Nayantara Sahgal returns Sahitya Akademi award to protest rising intolerance
New Delhi: Eminent author and niece of the late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Nayantara Sahgal on Tuesday returned the Sahitya Akademi award in protest against increasing intolerance towards right to dissent in the country and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “silence” on the “reign of terror”.
Sahgal, who received a Sahitya Akademi award in 1986 for her English novel Rich Like Us (1985), said, “The ruling ideology today is a fascist ideology and that is what is worrying me now. We did not have a fascist government until now... I am doing whatever I believe in.” Citing various incidents of killings of writers and rationalists including M.M. Kalburgi and Govind Pansare, she alleged, “Rationalists who question superstition, anyone who questions any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism known as Hindutva—whether in the intellectual or artistic sphere, or whether in terms of food habits and lifestyle—are being marginalised, persecuted, or murdered.”
Most recently, a village blacksmith, Mohammed Ikhlaq, was dragged out of his home in Bishada village outside Delhi, and brutally lynched, on the supposed suspicion that beef was cooked in his home, the 88-year-old author said in a statement.
“In all these cases, justice drags its feet. The Prime Minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology. It is a matter of sorrow that the Sahitya Akademi remains silent.... In memory of the Indians who have been murdered, in support of all Indians who uphold the right to dissent, and of all dissenters who now live in fear and uncertainty, I am returning my Sahitya Akademi Award,” said Sahgal, who in the past also strongly criticised imposition of the Emergency in 1975 by her cousin late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She said that “Modi is a politician who knows how to speak. He has given long speeches. On Twitter and other social media he is vocal. He should be responsible for (what is happening) in the country.”
Referring to recent speech by vice president Hamid Ansari reminding people about Constitution promises of “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship”, she said, “He found it necessary to do so because India’s culture of diversity and debate is now under vicious assault.” The author further added that under Modi’s government, “India is going backwards. It is rejecting our great idea of cultural diversity and debate and it is narrowing down to an invention called Hindutva.”
The writer in her open letter, “The Unmaking of India”, said it was “a matter of sorrow” that the Sahitya Akademi was silent on these issues. “In protest against Kalburgi’s murder, a Hindi writer, Uday Prakash, has returned his Sahitya Akademi Award. Six Kannada writers have returned their awards to the Kannada Sahitya Parishat,” she said. Stating that the right to dissent was an integral part of the Constitutional guarantee, she said, “Many people have been marginalised and a lot of Indians are living in fear of what might happen to them... the situation in the country is getting more serious and the Prime Minister should make a statement.” Asked whether she wanted other authors to follow suit, Sahgal said, “I don’t know what the others are going to do. I am doing whatever I believe in.”