Saying that the revocation of an invite to English writer Nayantara Sehgal was a matter of “shame and regret”, Marathi poet and president of the 92nd Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan Aruna Dhere has said, “It was a grave mistake. It’s not proper to bow to threats from forces outside the literary world. We couldn’t look at the invite sent to her with the view that everyone is entitled to freedom of expression. This Sammelan is a forum for dialogue. If it’s not, we should make it one.”
The Sammelan began at Yavatmal on Friday with the shadow of Sehgal episode enveloping those on the dais as well as in the audience. Speaker after speaker, including Maharashtra Education and Cultural Affairs Minister Vinod Tawade, regretted the revocation to invite to Sehgal. Some participants had even worn masks of Sehgal to register their protest and police asked them to remove the masks. Some protesters also raised slogans when Tawade was speaking.
Dhere, who has translated Sehgal’s into Marathi, recalled the contribution of her and her paternal family to literature. “Her grand uncle Shankar Pandit was a well-known Maharashtrian scholar of Sanskrit and so was her husband Ranjit, who had translated Sanskrit texts into English. What has happened is extremely inappropriate, shameful and regrettable.”
Tawade said that the government did not like what happened. “It has brought ignominy to Maharashtra. But why are some people attributing it to the state government? We never suggested anyone whom to and not to invite. Sehgal’s freedom of expression is welcome. She had fought against her own cousin (late PM Indira Gandhi) during Emergency.”
Tawade, however, brought in a comparison of an earlier episode involving Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then Gujarat Chief Minister, but did not name him. “Some people had written letters to a foreign host of a programme, where he was invited, not to allow him to speak there. There can’t be two different opinions about the incidents then and now.”
The Sammelan was inaugurated by Vaishali Yede, whose husband committed suicide due to agrarian distress.
Speaking at the event, Vaishali said, “They want a woman who would simply nod in agreement, not one who would speak up. That’s why they didn’t approve of the widow from Delhi and hence called me.”
Yede was chosen to open the three-day conclave on Thursday after many prominent writers had declined to replace Sehgal.
Yede’s husband Sudhakar committed suicide seven years ago, when she was 21. She is a mother of two children and works as an anganwadi sevika at Rajur village. She won accolades for her acting in Marathi play Terava based on the lives of farm widows.