Nation’s diversity is under attack: Writer Nayantara Sahgal at Chandigarh litfest

TALKING FREEDOM At a session on Day 1 of CLF, panelists stress on the need to champion literary works that are critical of establishment; talk of banning Pakistani actors is ‘no solution’ to tackle terrorism

books Updated: Nov 11, 2016 21:51 IST
Aneesha Bedi
Aneesha Bedi
Hindustan Times
Nayantara Sahgal,diversity,CLF
Writer Nayantara Sahgal (right) among the attendees at the Chandigarh Literature Festival on Thursday.(Sanjeev Sharma/HT Photo)

Borrowing from Nobel prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s notion of the human race, noted writer Nayantara Sahgal said India was home to many cultures, races and lifestyle, hence producing a civilisation from where their writing comes. “It is this diversity that is under attack and not merely a group of writers,” said the irrepressible Sahgal, who returned the Sahitya Akademi award last year.

During a panel discussion on ‘Freedom and The Writer’ on the opening day of the Chandigarh Literature Festival 2016, at the Chandigarh Club, Sahgal, niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, said there was an attempt to make writers a monochrome of sorts.

The panel included novelistplaywright and film critic Kiran Nagarkar; Mumbai Mirror editor Meenal Baghel and was moderated by Harper Collins chief editor VK Karthika.

Speaking against the mob rule against her clan, she cited an incident where students of Central University of Haryana, Mahendragarh, protested after two professors were reprimanded for staging play ‘Drapaudi’ that focuses on the plight of an Adivasi woman who suffers at the hand of the state and the army.

“This needs to stop happening in the name of ‘nationalism’,” lamented Sahgal, to which Karthika asked where was everyone when painter MF Hussain was forced to go into exile and if the community continued to be as ‘passive’ despite realising the implications.

Sahgal said at least there was an attempt to fight in today’s time and the protest at the Haryana university was a great example. Nagarkar added that it was important for various forums like Lit fests to change this. “I go out and speak to students about the freedom struggle even though they might later wonder ‘yeh kya kitch kitch kar raha hai’ but if we won’t, who will,” said Nagarkar.

Sahgal summed it by saying that writers were doing this in ‘the spirit of Bob Dylan’s antiwar song: How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?... how many deaths will it take till he knows, that too many people have died?’


For editor Meenal Baghel, complacency is a writer’s biggest enemy. Emphasising upon self-censorship at a time when writing about Islam or Hindutva politics may entail a price to pay, Baghel said, “But it is important to remember that writing is a platform where you submerge identities. It’s not about Muslim, Christian writer but simply a writer.”

Adding to this, Nagarkar stated how a ‘different point of view becomes a taboo’ today referring to how people refuse to see who the enemy is when talking of Pakistan. “It is the army, the ISIS, Taliban that are responsible and not the people. How does it help to stop Fawad Khan from acting in our movies. He’s a great looking guy and terrific actor. Why must we do this,” said Nagarkar, adding that the only sacred thing was the Constitution which didn’t forbid any of this, lest someone was a real criminal.


(Second from left) Kiran Nagarkar, novelist, playwright, critic and screenwriter, being given a lifetime achievement award at the Chandigarh Literature Festival by writer Nayanntara Sahgal. (Sanjeev Sharma/HT Photo)

The 5th Chandigarh Literature Festival 2016 was opened with a welcome address and theme introduction by Mitul Dikshit, chairman, Adab Foundation. The CLF 2016 is being organised by Adab Foundation – a not for profit registered society, that works to bring authors, poets, actors, scriptwriters and thespians together on a single platform, to initiate a meaningful exchange of ideas. Author Annie Zaidi, who is CLF 2016’s festival director gave a formal introduction.

The highlight of the inaugural day of CLF 2016 was presentation of Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in literature to 74-year-old Kiran Nagarkar. The multifaceted Nagarkar who is a novelist, playwright, film and drama critic, screenwriter both in Marathi and English was presented with a citation and cash award of `1.5 lakh.

After receiving the award, Nagarkar said, “I am overjoyed after receiving the honour from Adab Foundation. The Foundation has been doing yeoman’s service to further the cause of writers and artists by engaging them in fruitful literary events like the CLF. The festival has brought Chandigarh on the national literary map.”

First Published: Nov 11, 2016 21:46 IST