Booker Prize winning author Salman Rushdie on Monday joined a growing chorus of protests by leading writers against rising intolerance in the country as more than 20 writers decided to return their Sahitya Akademi awards or quit their posts in the Akademi.
“I support Nayantara Sahgal and the many other writers protesting to the Sahitya Akademi. Alarming times for free expression in India,” he tweeted, referring to Jawaharlal Nehru’s 88-year-old niece, who was among the first to lodge her protest against the Akademi’s silence over repeated attacks on writers and rationalists raising their voice of dissent.
Since then, a string of writers have either surrendered their awards or quit the Akademi in protest against the murders of noted rationalists and the brutal killing of a 55-year-old Muslim in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh.
Three Sahitya Akademi winners from Punjab – novelist Baldev Singh Sadaknama and poets Jaswinder and Darshan Buttar -- announced they were returning their awards in solidarity with other writers protesting against government.
In a collective statement, the three authors said they were returning their awards in protest against the atmosphere of terror being created by the BJP government. “If there will be need, we will cross all barriers to save this country from religious fundamentalism,” said Jaswinder.
Ludhiana-based Punjabi poet Surjit Patar, 70, too returned his award, which he received in 1993 for his poetry collection ‘Hanere Vch Sulagdi Kavita.’ He is also a recipient of the Sarasvati Samman (2009) and the Padma Shri (2012) awards.
“I am returning the award with a heavy heart because it is precious to me. But I am doing so in protest against the killings of writers and thinkers... the guilty are escaping with the blessings of corrupt politicians. I am also pained by the silence of the Sahitya Akademi in condemning these acts.”
The authors from Punjab joined Kashmiri writer Ghulam Nabi Khayal, Urdu novelist Rahman Abbas, Kannada writer-translator Srinath DN as well as Hindi writers Mangalesh Dabral and Rajesh Joshi who have backed the spiralling protest by litterateurs against the “communal” atmosphere following rationalist MM Kalburgi’s killing.
Kashmiri writer Ghulam Nabi Khayal said he wanted to join the protest the “growing communalism in the country in last one year’’.
“What has happened in last one year since the new government came to power hasn’t happened in the last 60 years. When have we heard that a person will be stoned to death for rumours of eating beef when in reality he had eaten mutton. Such kind of barbarism is unheard of in today’s time and age,’’ he told HT.
Punjabi author Waryam Sandhu and Kannada translator G N Ranganatha Rao said they had informed the Akademi about their decision to give back their awards.
Noted litterateur Rajesh Joshi described the situation as worse than the Emergency as he announced his decision to return his Sahitya Akademi Award to lodge his protest against what he said was the growing religious intolerance and elimination of those who wish to speak.
Some authors warned that minorities in the country today feel “unsafe and threatened”. “The communal poison is spreading in the country and the threat of dividing people looms large,” the writers warned.
“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,” Urdu writer Rahman Abbas said.
Under fire from several quarters, the Akademi has called for a meeting of the Executive Board on October 23. Sahitya Akademi President Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari said the institution was committed to the core secular values enshrined in the Constitution of India.