Protesting what she called a “vicious assault” on “India’s culture of diversity and debate” and questioning the silence of the Prime Minister on “this reign of terror”, including the lynching last week of a man in Dadri over rumours of beef consumption, writer Nayantara Sahgal said on Tuesday she was returning her Sahitya Akademi award.
Ashok Vajpeyi, former chairperson of the Lalit Kala Akademi, also returned his Sahitya Akademi award, saying, “It’s high time that writers take a stand.” Earlier, Hindi writer Uday Prakash had also returned his Sahitya Akademi award while six Kannada writers have returned literary awards given by the Karnataka government.
In an open letter headlined ‘The Unmaking of India’, Sahgal quoted Vice President Hamid Ansari’s recent speech that the Constitution promises all Indians “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.”
She wrote in her open letter titled “The Unmaking of India” –
“In a recent lecture, India’s Vice-President, Dr. Hamid Ansari, found it necessary to remind us that India’s Constitution promises all Indians “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.”The right to dissent is an integral part of this Constitutional guarantee. He found it necessary to do so because India’s culture of diversity and debate is now under vicious assault.
Rationalists who question superstition, anyone who questions any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism known as Hindutva – whether in the intellectual or artistic sphere, or whether in terms of food habits and lifestyle – are being marginalized, persecuted, or murdered.
A distinguished Kannada writer and Sahitya Akademi Award winner, M.M. Kalburgi, and two Maharashtrians, Narendra Dhabolkar and Govind Pansare, both anti-superstition activists, have all been killed by gun-toting motor-cyclists. Other dissenters have been warned they are next in line. Most recently, a village blacksmith, Mohammed Akhtaq, was dragged out of his home in Bisara village outside Delhi, and brutally lynched, on the supposed suspicion that beef was cooked in his home.
In all these cases, justice drags its feet. The Prime Minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology. It is a matter of sorrow that the Sahitya Akademi remains silent. The Akademis were set up as guardians of the creative imagination, and promoters of its finest products in art and literature, music and theatre. In protest against Kalburgi’s murder, a Hindi writer, Uday Prakash, has returned his Sahitya Akademi Award. Six Kannada writers have returned their Awards to the Kannada Sahitya Parishat.
In memory of the Indians who have been murdered, in support of all Indians who uphold the right to dissent, and of all dissenters who now live in fear and uncertainty, I am returning my Sahitya Akademi Award.”
Signed: Nayantara Sahgal, Dehra Dun, October 6, 2015
Nayantara Sahgal had criticized Indira Gandhi during emergency.