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Novelist Anita Desai: Will be obliged to return Sahitya Akademi award if it fails stand by protesting writers

By Our Representative
Anita Desai, well-known India-born English writer who has authored of over a dozen novels, has said that she does not recognize “the India of the present time where, under the banner of ‘Hindutva,’ intimidation and bigotry seek to silence writers, scholars and all who believe in secular and rational thought.”
In a statement, distributed through the well-known global writers’ organization, PEN International, Desai, who is Emerita John E. Burchard Professor of Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said, “It saddens me that the august body of the Sahitya Akademi has not been able to support and protect writers from the intimidation and violence, verbal and physical.”
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize thrice, Desai received the Sahitya Academy Award in 1978 for her novel “Fire on the Mountain”, and won the British Guardian Prize for “The Village by the Sea.”
Pointing towards how the current crisis has begun affecting the Indian literary world, Desai said, she was “was born in an India that enshrined democracy, pluralism and the freedom of speech in its constitution”, but is now witness to “publishers withdraw books”, universities delete texts from syllabi, distort and manipulate history.”
Desai said, she has “silently witnessed institutions like the National Book Trust, the Nehru Museum and Library, and the University of Nalanda replace distinguished scholars”, adding, “In an atmosphere where there is no security or support for those who voice dissent, criticism or rational thought, there can be no intellectual or artistic work of any worth.”
Asking the the Sahitya Akademi to “make clear” that it does not represent any government or its policies, Desai said, it should prove that it is an “independent body that exists to defend free speech and the right to question and dissent, in short what the constitution of the country promised us.”
“If it is not able to declare and pursue such a policy, I will be obliged, in solidarity with my fellow writers, to renounce my membership of the Akademi and the award it gave me when I was a young writer in more hopeful times”, Desai warned.
Desai’s statement follows PEN International’s resolution, adopted at its 81st Congress in Quebec City, Canada, last week, where it took strong exception to the “growing intolerance in India where those who challenge orthodoxy or fundamentalism have become increasingly vulnerable.”
PEN noted how three public intellectuals – MM Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar – were killed by unknown assailants, and yet there was deafening silence from the authorities.
Noting that Kalburgi was the recipient the Sahitya Akademi Award, the resolution regretted, despite this “the Akademi remains silent even as its members resign in protest, and several award-recipients return their awards.”
“Two government ministers have questioned the motives of the writers returning the awards. It takes courage in the current climate in India to express public dissent in a public manner”, PEN said, even as “saluting” the courage of those who have “returned their awards in protest or resigned their membership of the Akademi or its governing council.”
“PEN International finds it disturbing that India’s Minister of Culture Mahesh Sharma has reacted to these tragic developments by saying, ‘If they (the writers) say they are unable to write, let them first stop writing. We will then see’,” the resolution said.

Comments

Parijat Kaul said…
Where were all these champions of free speech when actually there was an attack on the freedom of speech during the budget session of Sanam. Earlier this year (2015) entire opposition ganged together to put a gag on news publications by actually smacking a privilege motion in Rajya Sabha against #DNA & #TEHELKA. The pretext was that they were put listing false news against Rajya Sabha TV. What is more horrifying is that this privilege motion was based on completely false information. As such the upper house of our august Parliament was thoroughly mislead by a ganged up opposition and the privilege motion sailed through. Both publications tendered apologies and further reporting on Rajya Sabha TV completely ceased. This probably happened for the first time after #Emergency.
However what is more worrisome is that if an opposition like that is capable of snuffing free speech even while not in governmentand this they have demonstrated again by managing the entire #sammanwapsi event, what would such a group do if it comes to power.

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