Hindi writer Uday Prakash was the first writer to return his Sahitya Academy Award to protest the killing of M M Kalburgi and since then nearly 30 writers have followed suit. The protest has become a larger issue – a movement against increasing encroachment on our right to freedom of expression as prescribed under the Constitution.
A fortnight after Professor MM Kulburgi was gunned down by two assailants at his residence in Dharwad, close to 30 writers have given back their awards as a mark of protest against Sahitya Akademi’s deafening silence over the issue. Professor Kulburgi was known to challenge orthodox beliefs which didn’t go down too well with right wing groups. His murder came as a shock to fellow writers who believed in Indian democracy’s provision for freedom of expression and wanted the Sahitya Akademi to take a stand.
Boom got in touch with Padma Shri Awardee and Bengaluru based author Shashi Deshpande who quit the Sathiya Akademi’s General Council after Kulburgi’s murder.
Deshpande who was a part of the Akademi for more than 15 years says, “I thought the Akademi should have expressed it regret at the manner of Prof Kalburgi’s death, it should have loudly proclaimed its belief in the writers’ freedom of speech and expression. Only they could have done this on behalf of the writers. And it would not have been a political act. The freedom to speak and express oneself is part of our fundamental rights. To reaffirm that right is not a political act”
If you are talking of whether writers differed on the form of the protest, I have to say that I took my decision on my own. I am sure that most writers have done it this way. There has been no consultation, no discussion among them. Each protest is an individual act.
I thought the Akademi should have expressed it regret at the manner of Prof Kalburgi’s death, it should have loudly proclaimed its belief in the writers’ freedom of speech and expression. Only they could have done this on behalf of the writers. And it would not have been a political act. The freedom to speak and express oneself is part of our fundamental rights. To reaffirm that right is not a political act.
There is a growing intolerance in our country anyway. What is different is that now there are people thinking – now it is our chance to respond to the Congress’s so-called secularism.
I don’t think that the silence is an `attack’ on the freedom of expression. Their failure to speak is a kind of abetment, like I said in my letter. By not speaking they are tacitly supporting the killers. Banning of books, of plays, of art and other cultural forms – these have been the loudest forms of suppression of the freedom of speech and expression.
He says “the important trigger for all the writers I believe is the murder of Kulburgi. In a democratic country like ours, one just cannot tolerate such a thing. Just because you don’t agree with someone’s ideologies doesn’t mean that you will kill that person. Our own academy that gave us the award, which is my representative in the country, should have done something. But instead of taking an action they have time and again told us that we are trying to politicize the issue.”
But just as there were writers who were giving up their awards or quitting the Sathiya Akademi in protest, there are voices of dissent as well. Hindi writer Mridula Garg who was awarded the Sahitya Award two years ago disagress with Shashi and Atamjit’s actions.
She says, “From all the statements that have been made by the ministers or other people, it doesn’t seem that the Government care for writers that much. I don’t think that the writers returning their awards will have an impact on the Government policy. But it may, I can’t predict that. My only fear is that it will only weaken the autonomy of the academy”
Click here to have a listen to Mridula, voicing her concerns for the writer’s