Upholding free voice, more writers give up awards

RSTV Bureau

freedom of speech 400The list of writers and authors giving up their prestigious literary honours and awards in protest against the attack on free speech is only growing longer. In the last two days alone more than six prominent writers have announced returning their honours and awards, while some have even quit their office at Sahitya Akademi.

On Monday, Sahitya Akademi’s ‘Yuva Puraskar’-winning author Aman Sethi, Kashmiri writer Ghulam Nabi Khayal, Kannada writer-translator Srinath DN and Rajesh Joshi decided to return their Sahitya Akademi awards strongly protesting against the attack on right to voice dissenting opinions and the recent instances of communal violence and murders of the rationalist thinkers.

“The Akademi cannot draw its legitimacy by celebrating writers while shying clear of solidarity when they are targeted” Aman Sethi wrote on a micro-blogging site Twitter, annexing a weblink to his statement emailed to Akademi chairperson Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari.

While in Srinagar, Ghulam Nabi Khayal, who had won the prestigious honour for his book ‘Gashik Minaar’ in 1975, said “I have decided to return the award. The minorities in the country are feeling unsafe and threatened. They feel their future is bleak.”

“The government has failed in fulfilling its duty of protecting the minorities as enshrined in the Constitution of the country,” Ghulam Nabi Khayal added.

Srinath DN too stressed upon the responsibility of the government of the day, both at the Centre and in the state, whenever such attacks on free speech happens.

“In the place of the pen, there are now bullets being fired. Author Kalburgi was murdered and both the Centre and the state should quickly act against the offenders so that such an incident is not repeated in the future,” Srinath said.

More and more writers and authors have begun expressing anger and opposition after the murder of 50-year-old man in Dadri, a hamlet near the national capital Delhi, over the rumours that he ate and stored beef at his home.

Dadri incident triggered strong reactions from several quarters even leading to the statements from President Pranab Mukherjee and Vice-President Hamid Ansari. PM Modi too had urged to maintain peace and unity.

Soon after the incident, legendary author Nayantara Sahgal gave up her Sahitya Akademi award saying, “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.”

Ms Sahgal’s returning of award set in motion several writers and authors giving up their honours to uphold and defend the freedom of speech.

Earlier on Sunday, in their joint statement protesting the “silence” of the Akademi over the Kalburgi murder, writers Manglesh Dabral and Rajesh Joshi said, “For the past one year or so basic values of democracy freedom of expression, freedom to live our lives according to our wishes are under attack by the forces of Hindutva, which is not acceptable,” adding that the “Sahitya Akademi remains silent about the Kalburgi murder…so many dangers our democracy is facing, the very fabric of democracy is under threat.”

Returning his award, Gujarat-based writer Ganesh Devy condemned what he termed the “shrinking space for free expression and growing intolerance towards differences of opinion” in the country. Eminent writers from Punjab, Gurbachan Bhullar, Ajmer Singh Aulakh and Atamjit Singh, also announced that they were returning their Sahitya Akademi awards demanding the Akademi speak out against the killing of its member Kalburgi and other rationalists and the “communal” atmosphere in the backdrop of the Dadri lynching incident.

Kannada writer Aravind Malagatti too resigned from the body’s general council, joining the growing protest by litterateurs. While, hindi writers Mangalesh Dabral, Waryam Sandhu and G N Ranganatha Rao intimated the Akademi of their decision.

At least 16 authors have announced their decision to return their Sahitya Akademi awards in last one week

(With inputs from the PTI)