Eminent Malayalam writer Sarah Joseph and Urdu novelist Rahman Abbas on Saturday announced they will return the Sahitya Akademi award and the Maharashtra State Urdu Sahitya Academy award respectively, joining a growing protest against ‘rising intolerance’ in the backdrop of murder of noted rationalists and Dadri lynching incident.
The announcement came on a day when noted Malayalam writers K Satchidanandan, PK Parakkadavu and KS Ravikumar quit their posts in the Akademi in protest against the murder of Kannada writer and rationalist MM Kalburgi in Dharwad.
English author Keki N Daruwalla) shot off a letter of protest to Akademi chairperson Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari over the literary body’s “soporific stance” to Kalburgi’s killing. Joseph, who won the prestigious honour for her novel ‘Aalahayude Penmakkal’ (Daughters of God the Father), said she would soon send the cash prize and plaque to the Akademi by courier.
“An alarming situation is being created in the country in all spheres of life after the Modi government came to power. The religious harmony and secularism of the country is unprecedentedly under threat,” she told PTI from Thrissur.
She said three writers had already been killed and KS Bhagwan was facing threat from communal forces. But the Centre had done nothing to dispel the growing fear among writers, activists and people in other sections of society, she said.
“After the Dadri lynching, the Urdu writing community has been quite unhappy. Therefore, I decided to return the award. There are some other Urdu writers who also want to join the protest. It is high time we stood up to the injustice surrounding us,” Abbas told PTI in Mumbai.
Abbas had in 2011 won the award for his third novel Khuda Ke Saaye Mein Aankh Micholi (Hide-and Seek in the Shadow of God). Joining the group of writers registering their protest, Satchidanandan resigned from all committees of the Sahitya Akademi, saying the literary body had “failed” in its duty to stand with writers and uphold freedom of expression.
Satchidanandan was serving in the general council, executive board and financial committee of the Akademi.
“I am sorry to observe that the Akademi has failed in its duty to stand with the writers and to uphold the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution that seems to be getting violated everyday in the country,” the writer said. “I had written to the Akademi when MM Kalburgi was killed earlier. They had held condolences in Bangalore but they should have done something nationally. There was no response to my request to pass a resolution,” Satchidanandan told PTI.
Observing that the Sahitya Akademi was the “conscience keeper of the writing community”, he said the literary body should actively condemn the killing of Kalburgi. Parakkadavu also said he would also resign from his Akademi membership.
Earlier this week, eminent writer Nayantara Sahgal and former Lalit Kala Akademi chairman Ashok Vajpeyi had returned their Sahitya Akademi Awards to protest the “assault on right to freedom of both life and expression” in “growing intolerance” in the country. Noted Hindi writer Uday Prakash was the first to return his Sahitya Akademi award to protest Kalburgi’s murder.
On the other hand, culture minister Mahesh Sharma sought to play down a string of Sahitya Akademi awardees surrendering their award or resigning from the organisation, insisting it was their “personal choice”.
“Sahitya Akademi is an autonomous organisation and it gives awards to people for their literary work. These are not given on the government’s direction. So if someone decides to return the award, it is his or her personal choice,” he said.
Sharma refused to elaborate when told that some writers had criticised the government’s handling of the Dadri lynching.
The minister also made light of the resignation, saying: “We have over 70 members in the councils. Two-three have resigned so far.”