WELL-known author Nayantara Sahgal planned to speak about “dangers to our freedoms” in her speech at the Marathi Sahitya Sammelan, before the organisers cancelled an invite to her.
The three-day Marathi literature festival is being organised jointly in Yavatmal by the Akhil Bhartiya Marathi Sahitya Mahamandal and a local outfit called Dr V B Kolte Sanshodhan Kendra Ani Vachanalay. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is to preside over the inaugural function on January 11 while local BJP MLA Madan Yerawar is the chairman of the Welcoming Committee.
“Our freedoms are in danger. The dangers to them are so much on my mind that when I was thinking about what I should say to you, I knew I had to talk about all that is happening in India today, because it is affecting every side of our lives: what we eat, whom we marry, what we think and what we write, and, of course, how we worship. Today we have a situation where diversity, and opposition to the ruling ideology, are under fierce attack,” Sahgal, a Sahitya Akademi Award winner, wrote in her speech, which she had sent for Marathi translation before she heard of the cancellation.
A cousin of the late prime minister Indira Gandhi, Sahgal was among the most vociferous critics of the Emergency. More recently, she has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP of curbing artistic freedom, and was among the foremost writers to return the Sahitya Akademi award in the light of the murder of Kannada rationalist and scholar M M Kalburgi in 2015.
“Diversity is the very meaning of our civilisation,” Sahgal wrote in her speech. “We eat different foods, we dress differently, we have different festivals, and we follow different religions… Today it is threatened by a policy to wipe out our religious and cultural differences and force us into a single religious and cultural identity. At one stroke this policy wipes out the Constitutional rights of millions of our countrymen and women who are not Hindus, and makes invaders, outsiders and enemies of them….”
Sahgal told The Indian Express that, around five weeks ago, the Marathi Sahitya Sammelan sent her “a very warm invitation” to inaugurate the festival, and said she did not know why she had been “disinvited”. “They went ahead and made all the arrangements, the travel and the stay, and I had prepared the speech too… It has been cancelled under political pressure I assume.”
In the letter sent to Sahgal on Saturday requesting her not to come, the organisers blamed the threat issued by some local activists to disrupt the event. “Due to some unavoidable circumstances, we regret that we are unable to fulfil our own commitment and are very sorry to inform you that our invitation may be treated as cancelled,” the letter said.
On Sunday, Akhil Bhartiya Marathi Sahitya Mahamandal Chairman Shripad Joshi told The Indian Express: “The Mahamandal has nothing to do with the revocation of the invite. The revocation was done by the local organisers, who foresaw some trouble. The Mahamandal is in no way connected.”
Others on the committee said they had nothing against Sahgal personally, but were upset about an “English writer” having been invited for a Marathi literature festival.
Sahgal’s speech further said, “A population of one billion people cannot be made to think alike. Every community has its own views and its own sensitivities on various issues, but sentiments cannot decide what is right or wrong. In some cases it is even our duty to hurt sentiments. If we had been forbidden to hurt sentiments, we would still be burning widows…. What can writers do in this situation? The answer is: we can write… Through our writing we take sides between good and evil, right and wrong… It is a means of revolt. That is why dictators are so afraid of it.”
Oppn sees BJP hand,CMO distances itself
Mumbai: A day after the organisers of the 92nd Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan withdrew their invitation to litterateur Nayantara Sehgal, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s office distanced itself from the controversy even as the Opposition alleged that the invitation had been revoked at the ruling BJP’s behest.
Nationalist Congress Party president Jayant Patil said, “The state government was wary of what she would have said… So they pressured the organisers to cancel the invite. This is nothing but another instance of muzzling the freedom of speech.” —ENS