Known for his severe criticism of the Narendra Modi government, noted poet and literary critic Ashok Vajpeyi once again voiced his concerns at the Delhi Literature Festival that began here on Friday. Speaking at the inaugural session of the literature festival at Delhi Haat, Vajpeyi warned the audience that there is a prevailing threat to the right to dissent.
“In contemporary times, those who disagree with some are seen as traitors and termed as anti-nationals,” said the poet.
Vajpeyi was among the first to return his Sahitya Akademi award to the government criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not speaking up against various incidents of violence against writers and activists.
On January 19 last year, he again returned his D.Litt (Doctor of Letters, honoris causa) given to him by Hyderabad University in protest against the “anti-Dalit” attitude of authorities which had allegedly led Rohit Vemula to commit suicide.
“If there is no respect for dissent in a democracy, then where will it be?” he asked.
Vajpayee said that literature stands at the crossroads of changing times and that it never loses its place.
“Literature is a standing witness to the changing times, everything changes but literature never loses its place. It is the duty of literature to look at society in a broader perspective. Literature does not necessarily shows you the way, it rather tells you that there can be numerous ways,” he said.
The former Lalit Kala Akademi chairman also said that literature binds people together.
“Too many ‘others’ are being created in our society, culturally other, socially other, religiously other and so on. All the wars are being fought to destroy the ‘other’. Literature, on the other hand, tells you that there are no ‘others’. It tells you that you are them and they are you,” he said.
Other panelists included popular singer and BJP MP Babul Supriyo, Aam Aadmi Party politician Somnath Bharti, Shrikant Sinha, CEO NASSCOM Foundation, and celebrated film personality Rama Pandey.
Bharti commended the efforts of the festival and said that such events need to be promoted more and that they must be taken to common people.
Babul Supriyo urged the young audience to maintain a balance between the digital world and the old-world charm of pen and paper. “Try to bring a little bit of pen and paper in your daily life. Books have their own aroma,” he said.
The festival will conclude on February 12 and an impressive line up of heavyweight authors, including the likes of historian William Dalrymple and controversial Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin, are set to appear at the festival over the weekend.