The list of writers returning state honours or protesting against the silence of government cultural institutions is growing and includes Sarah Joseph and Rehman AbbasThe list of prominent writers who are protesting against the increasing attacks on dissent is growing. Eminent Malayalam poet and critic K Satchidanandan has resigned from the Executive Council of the Sahitya Akademi and Urdu novelist Rahman Abbas has returned his Maharashtra state award. Malayalam writer Sarah Joseph too returned her Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award to protest against the “rising communal violence” in the country. “Shocking tales are coming out every day. A writer can’t keep quiet. And higher authorities’ continued silence is really frightening,” she said.
They follow authors Nayantara Sahgal and Shashi Deshpande and poet Ashok Vajpeyi, all of whom have protested the ‘vicious assaults’ on Indian’s diversity. Deshpande said she was distressed at the silence of the Akademi at the murder of M M Kalburgi while Vajpeyi had stated that “It is high time that writers take a stand” and that the Sahitya Akademi had failed to rise to the occasion.
On October 4, six Kannada writers – Veeranna Madiwalar, T. Satish Javare Gowda, Sangamesh Menasinakai, Hanumanth Haligeri, Shridevi V Aloor and Chidanand Sali – returned their awards to protest the delay in the inquiry into the murder of M M Kalburgi.
Rahman Abbas announced his decision to return his Sahitya Akademi award on Facebook while urging other Urdu writers to do the same. In his open letter he said, “I request senior Urdu writers, poets and critics including Nida Fazli, Salam Bin Razzak, Abdus Samad, Javid Akhtar, Gulzar, Munawwar Rana, to register protest against murder and killing of creative writers by returning Sahitya Academy Awards. This might be a small step but in such volatile times, it is inescapable.”
As a writer Abbas has faced a fair amount of attacks from the state himself. His first novel published in 2004 Nakhlistan ki Talash – a book about an educated Muslim man facing alienation after the 1992 riots in Mumbai till he finally joins a terrorist organisation – was the cause of much controversy as it forced him to give up his position as a lecturer in a college in Mumbai. The novel also led to his arrest after an FIR was filed against him. He was charged in 2005 under Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 for the printing of ‘grossly indecent or scurrilous text’, which carries a jail term of up to two years. The case is still pending.
Referring to recent events in his open letter he stated, “I demand that the state punish the forces which killed Narendra Dabholkar and Comrade Pansare. I demand the Central government to book those responsible for instigating the mob, which killed Md. Akhlaq in Dadri. I urge senior Urdu writers to take a stand as this is high time and our secular democracy is under attacked.” He announced has decision to return his award this Saturday.
Satchidanandan, in his letter said, “The Akademi has to stand with writers and uphold the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution of India… To writers like me, this is an issue of our basic freedom to live, think and write”.
He is a also on the board of the Indian Cultural Forum, (www.indianculturalforum.in), an online platform to discuss issues facing writers and “to resist the range of threats faced by our culture of free expression, exchange, dialogue and debate.”