Noted writer Nayantara Sahgal has returned the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award in protest against what she called the “vanishing space” for diversity.
The niece of the former Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, also said people were being “killed for not agreeing with the ruling ideology.”
Referring to the recent killings of rationalists and writers M.M. Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare and of Dadri resident Mohammad Akhlaq, who was lynched on suspicion of consuming beef, Ms. Sahgal, speaking to The Hindu from her home in Dehradun, said: “…in this rising tide of hatred, India is being unmade, being destroyed.”
The last straw
Ms. Sahgal said she was concerned at the environment in the country and it seemed to be getting “worse and worse” in the past 15 months. “I guess the death of this poor man in Dadri [Mohammad Akhlaq] was the final…the last straw,” she said.
She criticised the government’s inaction and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence. “In all these cases, justice drags its feet. The Prime Minister remains silent on this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology,” she said in a written statement.
Denying that her decision stems from her political beliefs, Ms. Sahgal said: “I am not against any political party. India is a democracy, and in democracies every party has a right to be in power, but what we are seeing in India today is fascism. There is a vanishing space for diversity to the extent people are being killed for not agreeing with the ruling ideology.”
Ms. Sahgal was a member of the Sahitya Akademi’s Advisory Board for English but she resigned during the Emergency.
She also famously criticised her cousin, Indira Gandhi, for actions during the Emergency in 1975.
Decision devoid of logic, says Akademi chief
Responding to writer Nayantara Sahgal’s decision to return the Sahitya Akademi Award in protest against what she called the “vanishing space” for diversity, the organisation’s president Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari told The Hindu that there is “no logic to this action.” “This is not an award from the government like the Padma awards.”
Mr. Tiwari said the Akademi doesn’t wish to associate itself with a “political incident” and “wants to confine ourselves to furthering the cause of literature.”
In her written statement, Ms. Sahgal drew attention to a recent speech by Vice-President Hamid Ansari in which he made a reference to the Constitution that 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,” she said.
Here is the full text of her statement as was published on the website indianculturalforum.in
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