What do Ashok Vajpayee, Nayantara Sahgal, Sarah Joseph, Uday Prakash and Rahman Abbas have in common? They are all literary heavyweights and recipients of the prestigious Sahitya Akademi award. They have also been hailed as the torchbearers of India’s literary renaissance. However, there is one more thing in common amongst them; they have all returned their awards.
The Sahitya Akademi Award is considered as one of the highest honours to be conferred upon an author or writer. Ever since its inception in 1954, the Sahitya Akademi awards the most outstanding books of literary merit, published in any of the major Indian languages recognized by the Akademi.
Therefore, a decision to return an honour of such stature was made as a collective sign of protest and solidarity, against the murders of fellow writers. These members of the community have come together in solemn support. Renowned writers like M.M Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare have all been victims of the ire of the radical extremists groups thriving in this country.
Take for instance, revered rationalist writer like Dr. M.M Kalburgi who was threatened by several Hindutva terror outfits as an abatement for his rationalist views on idol worship. What followed was a simply heinous act of intolerance- while on his morning walk Dr. Kalburgi was shot dead by two unidentified assailants on August 30th, 2015.
This came as a shock and left the literary fraternity up in arms, seeking protection against such abysmal actions in a secular country like ours.
The uncharacteristic silence of the Akademi on this grave concern is being questioned by these writers. They feel that being an autonomous body, the Akademi has not shown any sign of remorse or contrition, let alone condemn or display their displeasure on the assaults that have been taken place.
This led Sashi Deshpande, to resign from the general counsel of the Akademi as she was “deeply distressed” over its silence and felt that it was not the place for her. She further claimed that she expected them to stand up for the community which sadly, was not the case. She hopes that the Akademi will go beyond organizing events and giving prizes to be involved in crucial issues that affect the Indian writers’ freedom to speak and write.
These writers, artists and scholars are our national pride. They’ve given this country a part of their soul in the form of their work. To restrict their opinions and outlook would be a direct attack on their personhood. The very essence of freedom of speech is to respect the views you don’t like. Freedom of expression is every authors’ basic right, or rather, every citizen’s basic right. Our liberty depends upon the freedom of the press, the artists’ and, the writers’ and it can’t be limited without being lost.
The right to dissent cannot be revoked in a country like ours. Where there is diversity, there is bound to be a difference in opinion. We may not always agree with it, but an outright attack on someone’s freedom of speech and liberty of thought is an attack on democracy itself!
Are we turning into a country of pseudo nationalists who believe in such regressive forms of religious compliance and who stoop to such levels to seek retribution? Creating an environment of creative hostility? Is that where we are headed?
We must vow to never be bullied into silence, to never allow our thoughts to be stifled and to never accept anyone’s definition of life, other than our own. To speak up and stand up for what we feel is right. To let ourselves be heard. To never let the pressure to conform, get in the way of our quest to express and most of all to protect and preserve the creative pulse of this country.
It took our forefathers 200 years of immeasurable struggle to attain freedom as we know it and there’s no way we’re giving it back!