Eminent Punjabi writer and Padma Shri winner Dalip Kaur Tiwana decided to return her award protesting "recurrent atrocities" on Muslims in the country as another Kannada writer and Hindi translator joined authors giving up their Sahitya Akademi Awards against "growing intolerance".
In a related development, Booker Prize winning author Salman Rushdie questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "silence" on the issue while coming out strongly against "thuggish violence" and dismissing criticism by "Modi Toadies", saying he supported no political party.
In a letter to the Centre, Tiwana said, "In this land of Gautama Buddha and Guru Nanak Dev, the atrocities committed on the Sikhs in 1984 and on the Muslims recurrently because of communalism are an utter disgrace to our state and society.
"And to kill those who stand for truth and justice put us to shame in the eyes of the world and God. In protest, therefore, I return the Padma Shri award", said the author who received the honour in 2004.
Joining the bandwagon of writers and poets protesting "growing intolerance", Kannada writer Prof Rahamat Tarikeri said he has returned his Sahitya Akademi award in protest against the killing of scholar M M Kalburgi and rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare.
Hindi translator Chaman Lal, a retired JNU Professor, returned his award and cash money of his 2002 translation prize to the Sahitya Akademi.
"This is moment of crisis and choices have to be made clearly-with whom I stand and I stand with my fellow writers of Punjabi as well as other languages, who have taken side of suffering humanity and spoken against the patronisation of communal hatred, attack on institutions of knowledge, attack on freedom of ideas and their expression fearlessly," he said.
With writers Krishna Sobti and Arun Joshi following suit, at least 26 authors including Nayantara Sahgal and Ashok Vajpeyi have decided to return their Akademi awards and five writers have stepped down from official positions of the literary body, which in turn has convened an emergency meeting on October 23 to discuss the developments.
We have to reflect as a society as to why intolerance is rising-Dalip Kaur Tiwana on returning Padma Shri award pic.twitter.com/87pANwF8h0— ANI (@ANI_news) October 13, 2015
In Goa, about 20 writers are expected to meet today to discuss the developments, Konkani writer N Shivdas said.
Meanwhile Oriya poet Rajendra Kishore Panda invoked the constitution of the Sahitya Akademi in his letter to the Akademi President urging the literary body to hold an urgent meeting and said if it failed to do so then its members should do so.
Rushdie was flooded with a barrage of hate messages following his tweet in support of Nayantara Sahgal and other writers who returned their Sahitya Akademi awards protesting against its silence over killings of writer M M Kalburgi and rationalists Narendra Dabolkar and Govind Pansare.
The 68-year-old author responded in another tweet, "Here come the Modi Toadies. FYI (for your information), Toadies: I support no Indian political party and oppose all attacks on free speech. Liberty is my only party."
Toady, is a term referred to person who praises and helps powerful people in order to get their approval.
His tweets came after Shiv Sena activists in Mumbai blackened the face of ORF chief Sudheendra Kulkarni over his refusal to cancel the book launch function on Monday of former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, prompting strong condemnation from political parties.
"I think what's crept into Indian life now is a degree of thuggish violence which is new," Rushdie told NDTV.
"Mr (Narendra) Modi is a very talkative gentleman, he has a lot to say on a lot of subjects and it would be very good to hear what he has to say about all this," Rushdie said.
The Mumbai-born author was in 2012, forced to pull out from the Jaipur Literature Festival citing death threats after some authors used the platform to read out portions from his 1989 novel, 'The Satanic Verses,' which was the target of a fatwa, for allegedly hurting Muslim sentiments.
Over the past week poets, playwrights and writers have gradually built up a cresendo protesting against the Akademi's silence over the killings.
Deprecating the decision by writers like Nayantara Sahgal and Ashok Vajpeyi to return their awards in the wake of Dadri lynching, RSS mouthpiece 'Panchjanya' said the "secular phobia-afflicted" have joined attempts in "distorting Hinduism and destroying the country."
"The intolerant intellectuals have exposed themselves. How much contradiction is there in the Nehruvian thought towards tolerance and love for Hindu religion, that public is trying to find out the truth. The panic is due to the loss of power, but their craving for it still there," it said in an editorial.
Tiwana said, "What I am doing is just like planting a seed. You have to plant seeds so that trees will grow. If you look at the revolution in Russia 100 years ago it was influenced by Karl Marx's writings."
In a letter addressed to the President of the Akademi, Tarikeri said, "It is sad that the Sahitya Akademi has not condemned the brutal murder of Kalburgi, an eminent scholar and Akademi award recipient. The killing of Pansare, Dabholkar and Kalburgi, is an attempt to create an intolerant society".
The recent Dadri lynching over beef eating rumours is also part of "this intolerance", said Tarikeri, Professor at Hampi Kannada University.
"As a protest to the attack on free thinking and food liberty, I am herewith returning the award," said the author who was conferred the award in 2010.
Eminent Hindi writer Sobti said she had decided to return her Sahitya Akademi award, which she had won in 1980 for her novel 'Zindaginama', and was also giving up the Fellowship she won from the literary body.
Culture Minister suspects 'motive' of writers
Meanwhile, Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma has said he suspected their motives for such "not called for" action.
"If you go back to people, who have done this and if we explore their motives and what has been their background, I think something revealing will come out," Sharma said.
He stressed that those deciding to hand back the honours should have written to the state or central Government if they were concerned about the law and order situation.
"If there is complaint against the law and order situation, they could have represented it to the Chief Minister of the State, Home Minister of the country or the Prime Minister. They could have written to me as a Minister also. They have not done this.
"I think that is not called for or that is not a right way of presentation. I wish they would have represented their voice and we would have joined their voice. We are with them to support their cause that no body should be killed in this country," the Minister said.
Questioning the purpose behind returning the awards, Sharma, however said, "what is the theory behind, what is the philosophy behind, I cannot understand."
He said that as an individual, they have got the award, which was given to them by a group of literary persons on the basis of some of their writings, some of their books or in different languages.
"It is not a Government of India award, it is not a Padma award," he stated.
Asked about concerns expressed by these writers about 'rising intolerance', the Culture Minister shot back asking who was supporting it.
"Who is supporting this intolerance? The Government, the Minister or Sahitya Akademi?," he asked, stressing that everybody agrees with the contention of these literary experts that any killing is condemnable.
"If anybody is killed whether in this country or anywhere else in the world, whether it is a literary person or any common man, we all condemn it in strongest words and there is no doubt about that," he said.
The Culture Minister also commended the services of Sahitya Akademi Chairman Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari and made it clear that there was no plans by the Government to take over the Akademi.
"Of course, not at all," he replied to a question on whether the Government was mulling to take over Sahitya Akademi on the lines of Kala Akademi, an autonomous organisation of the Culture Ministry, which the Centre took over in April this year.