After writer Nayantara Sahgal returned the Sahitya Akademi Award to express solidarity with Indians upholding “the right to dissent”, poet Ashok Vajpeyi too has given back the prestigious award and targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his silence on recent incidents of violence.
“It is high time that writers take a stand,” said Vajpeyi, a former chairperson of the Lalit Kala Akademi.
“We have an eloquent Prime Minister who addresses lakhs of people, but here writers are being murdered, innocent people are being murdered, his ministers make controversial statements...Still he is quiet. Why doesn’t he shut them up?” Vajpeyi told NDTV.
He said when he saw a senior writer like Sahgal taking a stand, he felt more writers should support her. Vajpeyi expressed disappointed at the silence of the Sahitya Akademi, the national academy of letters, and said it had “failed to rise to the occasion and respect its autonomy”.
The 88-year-old Sahgal’s move came against the backdrop of the lynching of a Muslim man in Bisada village of Uttar Pradesh. Mohammad Ikhlaq, 55, was killed and his son critically injured by a mob last week after rumours that they had slaughtered a calf and eaten beef.
Sahgal, the niece of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, expressed concerns over a “dangerous distortion of Hinduism” and questioned Prime Minister Modi’s silence about a “reign of terror”.
“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,” she said in a statement titled “Unmaking of India”.
Sehgal also referred to the killings of rationalists MM Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare and blamed the state for failing to protect those who question “any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism known as Hindutva”.
“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,” she said in the statement.
Sahgal, who strongly criticised the imposition of Emergency in 1975 by her cousin and ex-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, said Vice President Hamid Ansari had “found it necessary to remind us that India’s Constitution promises all Indians ‘liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship’”.