After more than 30 writers returned their awards over the last two weeks in protest over a “climate of intolerance” that led to a series of incidents, including the killing of writer M M Kalburgi and the Dadri lynching, the Sahitya Akademi finally broke its silence Friday and urged them to reconsider their decision.
Amid dramatic scenes outside its executive board meeting where a group of writers staged a silent march protesting against “intolerance” and pro-government protesters raised slogans, the Akademi asked the “governments at the centre and in the states to take immediate action to bring the culprits to book and ensure the security of writers now and in the future”.
The board meeting was attended by 20 of its 24 members with Kerala writer K Satchidanandan among the prominent absentees.
The Akademi’s resolution, however, failed to satisfy some of the leading writers who returned their awards, such as Hindi poet Manglesh Dabral, who said he would not reconsider his decision because the appeal was made “under pressure” and that it failed to address the “real issue”.
Others, such as Gujarati writer Ganesh Devy, indicated that he might relook his decision to return his award, saying the resolution “reassured” him but hoped that the “condemnation” did not stop with “mere words”.
The two-page resolution, signed by Akademi president Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari and vice-president Chandrashekhar Kambar, stated that since the organisation is “guided solely by writers”, it requests “authors who have returned awards or have dissociated themselves… to reconsider their decisions”.
The resolution did not point fingers at any specific entity for the gunning down of Kannada writer Kalburgi or the killing of a Muslim man in Dadri over rumours of cow slaughter but asked “governments at the centre and in the states to take immediate action to bring the culprits to book and ensure the security of writers now and in the future”.
The resolution added that the Akademi “firmly supports the writer’s right to freedom of expression in all the languages of India and condemns any atrocity against any writer anywhere in the country in the strongest of words”.
Demanding that the “spirit of plurality” of Indian culture be protected, the resolution asked the “Centre and states maintain the ambience of peaceful coexistence in the societies”.
The resolution, however, ignored calls from writers such as Nayantara Sahgal, Ashok Vajpeyi and Amitav Ghosh for a change in leadership for its “failure to act as the custodian of creativity”. It “unanimously” endorsed “the diligent and vigilant leadership provided by the president (Tiwari) to keep the dignity of the Akademi intact and uphold the tradition and legacy of the Akademi”.
Reacting to the resolution, Hindi poet Dabral told The Indian Express: “The resolution… took place under pressure from writers. But the real issue behind our protest was that the present government has created an atmosphere of intolerance in the country. There is no question of taking back the award.”
Konkani writer N Shivdas said he had received death threats for writing against the Hindutva outfit Sanatan Sanstha and wanted the Akademi “to respond to the murders of rationalists (such as Kalburgi and Narendra Dabholkar)”.
“While they have condemned the murders, we also want them to make a demand to the Government that the culprits be arrested soon. Even I have received threats for speaking against the Sanatan Sanstha and the fact that the killers of these ideologues have gone free is alarming. We intend to agitate till a resolution is reached,” he said.
Kashmiri writer Marghoob Banihali said he would not reconsider his decision to return his award “even if Akademi is saying that we should”.
Gujarati poet Anil Joshi said taking back the award was “out of question” because “the atmosphere of hate is still prevailing”.
“The leaders of the ruling party are busy in cow politics, while there are attacks on Dalits, and young girls are being raped. There is no censorship on the language of politicians, who utter abusive words without thinking,” said Joshi.
“The Sahitya Akademi has to take leadership in this matter and the government has to condemn politicians for using such foul language. We will think of accepting the award again when they are able to curb the language used by politicians today, especially those in the government,” he said.
Malayalam novelist Sarah Joseph said the question of taking back the Sahitya Academy award “did not arise” because “religious intolerance still persists”.
”The academy was forced to adopt this belated resolution due to pressure from the strong reaction of writers. But the situation that prompted the writers to give back the awards has worsened,” she said.
However, Devy, also from Gujarat, hinted that he might change his decision. “The Akademi has said that the institution is by writers, for writers… the autonomy of the Akademi will be strengthened if all writers work together, and (they) have sought our cooperation. I will respond only when I get formal letter from them. But what makes me reassured is that the Akademi feels the need for all writers to be united and stand against intolerance. At the same time, I hope this kind of condemnation does not boil down to mere words,” he said.
Hindi poet Joshi said “all writers should sit and decide on the next course of action”. “It had become a big campaign, so it’s better that the writers take an unanimous decision,” he said.
(With ENS inputs from Ahmedabad, Srinagar, Bhopal, Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram)