Raising concerns over a “dangerous distortion of Hinduism”, writer Nayantara Sahgal returned the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award on Tuesday to express her solidarity with “all Indians who uphold the right to dissent”.
Questioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence in the wake of a “reign of terror”, Sahgal 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.”
The 88-year-old Sahgal’s move came against the backdrop of the lynching of a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh’s Bisada village. Mohammad Ikhlaq, 55, was killed and his son was critically injured by a mob last week after rumours that they had slaughtered a calf and eaten beef.
Blaming the state for failing to protect those who question “any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism known as Hindutva”, Sahgal, the niece of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, issued a statement after returning the award she received in 1986 for her English novel ‘Rich Like Us’.
In her statement ‘The Unmaking of India’, Sahgal mentioned the murders of Ikhlaq, Kannada writer and Sahitya Akademi Award winner MM Kalburgi and anti-superstition activists Narendra Dhabolkar and Govind Pansare, both from Maharashtra.
“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....” Sahgal, a member of the Indian Writers’ Forum, said, echoing the opposition’s demand for PM Modi’s statement on the Bisada lynching.
“In a recent lecture, India’s Vice-President, Dr. Hamid Ansari, found it necessary to remind us that India’s Constitution promises all Indians liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship,” she said.
“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,” Sahgal, who had strongly criticised the imposition of the Emergency in 1975 by her cousin and ex-prime minister Indira Gandhi, said.