Fake Message Claims Javed Akhtar Didn't Win The Richard Dawkins Award

BOOM accessed the emails received by Akhtar, offering him the award, and found them to be authentic.

Viral Whatsapp forwards claiming that veteran lyricist Javed Akhtar has not been offered the Richard Dawkins Award 2020 yet, and that the announcement in the media was based on a nomination email that Akhtar was part of, are false.

BOOM reached out to Akhtar's wife, Shabana Azmi, who shared a copy of the emails from Robyn Blumner, the CEO of Centre for Inquiry which organises the awards, and by Richard Dawkins himself. We found the emails - offering the award to Akhtar - to be authentic, sent by Dawkins and Blumner from their legitimate email addresses.

Finally, Dawkins himself set the record straight, tweeting, "Javed Akhtar is the 2020 Richard Dawkins Award winner and I could not be more pleased."

The Richard Dawkins Award is an annual award presented since 2003 by the Atheist Alliance of America, which was taken over by the Center for Inquiry (CFI) in July 2019. Last year, the award was presented to British comedian, actor, writer and producer Ricky Gervais.

According to CFI, "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."

And The Richard Dawkins Award 2020 Goes To...

On June 7, social media was abuzz with Akhtar receiving the Richard Dawkins Awards 2020, making him the only Indian recipient of the award. Soon after, the matter was covered extensively by the Indian media (NDTV, Hindustan Times), and Akhtar was congratulated on social media by many celebrities, including actors, political leaders and journalists, along with members of the Akhtar-Azmi family.

.. But I Read On WhatsApp That ...

Within a few days, a screenshot of an elaborate WhatsApp message appeared on the internet, claiming that Akhtar did not actually win the award. The message claims that "a London-based group of activists and rationalists" had sent an email to Richard Dawkins and Akhtar, to request for Akhtar's nomination for the award this year. According to the message, Akhtar mistook this email as him winning the award.

The screenshot was shared on Twitter by an account called हम भारत के लोग (@India_Policy), who claimed that a friend from NDTV had sent it. Azmi responded to the tweet, denying the allegations and stating that the email was received directly from Dawkins himself, and from Robyn Blumner - the CEO of CFI, offering the award to Akhtar.

@India_Policy took a dig at Azmi, asking her if the email required them sending a fee to a bank in Nigeria - insinuating that it may have been a scam. The same screenshot of the WhatsApp message was also shared by another account named वोक श्री सनीचर (@Ruchhan).

Click here to view an archived version of the tweet.

Fact Check

BOOM reached out to Azmi, who rubbished the claims about the email being a request for nominating Akhtar for the award, rather than offering the award to him. Azmi forwarded us the emails received by Akhtar from Blumner and Dawkins, for us to verify their authenticity.

"This kind of accusation is unbearable. We have an email from Richard Dawkins. First I thought I will deny it through a tweet, but it would have just created confusion," she said.

Blumner's email clearly states that Akhtar is the recepient of the Richard Dawkins Award for this year, which was unanimously decided based on Akhtar's work in promoting reason and science. The email was sent from the address "rblumner@centerforinquiry.org", which matches Blumner's official email address as mentioned in the CFI website.

Robyn Blumner's profile, along with the email address, on the CFI website.

This proves that the email sent by Blumner to Akhtar, acknowledging his victory, is authentic. Blumner had also added an iCloud email belonging to Richard Dawkins in Carbon Copy (CC) with the email to Akhtar.

BOOM has reached out to Blumner, and the article will be updated if and when she responds.

Azmi also forwarded us another email, which was sent from the same iCloud email address in Dawkins' name that was attached in the email sent by Blumner.

The email states that the CFI board has unanimously voted to offer the award to Akhtar this year. "The board of directors felt, and I wholeheartedly agree, that your important high-profile work and public statements in defence of rationality and atheism are highly laudable and deserving of this award," he states in the email.

The email also states that the CFI 2020 Annual Conference - where the award ceremony usually takes place - has been cancelled this year to the pandemic, and that the award will be presented to Akhtar in an online ceremony sometime around October 2020.

Finally, Dawkins himself came to the rescue and put the debate to rest by officially announcing Akhtar's victory in a tweet, while CFI published a press release announcing the same.

Additional reporting by Swasti Chatterjee.

Updated On: 2020-06-10T16:40:41+05:30
Claim :   Screenshot claims Javed Akhtar was not given the Richard Dawkins Award.
Claimed By :  Twitter
Fact Check :  False
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