Nayantara Sahgal Is Now Returning The Award She Had No Trouble Accepting In The Aftermath Of Sikh Riots

07/10/2015 11:10 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Indian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters hold up a flag with the lotus party symbol outside the party headquarters in New Delhi on May 16, 2014. India's triumphant Hindu nationalists declared 'the start of a new era' in the world's biggest democracy May 16 after hardline leader Narendra Modi propelled them to a stunning win on a platform of revitalizing the sickly economy. AFP PHOTO/ SAJJAD HUSSAIN (Photo credit should read SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

So writer Nayantara Sahgal has returned her Sahitya Akademi award in protest against what she calls the growing politics of religious intolerance. That it comes against the backdrop of the Dadri murder suggests that it is more directly connected to the most recent example of hate politics spurring targeted violence. We could argue that Sahgal is guilty of stark double standards. After all, she received her award in 1986, just two years after the anti -Sikh pogrom in the national capital.

Shouldn't she have refused to accept an award from a Rajiv Gandhi government that had stood by and watched the massacre? Especially as she had shown great courage in challenging Indira Gandhi's Emergency and in being one of the founders of the People's Union for Civil Liberties that sought justice for the Delhi riot victims? We could justifiably argue that she could have returned the award when the Babri Masjid was demolished, when the 2002 riots took place, when Kashmiri Pandits were driven away from home. I asked her this question: her response was short and direct: now there is a Hindutva government at the Centre.

"Sahgal's gesture may be tokenism, it may also be hypocritical. But so is the attitude of those who promise a Digital India abroad but allow a divided India to destroy the mind at home."

I think what she was suggesting is that the violence is not just condoned, but in some way actively supported by the ruling establishment at the Centre. She forgets that the government in Uttar Pradesh is of Akhilesh Yadav; blaming Hindutva forces for every act of religious violence is unfair and often based on a falsification of facts.

And yet, there is something toxic in the air: when the likes of Sakshi Maharaj, an MP and a Sangeet Som, an MLA, Sunil Balyan a union minister, Mahesh Sharma, another union minister, repeatedly get away with their provocative statements, then you must ask: is the Central government so powerless that it cannot rein in, or publicly reprimand their own members? Is there a lack of will, or is this a convenient double act where the prime minister speaks of "sabka saath, sabka Vikas" but on the ground, his party members continue to practise an overtly majoritarian agenda?

Yes, Sahgal is guilty of selective outrage: as the niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, she must answer why she has failed to question the Congress's track record of running with the secular hare and hunting with the communal hound. And yet, the real failure is of the Indian state which has shown an abysmal lack of commitment to fulfil its constitutional duty to protect its citizens irrespective of their religion. Sahgal's gesture may be tokenism, it may also be hypocritical. But so is the attitude of those who promise a Digital India abroad but allow a divided India to destroy the mind at home.

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