Protesting against what she called the “vanishing space” of diversity, questioning the silence of PM Modi on the recent Dadri lynching incident, noted writer Nayantara Sahgal has returned the prestigious Sahitya Academi Award. Along with Nayantara, former chairperson of the Lalit Kala Akademi, Ashok Vajpeye, also returned his Sahitya Akademi award.
Sahgal, niece of former PM Jawaharlal Nehru said people were being “killed for not agreeing with the ruling ideology.”Ashok Vajpeyi said, “It’s high time that writers take a stand.”
Earlier, six Kannada writers had returned literary awards given by the Karnataka government, and Hindi writer Uday Prakash had also returned his Sahitya Akademi award.
Sahgal quoted Vice President Hamid Ansari’s recent speech that the Constitution promises all Indians “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship,” in a statement headlined ‘The Unmaking of India’.
“The right to dissent is an integral part of this Constitutional guarantee,” Sahgal wrote, adding that “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.”
Referring the killing of Kannada writer and Sahitya Akademi award winner M M Kalburgi and activists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, she said “other dissenters have been warned they are next in line”. “Most recently, a village blacksmith, Mohammed Akhlaq, 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,” the 88-year-old writer said.
“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,” she said.
“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,” Sahgal said in her statement.