Acclaimed novelist Shashi Deshpande resigned from the Sahitya Akademi on Friday to protest against the literary body’s silence on the murder of rationalist Professor MM Kalburgi.
Kalburgi, a leftist ideologue and former vice-chancellor of Hampi University, was shot dead outside his home in Karnataka’s Dharwad city in August. The killing was condemned nationwide and the government has announced the probe will be taken over by the CBI.
Deshpande, a member of the Akademi’s general council, wrote in her resignation letter she was severely “distressed” because the body did not “stand up” against the murder of Kalburgi.
“Silence is a form of abetment, and the Sahitya Akademi, which should speak for the large community of Indian writers, must stand up and protest the murder of Professor Kalburgi and all such acts of violent intolerance,” wrote Deshpande, who was awarded the Padma Shri in 2009 and The Hindu Literary Prize in 2014.
“If the Akademi, the premier literary organisation in the country, cannot stand up against such an act of violence against a writer, if the Akademi remains silent about this attack on one of its own, what hope do we have of fighting the growing intolerance in our country? A few tame condolence meetings here and there for a member of our community cannot serve the purpose,” she said.
Deshpande said in today’s India, a writer is no longer considered to an intellectual leader with a voice.
“It has also become clear that writers, who are supposed to be the conscience-keepers of society, are no longer considered intellectual leaders; their voices no longer matter. Perhaps this is the right time for writers to reclaim their voices,” she added.
She wrote that she expects the Akademi to do more than just “organise programmes and give away prizes”. The Akademi, she said, needs to “provide space for discussion and debate in public life”.
Earlier this week, writer Nayantara Sahgal returned the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award to protest against a “dangerous distortion of Hinduism” and to express solidarity with “all Indians who uphold the right to dissent”. After Sahgal, poet Ashok Vajpeyi too gave back the award and targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his silence on recent incidents of violence.