honoured. When I was informed by an email that SOAS, University of London, has decided to give me the doctorate, for a moment I did not believe it. I called a friend, (artist-filmmaker) Sangeeta Datta who lives in London, to confirm that the news in fact is real.
“I am also a bit surprised but then someone told me that they are aware of my poetry because it is translated in English and other European languages and are also aware of my film work and social interventions. I stand humbled as the University of London is an extremely respected institution.”
Dr Akhtar was accompanied at the ceremony last week by actor wife Shabana Azmi and filmmaker son Farhan Akhtar.
The citation from SOAS describes Akhtar as a luminary in Indian cinema and literature, whose impact spans across writing, activism, and leadership.
“As an award-winning scriptwriter, lyricist, poet, and activist, Akhtar's work has touched the hearts and minds of millions. His dedication to social justice, as reflected in his instrumental role in copyright reform, and his outspoken stance against religious fundamentalism highlight his commitment to a better society,” it notes.
The university highlighted Akhtar’s many accolades, including numerous awards for his cinematic contributions such as National Awards and Filmfare Awards, and recognition as the first Indian to be conferred the Richard Dawkins Award for critical thinking, which “underscores his influence as a thought leader”.
While in London to collect the honorary doctorate, the husband-wife couple also addressed a diaspora gathering organised at the Attlee Suite in the House of Commons by the National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK and hosted by British Indian Labour MPs Virendra Sharma and Seema Malhotra.
“What we are receiving from Britain is that people are willing to listen to our voice because we are no longer ashamed of it. In a very big way, we are contributing to what are good relations between the UK and India,” said Azmi.
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*Info: SOAS, University of London