Nayantara Sahgal’s renouncing her Sahitya Academy award in protest against the Academy’s silence over the murder of writer and rationalist MM. Kalburgi, has had a snowballing effect, with scores of Sahitya Academy award winning writers and poets returning their Academy awards. The spate of murders though sadly is continuing.
As usual the social networks, print and electronic media are filled with supportive or opposing stand against the actions of the writers in returning their awards. Never before in the history of India, has such a cascading effect of dissent over the attack on freethinking and liberalism erupted spontaneously.
To make matters worse, the Chairperson of the Academy Vishwanath Prasad Tripathi mocked at Nayantara, that her 1986 book had won the Sahitya Academy award and also included a cash sum. The book translated into many languages would also have had earned royalties, enriching the writer; this in addition to the writer climbing the popularity charts due to the award. A miffed 88 year old Sahgal retorted that she has been writing long before receiving the award and made out a cheque of Rs. 1 lac in favour of the Academy. A few other writers also have returned varying amounts of monies received as the award money from the Academy, further sullying the image of the institution.
The baiters against the writers’ move have held that these writers were silent when atrocities had taken place in India earlier, in particular in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s killing. Whether such argument alone justifies the spate of killings of free thinkers and dissenters is a matter I leave to the reader’s wisdom.
I write, as a published author and a poet. Our breed could be egoistic and proud of our creative skills, tapping slumbering souls to reveal the weakness, treachery and the hollowed positions of the hallowed systems and its perpetrators. They are activists, as I consider myself too as one. However, unlike a few famous painters and a rare breed of writers, who could be rich, most writers are either poor or struggle to make both ends meet.
Writers’ most precious assets are their work and the awards related to their works. There would have been much anguish, when these writers decided to return their awards, for which I have no words enough to appreciate enough. Dissent in a responsible manner is a healthy part of any democracy, necessary to sensitize the government. I hope many more writers, artists, poets and intellectuals come forward and register their protests in any and every democratic way, so that the government acts decisively against, and does not condone the barbaric acts of elimination of dissenters in the manner pursued now.