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What is Sahitya Akademi Award and why are writers returning it: Controversy Explained


More than 20 writers of different languages across the country have returned their Sahitya Akademi Awards so far. It has been reported that all writers were 'hurt' with the spread of "communal poison" and "rising intolerance" in India.

The writers are returning their Sahitya Akademi Awards as a mark of their protest against the central government-led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

[Sahitya Akademi protest: Know who all returned literary honour]

Writers return awards

What is Sahitya Akademi?

  • Sahitya Akademi is the National Academy of Letters of the country.
  • The organisation promotes literature in 24 different Indian languages.
  • The organisation provides research and travel grants to authors of all fields.
  • It publishes books and journals, including the Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature.
  • Though it works under the supervision of the central government's ministry of culture, the Akademi works as an autonomous institution.

[Writers returning awards: A ploy to tarnish Modi Govt's image]

What is Sahitya Akademi Award?

  • The organisation gives the Sahitya Akademi Award every year to writers who write in 24 different languages it supports.
  • It also provides Sahitya Akademi Fellowship for lifetime achievement.
  • The amount of the award was initially Rs 5,000. Now, it has been raised to Rs 1,00,000.
  • The award is given to those writers whose books are considered as an outstanding contribution to the language and literature to which the books belong.
  • The books might be a creative or a critical work, but cannot be a work of translation, an anthology, an abridgement, compilation or annotation, or university research paper.

[Returning of Sahitya Akademi Award: Justified or not?]

How does the award help a writer?

  • Books of the writers, who are honoured with the award, are translated into different Indian languages.
  • The organisation holds programmes for the winners all across the country.

Why are the writers returning their awards now?

Writers from different fields have been returning their Sahitya Akademi Awards for many reasons and they are --

MM Kalburgi Murder: Well-known writer Professor MM Kalburgi was killed by unidentified persons in Dharwad, Karnataka in Aug 2015. His murderers are roaming free.

Protesting writers claimed that Kalburgi was killed for his work which had come under fire "not just from fellow Lingayats but also from the RSS, Bajrang Dal and Sri Ram Sene."

[After scholar MM Kalburgi's murder, another writer in Karnataka receives threat letter]

No freedom of speech: Writers claim that they are not safe in the country and cannot enjoy freedom of speech. Many feel insecure in the country as they are being threatened to speak the "truth" of the society. They cannot write what they feel about religions, cast and culture, the writers added.

[Where is freedom of speech, ask scholars]

Demand for anti-superstition Bill: Protesting writers demanded for a "special session" to pass "anti-superstition bill" which can fight "fundamentalist forces and media terrorism".

Insecurity among writers: Uday Prakash, who received Sahitya Akademi Award in 2010-11, said everyone were disturbed for the growing insecurity among writers.

Speaking about Kalburgi murder case, Prakash said, "...worried, upset and even scared at what is happening and how so many voices are being silenced."

India's culture of diversity under threat: Returning their awards, writers such as Nayantara Sahgal and Ashok Vajpeyi said, "India's culture of diversity and the right to dissent was under vicious assault."

Murder of a man over beef ban issue: Ghulam Nabi Khayal, a writer and poet from Kashmir, returned his award and said, "I can't fight these communal forces physically so I have decided to lodge a silent protest by returning the award."

"In Uttar Pradesh, a Muslim is killed on the basis of rumours that he has stored beef in his house, and in Jammu, Kashmiri truck drivers are attacked on the mere suspicion that a cow has been slaughtered in the district. This is not the country that our great leaders had envisioned," he added.

[Dadri lynching: Actor Farhan Akhtar called Pakistani, here is how he reacted]

Silence of Sahitya Akademi: Uday Prakash, after returning his award, was quoted as saying, "Someone like Kalburgi, who the Akademi has termed as ‘outstanding' gets shot in cold blood. Yet, the Akademi does not... condole, issue a statement or even a message of regret to the family."

"In case of railway accidents for instance, even callous governments express sorrow and make a perfunctory visit. But there has been no word, nothing, just silence," added Prakash.

What are the writers actually returning?

  • Some protesting writers have sent a letter to the organisation and returned their award amount.
  • A few writers have sent letters to Sahitya Akademi, but have not enclosed cheques.
  • A few writers just announced their decision of returning their award, but are yet to formally inform the Akademi.
  • No one has returned the award citation or trophy so far.

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