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Sahitya Academi Row: Writers Speak Up

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Sahitya Academi Row: Writers Speak Up

Sahitya_Akademi_Award_bannerHindi 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.

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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”

 

Click the icon to see Shashi’s letter of concern to :

 

 

My reasons are very clearly stated in my letter. It was my disappointment that the Sahitya Akademi, which is an organisation of and for writers, remained silent on the murder of Prof Kalburgi, that they did not say a word about the murder of a man who was one of them, as also an awardee.
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 knew Prof Kalburgi very little. I met him once or twice, found him a gentle and soft-spoken man. From the little I know of him, I think he believed in rationalism, in research and facts and looked at religion with the clear eye of reason.
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.
I think writers are free to decide what way they protest. I myself have not returned either my Sahitya Akademi award or the Padma Shri. I believe that the Akademi award was given to me by my peers, a group of writers who chose the book and the Padma Shri was given to me by the country.
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.

Shashi Deshpande,
Bangalore

Another writer who backed Shashi’s action and returned his award too is Atamjit Singh. Atamjit Singh was conferred the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2009.
Atamjit Singh

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.”

 

Click the icon to hear what Atamjit Singh has to say to :

 

 

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.
Mridula Garg
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

community with :

 

 

 

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