More than a dozen writers of the prominence of Nayantara Sehgal, Ashok Vajpayee and Uday Prakash have returned their awards in the last one month. Recently another Indian English novelist Shashi Deshpande resigned her position of member of the Governing Council of Sahitya Academy.
All these writers have spent their life time in the pursuit of literature. They have been people of undoubted integrity and have earned repute by dint of their significant contribution to the world of letters. An award is a sign of recognition for an artist and the decision to return an award would mean a serious thoughtful action which is compelled by a deep sense of social responsibility.
They must have been disturbed by the things happening in the country and must have felt that the state has failed to ensure freedom of speech and expression. If the intelligentsia of a country feels like this it is a warning bell for democracy.
Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore had returned his Knighthood after the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre. Novelist and columnist Khushwant Singh had returned his Padma Award after the Operation Blue Star. The cold blooded murder of three rationalist writers and thinkers namely M.M. Kalburgi, a distinguished Kannada writer and Sahitya Akademi Award winner and two rationalists, Narendra Dhabolkar and Govind Pansare, both anti-superstition activists have been killed by assailants.
Veeranna Madiwalar, T Satish Javare Gowda, Sangamesh Menasinakai, Hanumanth Haligeri, Shridevi V Aloor and Chidanand Sali were conferred the awards on November 22, 2011 at a function where Kalburgi was honoured with the prestigious Nrupatunga Prashasti.
The absolute victory of right wing Bhartiya Janta Party has let lose the fundamentalist Hindutva forces all over the country. These organizations have been there all these years as well but did not have the courage to play so openly. Now that they have a favorable government and a Swayamsevak in the Prime Minister’s chair, they are scot free.
The Gujarat massacre has been wiped from public memory by the sheer propaganda of the ruling BJP at the level of the state and the Centre. Amit Shah, one of the prime accused, has been made the president of the ruling party while local political leaders including Maya Kodnani have been released on bail. The accused of the fake encounter of Sohrabuddin have not only been released on bail but restored in the police force as if they have been acquitted by the court.
Most recently, a village blacksmith, Mohammed Akhlaq was dragged out of his home in Bisara village outside Delhi and brutally killed on the suspicion beef was cooked in his home. His son was also brutally attacked and is struggling for life. His other son is a soldier in Indian Air Force.
The false self proclaimed nationalists and custodians of Hindutva did not respect the family of a soldier of Indian armed force. Last year several young men and women were harassed and attacked in Bangalore by the moral policing gangs of the Hindu outfits.
Famous artist Maqbool Fida Hussain’s exhibitions were attacked and he was so much harassed that he had to take asylum in other countries. Gazal Singer Gulam Ali’s scheduled programmes in Mumbai and Pune have been cancelled by the pressure created by Shiv Sena. Earlier Salman Rushdie was denied entry to the Jaipur Literature Festival, some two years ago.
J.P. Singhal who is not even a Ph.D. and has not been a University Professor even for a day has been appointed the Vice Chancellor of Rajasthan University, Jaipur simply because he was an office bearer of a teachers’ organization affiliated with BJP.
All these are examples of political and cultural intolerance. They are signs of aggression and suppression of all voices of protest. In a recent lecture, India’s Vice-President, Dr. Hamid Ansari, stated that India’s Constitution promises all Indians “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.” The right to dissent is an integral part of this Constitutional guarantee. He found it necessary to do so because India’s culture of diversity and debate is now under vicious assault.
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 marginalised, persecuted, or murdered. In all these cases, justice drags its feet.
Nayantara Sahgal, in a statement issued on October 6, 2015 said, “In memory of the Indians who have been murdered, in support of all Indians who uphold the right to dissent, and of all dissenters who now live in fear and uncertainty, I am returning my Sahitya Akademi Award.”
Shashi Deshpande, author of several novels, short stories and essay collections and books for children, won the Sahitya Akademi award for her novel That Long Silence in 1990. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2009. While resigning her membership of the Governing Council of the Sahitya Academy, she expressed her disgust over the continued failure of the Sahitya Academy to denounce or criticize the impious killing of writers and citizens.
The level of the political campaigning in Bihar election is also an indicator of the level to which Indian politics has fallen. Use of sixteen helicopters by the ruling party and the abusive tirade over the leaders of opposition even by the Prime Minister suggests that the ruling saffron brigade perhaps doesn’t want to leave any space for the voices of dissent.
If this is allowed to happen, the nation would be facing another emergency, this time unannounced but enforced by the self appointed custodians of moral and national values.
Now is the need to rise up and unite to fight for the intellectual, artistic and creative freedom. Writers, poets, journalists and teachers have the biggest responsibility of preserving the secular, multicultural and plural fabric of Indian society and also to preserve the real freedom of media which matters.
It is sad that the mainstream media has failed to take the cognizance of the writers’ returning their awards and resigning from prestigious positions due to callous indifference of the state and its agencies.
Written by: Dr.H.S. Chandalia