New Delhi, Oct 13: Leading writers are now returning the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award to protest against spread of "communal poison" and "rising intolerance" in India.
Sahitya Akademi Award is a literary honor in India which Sahitya Akademi, India's National Academy of Letters, annually confers on writers of the most outstanding books of literary merit published in any of the major Indian languages recognised by the Sahitya Akademi.
88-year-old Nayantara Sahgal, niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, was among the first to lodge her protest against the Akademi's silence over repeated attacks on writers and rationalists who were raising their voice of dissent.
Sehgal, who received a Sahitya Akademi award in 1986 for her English novel Rich Like Us (1985), said, "The ruling ideology today is a fascist ideology and that is what is worrying me now. We did not have a fascist government until now... I am doing whatever I believe in."
Later, Kashmiri writer Ghulam Nabi Khayal, Urdu novelist Rahman Abbas and Kannada writer- translator Srinath D N also joined the bandwagon.
Expressing his anguish over recent developments, Kannada translator Srinath said,"In the place of the pen, there are now bullets being fired. Author Kalburgi was murdered and both the Centre and the state should quickly act against the offenders so that such an incident is not repeated in the future."
Srinath had won the 2009 Sahitya Akademi for translating short stories in Hindi written by Bheesham Sahani into Kannada.
Khayal said, "I have decided to return the award. The minorities in the country are feeling unsafe and threatened. They feel their future is bleak."
Urdu writer Rahman Abbas said, "After the Dadri lynching, the Urdu writing community has been quite unhappy. Therefore, I decided to return the award. There are some other Urdu writers who also want to join the protest. It is high time we stood up to the injustice surrounding us."
After them, Hindi writers Mangalesh Dabral and Rajesh Joshi who backed the spiralling protest by litterateurs against "communal" atmosphere following rationalist M M Kalburgi's killing.
In their joint statement protesting the "silence" of the Akademi over the Kalburgi murder, writers Dabral and Joshi said, "For the past one year or so basic values of democracy freeedom of expression, freedom to live our lives according to our wishes are under attack by the forces of Hindutva, which is not acceptable.
"The Sahitya Akademi remains silent about the Kalburgi murder so many dangers our democracy is facing, the very fabric of democracy is under threat."
The writer, poet and playwright who received the Akademi award in 2002 for his 'Do Panktiyon Ke Beech' (Between Two Lines) said it was unprecedented to have so many writers return their awards.
"Right now the Akademi's executive council has to deliberate on the issue to come up with a provision on what to do with the award money," Joshi said.
Punjabi author Waryam Sandhu and Kannada translator G N Ranganatha Rao said they have intimated to the Akademi their decision to give back their awards.
Six authors, including Gujarat-based writer Ganesh Devy, announced they were returning their awards, joining ranks with authors Uday Prakash, Nayantara Sahgal, Ashok Vajpayei who had earlier given up the honour to protest against the Kalburgi killing and Dadri lynching incident wher a man was kileld by a mob over rumour of beef eating.
Apart from writers Uday Prakash, GN Devy, Aman Sethi, Waryam Sandhu and translator G N Ranganatha Rao, we have not got any intimations about the writers returning their awards," an official said.
With this, at least 16-20 authors have announced their decision to return their awards with some warning that minorities in the country today feel "unsafe and threatened".
"The communal poison is spreading in the country and the threat of dividing people looms large," the writers warned.
Under fire from several quarters, the Akademi has called for a meeting of the Executive Board on October 23 as many more writers plan to return their awards.