New Delhi: Author Nayantara Sahgal has decided to return the prestigious Sahitya Akademi award in solidarity with all Indians who uphold the right to dissent, saying the country is facing the greatest threat ever to the right of free speech.
"I have decided to return the award as I felt that it's time to speak up. I am disturbed at the Dadri killing and the killing of rationalists," said Sahgal, niece of India' s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who received the Sahitya Akademi award in 1986..
"Our democracy is in danger and the country is leading to fascism. The threat is so real that people are getting killed for voicing dissent," Sahgal told IANS.
Asked if her decision was a political one, Sahgal said: "Yes, my decision to return the award is a political one. I am political and it's a political party which kills people for voicing dissent."
Sahgal, 88, also issued a statement on Tuesday explaining her decision.
"Rationalists who question superstition, anyone who questions any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism known as Hindutva - whether in the intellectual or artistic sphere, or whether in terms of food habits and lifestyle - are being marginalized, persecuted, or murdered," the statement said.
The statement also referred to the killing of Kannada writer M.M. Kalburgi and Maharashtrian rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare.
"A distinguished Kannada writer and Sahitya Akademi Award winner, M.M. Kalburgi, and two Maharashtrians, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, both anti-superstition activists, have all been killed by gun-toting motor-cyclists. Other dissenters have been warned they are next in line. Most recently, a village blacksmith, Mohammed Akhlaq, was dragged out of his home in Bisara village outside Delhi, and brutally lynched, on the supposed suspicion that beef was cooked in his home," it said.
The author said the whole country is upset about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's silence on the issue. "The silence of the prime minister is upsetting. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology," she said.
Sahgal further expressed concern over the silence and inaction of the Sahitya Akademi in the matter. "It is a matter of sorrow that the Sahitya Akademi remains silent. I wish they have spoken about it. The Akademis were set up as guardians of the creative imagination, and promoters of its finest products in art and literature, music and theatre," she felt.
In protest against Kalburgi's murder, Hindi writer Uday Prakash has returned his Sahitya Akademi award. Six Kannada writers have also returned their awards to the Kannada Sahitya Parishat.