Two of India's most eminent writers have decided to return their Sahitya Akademi Awards, an honour bestowed on outstanding literary work in any of the major Indian languages, to protest rising religious intolerance and shrinking space for dissent.
In a scathing criticism of the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the centre, writer Nayantara Sahgal, who was given the award 29 years ago, said she is giving it up because "there is a vanishing space for diversity to the extent people are being killed for not agreeing with the ruling ideology." Sahgal, 88, the niece of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, was referring to the recent murders of rationalists MM Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare by suspected Hindu fundamentalists.
"The Hindutva ideology which is going on in the country right now is ruining the name of the Hindus and as a Hindu myself, I am very hurt," ANI quoted Sahgal as saying. In a statement titled 'Unmaking of India,' she referred to the brutal killing of Muslim blacksmith Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh over rumours that he had eaten beef.
Freedom of expression is being attacked constantly: Ashok Vajpeyi pic.twitter.com/WVUAIR9RLU— ANI (@ANI_news) October 7, 2015
Artists are being killed and their killers have still not been caught. Irresponsible statements are made everyday: Ashok Vajpeyi— ANI (@ANI_news) October 7, 2015
"It is high time that writers take a stand," NDTV quoted poet Ashok Vajpeyi, a former chairperson of the Lalit Kala Akademi, as saying.
"The Prime Minister keeps quiet. He is an eloquent Prime Minister who addresses lakhs of people, but here writers are being murdered, innocent people are being killed, his ministers are making objectionable statements...Why doesn't he shut them up?" Vajpeyi told NDTV.
In an interview with The Hindu, Sahgal accused the present day government of being fascist. She said the death of Akhlaq "was the last straw".
NDTV reported that Hindi poet Uday Prakash, who won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2010 for his collection of short stories has also returned his award to protest the murders of rationalists.