October 18, 2015

Writers Stand Up

INDIA’S writers have done the country proud.  They have stood up to condemn the rising attack on freedom of expression, the worst manifestation of which was the killing of Prof M M Kalburgi who was murdered by extremists on August 30. Irrespective of the language they write in, or, the region they belong to, creative writers have registered a powerful protest at the supine and craven attitude of the Sahitya Akademi in not responding to the killing of one of its awardees and a former member of its council.  By returning the awards bestowed on them and by resigning from the positions they hold in the Akademi, they have also spoken out against the growing attacks on plurality and cultural diversity by the Hindutva forces.


The protest began with important Kannada writers returning their awards to the Kannada Sahitya Parishat on the slow progress in the Kalburgi murder investigation. Earlier, Prof Chandrasekhar Patil returned the highest literary award given by the Karnataka government, the Pampa award, in protest against this vicious attack on freedom of expression. Soon after, the noted Hindi writer Uday Prakash returned his award and prize money over the Sahitya Akademi’s silence on the assault on writers.  This has now snowballed into a powerful collective voice of protest with scores of prominent writers in major Indian languages, either returning their awards or resigning from their position in the Akademi.  They are writers in Hindi, Malayalam, Marathi, Kannada, Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali, Tamil, Gujarati, Assamese and English. They constitute the best literary talent of the country.  Out of the 20 members of the General Council of the Akademi, four have resigned so far.


K Satchidanandan, poet and former long time secretary of the Akademi, while resigning from all the committees has stated that the Akademi “failed in its duty to stand with the writers to uphold freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution”. 


The president of the Sahitya Akademi, Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari, has given spurious arguments for his and the Akademi’s silence. They range from disapproving the form of protest by the writers, to stating that it is not the Akademi’s job to get involved in politics and when cornered, citing the cost involved in calling an emergency meeting of the Board.  For the writers who have protested, the issue is not politics but the elementary defence of writers and the freedom of expression which is wholly in the Akademi’s ambit.   The recent killing of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri on the false charge of eating beef has added to the writers’ concern at the growing intolerance and hatred. Nayantara Sahgal has in her open letter stated: “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 life-style – are being marginalised, persecuted, or murdered”.   


The writers are raising their voice not only at the Akademi’s cowardly silence, but also at the refusal of the prime minister and the government to speak out against the attacks on writers and intellectuals.  That the Hindutva hoodlums are getting encouragement from the government in power is clear from the utterances from the uncultured minister for culture, Mahesh Sharma. He criticised the writers who returned their awards by saying “If they say they are unable to write, let them first stop writing.  We will then see.”  He followed this up by stating that the background of the writers returning their awards should be probed. 


While this is the attitude of the minister for culture, the prime minister of the country does not find it necessary to condemn the climate of intolerance and hatred that is being generated.  Finally, speaking on the Dadri incident, he called it, “sad and unwarranted but has nothing to do with the central government”.  This was a disavowal of any responsibility for the Hindutva offensive unleashed by the RSS-BJP combine.  On the contrary, Modi accused the opposition of raising “the bogey of communalism” against the BJP and “engaging in the politics of polarisation”.  By this, he defends the Sangh Parivar’s poisonous activities.


The onset of a Hindutva fuelled authoritarianism is being sustained from below with the fascistic attacks on writers, secular intellectuals and minorities and from above by the BJP government’s official patronage and encouragement to the Hindutva ideology. 


What is heartening about the writers protest action is the range and variety of the writers who have stood up to be counted.  What binds them is their deep moorings in secular and democratic values. It is a clear and bold expression of how the country will not succumb to Hindutva authoritarianism. 

(October 14, 2015)