Leading Malayali poet and national fellow at the Indian Institute for Advanced Study, Shimla, K Satchidanandan, during a session on ‘Autumn of Protests’ on the concluding day of the Chandigarh Literature Festival said that the nationwide protests by writers, historians, scientists, filmmakers and intellectuals with symbolic return of awards was part of the country’s tradition of dissent right from the ancient times to the present.
Rubbishing the allegation that these protests were manufactured, Satchidanandan said these were completely spontaneous protests and the disillusionment with the right-wing government began when the capable experts of the country’s premier institutions were replaced by amateurs due to the political interests.
Speaking about his disassociation with the Sahitya Akademi with which he had a long relationship, he said, “I was just 21 and still living in Kerala when I was put on the Akademi’s advisory board for English. I became the editor of the Akademi’s prestigious journal in 1992 and secretary in an open interview from 1996 to 2006 when I retired. It was painful to sever ties with an institution I had nurtured with nights awake but I was left with no choice.”
He added that as a member of the Akademi executive board, he had written to the Sahitya Akademi chief calling for a strong condemnation of Akademi Award winner MM Kalburgi’s murder.
“My letter was not acknowledged and the condemnation came too late when the spontaneous protests by writers were already part of a national movement demanding strong action against the stifling of dissent and growing intolerance,” said Satchidanandan, adding “What was Kalburgi’s sin? He was a scholar of the Kannada Bhakti poets and wrote about them.”
Satchidanandan, whose opinion is greatly valued in the literary circles — home and abroad — said dissent has always been a part of the culture of the sub-continent. “Gautam Buddha, Mahavir Jain, or Guru Nanak for that matter, raised their voice of dissent against the mainstream Hindu practices. We respect and even worship them.” He praised the role of Punjabi writers who joined the protest so quickly and strongly. When a poet like Surjit Patar, who is known in the whole country, returned his award the voice of dissent grew stronger.”
‘NEVER BEEN PART OF MAINSTREAM POLITICS’
Talking about the Bihar poll results, Satchidanandan said he was pleasantly surprised that political experts were mentioning the role of the writers’ dissent that led to BJP’s defeat. “Indian writers have never been a part of the country’s political mainstream content, but the iron curtain coming down on the freedom of expression has brought us there.”