Likening the “atrocities committed on Sikhs in 1984” to attacks on Muslims now, Dalip Kaur Tiwana, a novelist and short story writer from Punjab, announced Tuesday that she will return her Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in the country.
The announcement came as several other writers decided to return their Sahitya Akademi awards, and the RSS hit back, calling them “self-proclaimed contractors of intellect”.
Tiwana, 80, is the first writer to give up a Padma award as part of a protest which has seen about 25 people across the country return their Akademi awards. The writers are protesting against the killing of a man in Dadri over rumours of cow slaughter and the murder of writer and rationalist M M Kalburgi.
On Tuesday, two writers from Assam — Homen Bargohain and Nirupama Bargohain — as well as Punjab-based writer Chaman Lal said they would return their Akademi awards.
In a letter to Akademi president Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari, Chaman Lal, who received the award in 2002 for translating poetry of revolutionary poet Pash, said, “I stand with my fellow writers, who have taken the side of suffering humanity and spoken against the patronisation of communal hatred, attack on institutions of knowledge…
It is an irony that Sahitya Akademi, a great institution, is taking such shape where returning an award has become more respectable and honoured act than receiving an award. This situation is also a reply to the taunt of Culture Minister as well as Akademi president, who had tried to belittle the writer status of Nayantara Sahgal by saying that she has got fame and money from Akademi award.”
Homen Bargohain, who got the award in 1978 for his novel Pita Putra, wrote in an Assamese daily: “I was mentally disturbed since the Dadri incident… Now that some recipients have come out in the open and returned their awards in protest against growing religious intolerance in the country, I too have got a way to register my protest.”
Nirupama Bargohain, who got the award in 1996 for Assamese novel Abhijatri, also said she would return it.
Mandakranta Sen, a Bengali writer who received the Sahitya Akademi’s Young Writers’ Award, also decided to return it to protest against the Dadri mob murder.
Tiwana, who received the Padma Shri in 2004 for her contribution to literature and education, is also the recipient of a Sahitya Akademi award. “I had something big to give up, for a cause I believe in and which is close to my heart, and this is my way of protest. Minorities are being crushed and writers and rationalists are being murdered, and no one is allowed to speak,” Tiwana, who who received the Akademi award in 1971 for her novel Eho Hamara Jivana, told The Indian Express.
“In this land of Gautama Buddha and Guru Nanak Dev, the atrocities committed on the Sikhs in 1984 and on the Muslims currently because of communalism are an utter disgrace to our state and society,” she added.
Meanwhile, an editorial in RSS mouthpiece Panchjanya called the writers “self-proclaimed contractors of intellect” and added, “Certain writers who were diseased with the secularism-complex have returned their medals.”
The editorial also asked why “these intellectuals were not hurt when they were rewarded by those guilty of (1984) Sikh riots” or when Hindus were displaced from Kashmir.
In a series of tweets, right-wing ideologue and director of the India Policy Foundation Rakesh Sinha said, “#ComradeIntellectual now start worrying, we will expose your moral space, people will come to how u exploited resources of the state.”
RSS Sarkaryawah Bhaiyyaji Joshi also criticised the writers, saying, “Their honesty needs to be checked. The kind of incidents they have cited (to return awards) have happened in the past also. Why didn’t they resign then?”