Ashok Vajpeyi on why he's returning the Sahitya Akademi award

Noted poet and literary critic asks: 'Three intellectuals were murdered. Why are their killers not in jail?'

 |  2-minute read |   07-10-2015
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The matter has been simmering in my mind for some time now. I write a weekly "Kabhi Kabaar" for the Hindi daily Jansatta on cultural and literary matters. Lately, I have taken to writing about forces of intolerance emerging in the nation and I find myself increasingly agitated by these.

Ours is a pluralistic, democratic society that is accommodative of diverse view points. However, there is this sudden ethos created where being a minority automatically makes you a doubtful citizen. Three intellectuals were murdered and their killers still haven't been apprehended. We have a culture minister, who is, in my opinion, culturally illiterate, saying, that a road has been renamed after President APJ Abdul Kalam because "despite being a Muslim, he was a nationalist", thereby implying that it is unusual for a Muslim to be a nationalist?

On the other hand, we see the government taking over Lalit Kala Akademi, a nondescript becoming the chairman of National Book Trust and another becoming the head of Film and Television Institute of India. The question is not one of replacing chairmans, but devaluation of these institutions through such decisions by the government. At a point where Right to Life and Right to Freedom of Expression, the fundamental rights of the citizens are being threatened, we have an otherwise loquacious prime minister, who decides to keep quiet. The creative and reflective community must answer back and returning the award is my way of registering my protest.

My provocation behind returning the award was the writer Nayantara Sahgal, who decided to do the same. Usually it has been seen that English-speaking writers in India keep away from the dust and soil of everyday India. Sahgal's decision makes it clear that this is not the case. Moreover, Sahitya Akademi, that should be supporting the writers, seems to be supporting the government instead. The least it could do was organise a condolence meet for the murdered scholar MM Kalburgi, who also received the Akademi award in 2006.

(As told to Ursila Ali.)

Writer

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