Sashi Deshpande, award-winning English novelist from Bengaluru, resigned from the general council of Sahitya Akademi on Friday, expressing “deep distress” over the premier literary institution’s silence on the murder of Professor M.M. Kalburgi in Dharwad on August 30 and describing silence as “a form of abetment.”
In a strongly-worded letter to Akademi president Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari, Ms. Deshpande asks what hope we can have of fighting growing intolerance in the country if a premier literary organisation “cannot stand up against such an act of violence against a writer, if the Akademi remains silent about this attack on one of its own.” She goes on to add that “a few tame condolence meetings here and there for a member of our community cannot serve the purpose.”
Saying that it has become “increasingly important to reaffirm that difference of opinion cannot be ended with a bullet”, she adds that “discussion and debate are the only way a civilised society resolves issues.” It is time for writers to “reclaim their voices” in a context where it seem to “no longer matter.”
She signs off her letter stating that she is resigning with regret and with the hope that the Akademi will “go beyond organising programmes, and giving prizes, to being involved with crucial issues that affect Indian writers’ freedom to speak and write.”
Ms. Deshpande spoke to The Hindu on what spurred her resignation. Excerpts:
What did you expect Sahitya Akademi to do?
I expected it to express regret at the death of a writer who was so closely associated with the institution. But I was mystified by the silence. I waited for a while and then decided it is not a place for me.
What do you think writers can do at times like these?
It is time we stand up for our right to speak. We should go on writing and face the consequences. We can stand in support of each other the way writers did when Salman Rushdie faced a fatwa .
Kalburgi’s was killed in Dharwad, the place where you were born and brought up. What are your memories of the place?
I remember it as a quiet and civilised place. It is a place of great musical and literary tradition. There were strong differences of opinion and great debates – like the one between two legendary Kannada writers Da.Ra. Bendre and Shamba Joshi. But someone coming on a motorbike and killing a writer is just unbelievable.
What are your memories of Kalburgi?
My sister and I gave away the manuscripts of our father [well-known dramatist and rationalist Sriranga] to the Hampi Kannada University when Kalburgi was the vice-chancellor. He came to our house to take them. We met a few times after that. He was a very quiet and modest man.