Skip to main content

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.

TRENDING

Top upper caste judges 'biased' towards Dalit colleagues: US Bar Association report

By Rajiv Shah  A high profile report prepared by the influential  American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Human Rights , taking note of the fact that “in the 70-year history of the Indian Republic, only six Dalit judges have been appointed to the Supreme Court”, has taken strong exception to what it calls “lack of representation of Dalits” in the legal profession and the judiciary.

Unlike other revolutionaries, Hindutva icon wrote 5 mercy petitions to British masters

By Shamsul Islam*  The Hindutva icon VD Savarkar of the RSS-BJP rulers of India submitted not one, two,or three but five mercy petitions to the British masters! Savarkarites argue: “There are no evidences to prove that Savarkar collaborated with the British for his release from jail. In fact, his appeal for release was a ruse. He was well aware of the political developments outside and wanted to be part of it. So he kept requesting for his release. But the British authorities did not trust him a bit” (YD Phadke, ‘A complex Hero’, "The Indian Expres"s, August 31, 2004)

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Whither SDG goal? India's maternal mortality rate fall target 5.5% per yr, actual 4.5%

By Srinivas Goli, Parul Puri* The maternal mortality ratio (number of maternal deaths per one lakh live births) is a key and sensitive parameter used by health policymakers to monitor maternal health conditions in particular and women's status in general in a country.

Fresh efforts to subsume Buddhism within Hindu fold 'undermining' Ambedkar

By Aviral Anand*  From Yeola in 1935, when Dr Ambedkar announced that he would not die a Hindu, to Nagpur in 1956 when he converted to Buddhism, is a considerable distance in time. But, there was in him a need to make a public announcement in 1935 about moving away from Hinduism. 

How green revolution led to 'deterioration' of Punjab economy, land, air and water

By Dr Gian Singh*  A recent research paper, based on a survey of 320 farming families in four districts of Punjab, has tried to show that high crop densities and the use of inputs have led to degradation of land, air, water and humans through a rich agricultural structure. Although mechanization has increased agricultural productivity, it has also caused environmental degradation.

Savarkar 'opposed' Bhagat Singh's, Netaji's dream of India, supported British war efforts

By Shamsul Islam* In a shocking development, the student wing of the RSS put the busts of martyrs Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose with Savarkar's on one pedestal at the University of Delhi late in the night on August 20, 2019. Bhagat Singh sacrificed his life for a socialist-democratic-secular republic and Netaji raised Azad Hind Fauj (INA) consisting of people of all religions and regions for armed liberation of India.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Reverse progress in fight against hunger? 15.3% of India undernourished: GHI

By Harchand Ram*  Every year October 16 is observed as World Food Day to celebrate the date of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. In the year 2021, the theme for World Food Day is “Our actions are our Future-Better Production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life”.

Abysmal deficit of water, food waste recycle treatment 'impacting' Chennai life

By Simi Mehta*  We are living in a state where the most basic needs like food and water are not assured to the people residing in the urban areas, which account for the biggest sources of food and water wastage. Socio-economic inequality in society which is pervasive in urban areas is one of the main reasons for this.