New Delhi: Yielding to unrelenting protests by writers, the Sahitya Akademi today strongly condemned the killing of Kannada writer M.M. Kalburgi and others while urging litterateurs to take back awards they have returned. The statements were made even as protests and counter protests were held outside its headquarters in the national capital.
Breaking its silence, the Akademi took to pacifying the authors who accused it of not speaking out against the killings of writers and rationalists, besides on incidents like the Dadri lynching and ink attack on Sudheendra Kulkarni.
At an emergency board meet to discuss recent developments, the Akademi expressed solidarity with the writers urging those authors who had returned awards conferred by it to take them back and appealed to those who have stepped down from various Akademi posts to withdraw their resignations.
The Akademi is “deeply pained and strongly condemns the murder of Prof. M.M. Kalburgi and the other intellectuals and thinkers. As the only autonomous institution of Indian literature in all its diversities, the Akademi firmly supports the writers’ right to freedom of expression in all the languages of India and condemns any atrocity against any writer anywhere in the country,” it said in a resolution. The Akademi also asked the state and Central governments to take immediate action to bring the culprits to book and ensure the security of writers now and in future.
“The Akademi appeals to state and central government to take steps to prevent such incidents in the future”, Krishnaswamy Nachimuthu, an executive committee board member from Tamil Nadu said emerging from the meet. The meet was attended by 20 out of 24 executive council members. “All writers stand together in their decision to condemn the killings,” Nachimuthu said. Sporting black gags and arm bands, several writers and their supporters held a solidarity march here ahead of the meeting and submitted a memorandum to the Akademi chair.
“We are witnessing a rise in intolerance against writers and artists… like it happened at Film Institute in Pune, awards are being returned… some claimed it is “manufactured”. What sort of manufacturing? where is such factory where writers are manufactured? We have nothing to throw at the establishment and the Akademi except our awards,” poet Keki N. Daruwalla said.
English writer Gita Hariharan said, “It is a sad day that writers and artists have to walk with so much police to an institution which supposedly belongs to us. The protest is not just against to what happened to Kalburgi but against a series of incidents that are now hounding writers.”
Another group had held a counter protest, alleging that the move by authors to return awards was “motivated by their vested interests” and the literary body should not buckle under pressure. The protest was led by JANMAT, with participation by ABVP activists also submitted a memorandum to the Akademi, questioning the motive of the writers.
K. Satchidanandan, who had resigned from all positions in the Sahitya Akademi stating that it “failed in its duty to stand with the writers and to uphold freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution”, did not attend today’s meeting. The others who skipped the meeting were Lalit Mangtrata, Prem Pradhan and Balchand Nemade. Another board member present during the meeting said, “There is a process for resignation but no process of returning the awards. We have decided to appeal to them to reconsider their decision.”
The Akademi is now set to meet on December 17. It had been forced to call an emergency meeting today after at least 36 writers, including leading names like Nayantara Sahgal, Ashok Vajpeyi, Uday Prakash and K. Veerabhadrappa, had returned their Akademi awards while five writers had stepped down from official positions of the literary body, protesting against its “silence” over “rising intolerance”.
Besides Kalburgi, the killings of rationalists Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabolkhar over the past couple of months have triggered widespread outrage from writers and set off a political slugfest.
Congress had dubbed as “perverse and cynical” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s dismissal of their protest as a “manufactured paper rebellion” against the government. The BJP in turn targeted the Congress, saying those returning awards in the wake of the Dadri lynching incident and attacks on rationalists are doing new kind of politics after their “patrons” lost and seemed like “Congress sponsored” as they stood in support of that party.
“A writer, dramatist is killed. A free thinker is killed… why? Because he has different views. A rationalist is killed by superstitious people and the Akademi has done nothing. Why is it scared? It is an autonomous body where even the president is elected by writers. We are all writers. Why are we so scared? Daruwalla said while participating in a silent solidarity march.
Striking a similar vein, Hariharan said, “To say that the writer in me is dead is the saddest comment one can make in our society. To say that a writer has put down his or her pen… (is sad). Do we have any autonomous institution left or any government left that looks after our constitutional rights?”
‘Take back awards’
Though the Sahitya Akademi did make a statement condemning the recent attacks on writers, Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari also urged the protesting awardees to take their awards back. The writers had earlier stated that they would demand Tiwari’s resignation if a condolence meeting in honour of Kalburgi was not announced. They also attacked the statement he made calling the returning of the awards illogical.
Ahead of the Sahitya Akademi emergency meeting, writers, painters and other cultural activists held a solidarity march in Delhi. A silent march carrying huge banners from the Sri Ram Centre at Safdar Hashmi Marg to the Sahitya Akademi concluded with the writers submitting their memorandum demanding that the Akademi pass a resolution pledging to take stern steps to protect the freedom of speech and the right to dissent of writers.
Five groups – Janvadi Lekhak Sangh, Pragatisheel Lekhak Sangh, Jansanskriti Manch, Dalit Lekhak Sangh and Sahitya Sanvad, convened the protest march. Eminent writers Keki N Daruwala, Geeta Hariharan, Anuradha Kapoor (former director National School of Drama), Shekhar Joshi, Ashok Bhaumick and Javed Ali among others were part of the protest. Writers and activists have said that the march was a historic step in the literary history of the country.