24/10/2015 12:18 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Why Writers Need To Stop Turning On Other Writers Returning Their Awards


I have been avidly following the contentious debate - both in the Indian news and social media -- on writers returning their Sahitya Akademi awards. So far, 30 writers have done so in a move that the government has called " a manufactured protest."

Everyone has an opinion. The politicians, the media, the citizens, other writers. Their reactions have ranged from admiration and respect, to contempt and scorn.

These writers, who returned their awards to make a powerful statement, have had their integrity questioned, their gesture mocked and their motives questioned.

In the cacophony of discordant voices, has everyone missed the irony of the fact that these writers were protesting against the intolerance that now shrouds India?

Are they not right? Have we respected their decision? Have we allowed them the right to express themselves in the way in which they wanted to?

"I am not shocked at the politicians criticising them. I am not outraged at readers making comments but I am totally disappointed at the lack of understanding displayed by fellow writers."

And among the noise, the voices screaming in the loudest and shrillest tones are the colleagues of these writers. Why didn't they return their awards before? What politics is this? Why show disrespect to the country? Are they going to change their citizenship too? Hand in their passports?

The criticism, the personal attacks and the questions flew hard and fast. Writers and journalists began Twitter battles, their various followers joining in on the sniping.

As a journalist and a writer myself, I am angered at the barrage of criticism hurled at these writers, who, in the end, made a personal choice. They wanted to do it. Why can't they be free to express themselves in the way they want?

I am not shocked at the politicians criticising them. I am not outraged at readers making comments but I am totally disappointed at the lack of understanding displayed by fellow writers.

The whole idea of being a writer means that you have an open mind and you are willing to explore and understand multiple viewpoints.

Do you really have a right to judge your colleagues? Are they asking you to renounce your honours? To give up your awards? Then why this holier-than-thou stance?

What are you getting out of this? Shouldn't we question your motives? Your agenda?

As a writer and journalist of Indian origin based in the United States, I believe that we should be able to keep an open dialogue within our fraternity. We don't have to agree always but we should have a sort of unity among ourselves. We can stand together and be supportive while having different opinions.

We are a unique group. We are compassionate, sensitive, and emotional and we care deeply about the causes and issues that affect our world. We fight for the underdogs and we stand up against injustice. Sometimes we do so in our art, sometimes we do in the stories we report and sometimes we do as gestures of protest. We believe that it's important so we do it. We don't need your approval. We knew going in that we were not going to win popularity contests. But we believed it had to be done. Deal with it.

As for the question, does it make a difference? Let me share a personal story. In 1984, I was a Sikh teenager who witnessed the viciousness and brutality of the anti-Sikh riots that occurred after Indira Gandhi was assassinated.

I watched my devastated community dealing with the horror of the riots and in the aftermath as we rebuilt, we searched for kindness and support and we did get it from many sources.

But one of the gestures that touched my young heart was the one made by Khushwant Singh, who gave back his award after the Operation Blue Star incident. The badly bruised Sikh community had to salute him on that day.

It did make a difference.

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Photo gallery25 Authors Who Returned Their Sahitya Akademi Awards See Gallery