Noted writer Sashi Despande stepped down from the Sahitya Akademi council today, protesting the continued silence of the Akademi and its failure to stand up for writers who had been murdered and the growing intolerance in the country. Ms. Despande joins the list of writers who have returned their awards in protest.
Sahitya Akademi president Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari says, he can only request her to reconsider her decision.
Excerpts from an interview with Sahitya Akademi president Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari:
Why hasn’t the akademi spoken? Three eminent writers have returned their awards and Sashi Despande has resigned from the Council. Why the silence?
Without a direction from the Executive Board on whose behalf I work, I cannot say or do anything. If the Board directs me to speak out. I will. If they ask me to maintain silence, I will follow the directive.
But you head the Board. And as a writer, you are being accused of not standing up for writers who have been murdered. Why is that?
The Council has never been known to speak up in the past. The Akademi was silent during the Emergency, the 1984 riots, 2002 riots in Gujarat. It has never spoken up and I have been around only for the last two and half years. If I say something, the Board will question me.
Shouldn’t you have called for an emergency Board meeting in light of the recent events?
The Executive Board is meeting on December 22. If I had called for an emergency meeting it would lead to a sudden expenditure of Rs. 15 lakhs, to fly down writers from all over the country. Ms Nayantara Sahgal or Ashok Vajpeyi never spoke or consulted. If only they had, I would have requested them to reconsider other modes of protest.
What other modes of protest would the akademi have recommended?
We could have sat on a dharna or fasted together. Mahatma Gandhi has taught us several forms of protest. We could have got together.
But what prevents you from getting together? After all, you are the president of the Akademi?
Conventions of the Akademi bind me to follow them. As a writer I respect their sentiments and am with them. If only Ms. Despande had got in touch with me, I would have asked her to wait and not quit.
You had mentioned in the context of Ms. Sahgal that writers who have recived the award have earned their money and good will. What did you mean by that?
Every Sahitya Akademi awardee’s works are translated in 24 languages. When they return their awards, what do we tell the readers? That’s the dilemma we are facing now.
Here is the full text of Sashi Deshpande's statement on her resignation:
Dr Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari,
Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi
Cc: Professor Chandrashekhar Kambar, Vice-President Sahitya Akademi, Dr K. Sreenivasarao, Secretary Sahitya Akademi
When I heard in November 2012 from the Sahitya Akademi that I had been nominated to the General Council of the Akademi in the individual category of writers, I felt honoured. I have always respected the Sahitya Akademi’s role as the single institution in India that brings together all the Indian languages under one umbrella, at the same time giving each language its rightful place and dignity.
Today, I am deeply distressed by the silence of the Akademi on the murder of Professor M. M. Kalburgi. Professor Kalburgi was a noted scholar, and a good and honest human being; he was also a Sahitya Akademi awardee and a member of its General Council until recently.
If the Akademi, the premier literary organisation in the country, 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, what hope do we have of fighting the growing intolerance in our country? A few tame condolence meetings here and there for a member of our community cannot serve the purpose.
Sadly, it has become increasingly important to reaffirm that difference of opinion cannot be ended with a bullet; that discussion and debate are the only way a civilised society resolves issues. It has also become clear that writers, who are supposed to be the conscience-keepers of society, are no longer considered intellectual leaders; their voices no longer matter. Perhaps this is the right time for writers to reclaim their voices. But we need a community of voices, and this is where the Akademi could serve its purpose and play an important role. It could initiate and provide space for discussion and debate in public life. It could stand up for the rights of writers to speak and write without fear; this is a truth all political parties in a democracy are supposed to believe in. Silence is a form of abetment, and the Sahitya Akademi, which should speak for the large community of Indian writers, must stand up and protest the murder of Professor Kalburgi and all such acts of violent intolerance.
In view of the Akademi’s failure to stand up for its community of writers and scholars, I am, out of a sense of strong disappointment, offering my resignation from the General Council of the Sahitya Akademi. I do this 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.
October 9, 2015