Protesting what she called a “vicious assault” on “India’s culture of diversity and debate” and questioning the silence of the Prime Minister on “this reign of terror”, including the lynching last week of a man in Dadri over rumours of beef consumption, writer Nayantara Sahgal said Tuesday she was returning her Sahitya Akademi award.
Ashok Vajpeyi, former chairperson of the Lalit Kala Akademi, also returned his Sahitya Akademi award, saying, “It’s high time that writers take a stand.”
Earlier, Hindi writer Uday Prakash had also returned his Sahitya Akademi award while six Kannada writers have returned literary awards given by the Karnataka government.
In an open letter headlined ‘The Unmaking of India’, Sahgal quoted Vice President Hamid Ansari’s recent speech that the Constitution promises all Indians “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.”
“The right to dissent is an integral part of this Constitutional guarantee,” Sahgal wrote, adding that “India’s culture of diversity and debate is now under vicious assault. Rationalists who question superstition, anyone who questions any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism known as Hindutva — whether in the intellectual or artistic sphere, or whether in terms of food habits and lifestyle — are being marginalized, persecuted, or murdered.”
Mentioning the killing of Kannada writer and Sahitya Akademi award winner M M Kalburgi and activists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, she said “other dissenters have been warned they are next in line”. “Most recently, a village blacksmith, Mohammed Akhlaq, was dragged out of his home in Bisara village outside Delhi, and brutally lynched, on the supposed suspicion that beef was cooked in his home,” she said.
“In all these cases, justice drags its feet. The Prime Minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology. It is a matter of sorrow that the Sahitya Akademi remains silent. The Akademis were set up as guardians of the creative imagination, and promoters of its finest products in art and literature, music and theatre,” she said.
“In memory of the Indians who have been murdered, in support of all Indians who uphold the right to dissent, and of all dissenters who now live in fear and uncertainty, I am returning my Sahitya Akademi Award,” Sahgal said in her letter.
The Sahitya Akademi hit back. “She (Sahgal) was given the award long ago. Her (award-winning) book has been translated into several languages (by Sahitya Akademi). She earned all the profits. She can now return the award money, but what of the credibility and goodwill she earned through the award?” Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari, Akademi’s chairperson, told The Indian Express.
Responding to Tiwari’s remarks, Sahgal said: “The Akademi is an autonomous body. It should speak up against the disappearance of right to protest.”