New Delhi: India’s top literary body, Sahitya Akademi, after its emergency meeting today, backed the writers and condemned the killing of rationalist thinkers such as Kannada writer MM Kalburgi, but asked leading writers to take back the awards they recently relinquished to protest rising intolerance.
The Akademi asked the centre and state governments to take action following a silent protest by about 100 prominent writers with black gags and arm bands, demanding that the institute pass a resolution pledging to take stern steps to safeguard freedom of speech and the right of writers to dissent.
At least 35 writers from across India have given up their awards since the brutal killing of a Muslim blacksmith in Dadri over rumours of consuming beef to mark their anger over growing violence against minorities and the killing of rationalist thinkers such as Kalburgi.
As eminent writers including Keki N Daruwala, Geeta Hariharan, Anuradha Kapoor and Shekhar Joshi marched in protest, another group of people staged a counter-protest, alleging that the move by authors to return their awards was motivated by “vested interests” and the literary body should not buckle under “pressure”.
Activists of the BJP’s student wing, the ABVP, also joined the protest led by the Joint Action group of Nationalist Minded Artists and Thinkers, JANMAT, which also submitted a memorandum to the Akademi, questioning the motive of the writers.
“We want to appeal to the Sahitya Akademi to maintain its autonomous nature and not come under pressure from the very same writers who had earlier appealed to the people of the country to not give their mandate to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These writers are engaged in undemocratic actions,” JANMAT said.
The writers’ protest march was convened by five groups – Janvadi Lekhak Sangh, Pragatisheel Lekhak Sangh, Jansanskriti Manch, Dalit Lekhak Sangh and Sahitya Samvad.
Calling the getting together of writers as a historic step in the literary history of the country, the protesters had called for the Akademi to condemn the killings of Kannada writer Kalburgi and other writers and rationalists and assure the writers the Akademi would, in these times of distress, ensure the right to freedom of speech and expression.