The Unmaking of India: Why I am Returning My Sahitya Akademi Award

In a recent lecture, India’s Vice-President, Dr. Hamid Ansari, found it necessary to remind us that India’s Constitution promises all Indians “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.”

The right to dissent is an integral part of this Constitutional guarantee. He found it necessary to do so because India’s culture of diversity and debate is now under vicious assault.

Rationalists who question superstition, 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 lifestyle – are being marginalised, persecuted, or murdered.

File photo Nayantara Sahgal. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

File photo Nayantara Sahgal. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A distinguished Kannada writer and Sahitya Akademi Award winner, M.M. Kalburgi, and two Maharashtrians, Narendra Dhabolkar and Govind Pansare, both anti-superstition activists, have all been killed by gun-toting motor-cyclists. Other dissenters have been warned they are next in line. Most recently, a village blacksmith, Mohammed Akhlaq, was dragged out of his home in Bisara village outside Delhi, and brutally lynched, on the supposed suspicion that beef was cooked in his home.

In all these cases, justice drags its feet. The Prime Minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology.

It is a matter of sorrow that the Sahitya Akademi remains silent. The Akademis were set up as guardians of the creative imagination, and promoters of its finest products in art and literature, music and theatre.

In protest against Kalburgi’s murder, a Hindi writer, Uday Prakash, has returned his Sahitya Akademi Award. Six Kannada writers have returned their Awards to the Kannada Sahitya Parishat.

In memory of the Indians who have been murdered, in support of all Indians who uphold the right to dissent, and of all dissenters who now live in fear and uncertainty, I am returning my Sahitya Akademi Award.

Nayantara Sahgal,
Dehra Dun, October 6, 2015

  • mortuza ali khan

    It is better not to be adorned with the jewels given by a timid cultural body.

  • Naresh Sharma

    All this is based on assumptions. A senior person like Nayantara Sehgal resigning for a one particular murder is beyond my thinking. I find it ‘fishy’ on her part. Why is she silent on so many murders taking place in the country. Every day there would be 100 murders in India. There have been many communal murders involving persons of different religion. Does an Prime Minister need to get down to police inspectors job or the job of state MP, MLA or CM ? Will a PM do all Govt officers jobs ? No. Ms.Sehgal is inspired by her political whims for her actions, while it is true that a writer is always bigger that the Govt. award, but not bigger than the Govt.

    • Ishteyaque

      Nayantara Seghal resignation doesn’t mean resentment of one particular murder, rather condemnation of the current government over supporting the ideology of irrational thinking like Nazi and evil-doer, who is bent upon splintering the society ancient Indian legacy of Unity in diversity.

  • Siddharth Samant

    Yes she did. She was one of Indira’s fiercest critics. In fact, she received the Sahitya Akademi award for her book ‘Rich Like Us’, which was a fictional account of how the Emergency devastated the poor.

    Do read up on your facts before posting absolute tripe.

    • Anonymous

      And what about the fact that she accepted the award just 2 years after the Sikh massacre. Didn’t she see the unmaking of India then?

    • Sagar Kinare

      nice one sidhart

  • TheHindu

    Where were you, when Rajiv Ghandhi led Congrees Leaders Massacred 3000 Sikhs in an worse revenge attack against any minority in India under the Congress (I) Government.

    • swamy

      Yes she did. She was one of Indira’s fiercest critics. In fact, she received the Sahitya Akademi award for her book ‘Rich Like Us’, which was a fictional account of how the Emergency devastated the poor.

      Do read up on your facts before posting absolute tripe.

  • Keyur Seta

    Bhakt spotted. Arre bhai, Kashmiri pundits were not targeted and supported by govt of India.

  • Keyur Seta

    The issue is about how artists and free thinkers are targeted. How long will you people continue to be obsessed with Nehru Gandhi? Kab tak unko baisakhi banaoge bhai??

    • Anonymous

      At least for the next 60 years.

  • rene descartes

    Red herring fallacy.

  • In India we have a famous quote “Maunam Sammati Lakshanam”, meaning silence is s sign of consent. Shall we consider the silence of the prime minister as consent of what is going on?

    • Zorba Jeevan Moksha

      of course !

  • Arsh Mogre

    I’m Arsh Mogre, 16 years old, living in Mumbai. I am writing this email to express my satisfaction and optimism over Mrs.Nayantra Sahgal’s recent article published by your reputed news agency, centring over her disappointed with the incumbent government’s functioning, the unruly behaviour of the leadership of the ruling party- The Bharatiya Janta Party and ofcourse the deafening silence of our Prime Minister and head of state, Narendra Modi over cultural and social issues weakening the harmony, secularism and freedom of expression within our country. Mrs.Sahgal’s ‘open letter’. especially surrendering her Sahitya Akademi Award will definitely provoke the Prime Minister and his senior cabinet ministers to express their opinions over the recent developments of religious intolerance in India and how is the government dealing with it.
    However, a deep sense of confusion and misinterpretation also arose from Mrs.Sahgal’s well publicised article. Ma’am, you received the prestigious award in 1986, just two years after the anti Sikh pogrom in the national capital. Shouldn’t you have refused to accept an award from a government (although led by your relative) that had stood by and watched the massacre, if you truly believed in stopping the religious intolerance? You could have returned the award when the Babri Masjid was demolished, when the 2002 riots took place, when Kashmiri Pandits were driven away from home.
    Evenmore, were you suggesting that the violence is not just condoned, but in some way actively supported by the ruling establishment at the Centre? I wish to remind you that the government in UP is of Akhilesh Yadav; blaming Hindutva forces for every act of religious violence is unfair. Moreover, I would be obliged to know about your silence during the tenure of previous governments that were run by today’s primary opposition party, over religious violence and communal hatred?
    I hope my concerns are addressed by the respected author or by the news agency that has published the brave article on Internet.

    Arsh Mogre

    • Laxman Udapudi

      Such people return their prizes against single murders .Why did not they return them when there was bomb blasts ,Bombay attacks? Are they intellectuals ? Well those prestigeous awards should not be with such selfish , unsuitable people.

  • capt kini

    I appreciate if you are a unbiased lady. where are you when there is a massacre of sikhs in delhi or burning of train at godhra and country never practices as secular country

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  • Arsh Mogre

    Thank You-!

  • Arsh Mogre

    Which interview?

    • R Prabhu

      On NDTV, just google.Thanx