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Whopping 350 artists support India's top writers' protest move to return Sahitya Akademi award

Nayantara Sahgal
By Our Representative
In a fresh sign of resentment, as many as 350 artists have come together and signed a statement declaring their "firm solidarity" with the actions of top writers, "who have relinquished awards and positions, and spoken up in protest against the alarming rise of intolerance in the country." As many as 33 writers, following Jawarhlal Nehru's celebrated niece Nayantara Sahgal, have so far returned India's best known Sahitya Akademi award. 
The statement has been released by Released by the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, formed in the memory of the young theatre personality, slain by political goondas in early 1989 when he was performing a series of street plays in Uttar Pradesh. Those who have signed the statement include prominent artists Arpana Caur, Jatin Das, KG Subramanyan, Krishen Khanna, Paramjit Singh, N Ramachandran, Sudhir Patwardhan, and Vivan Sundaram.
Condemning the murders of MM Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, calling them "rationalists and free thinkers whose voices have been silenced by rightwing dogmatists", the statement says, "We will never forget the battle we fought for our pre-eminent artist MF Husain who was hounded out of the country and died in exile."
The statement says, "We see a writer like Perumal Murugan being intimidated into declaring his death as a writer, a matter of dire shame in any society". And all this is happening when the Prime Minister "has been conspicuously reticent in his response to the recent events", it underlines.
Coming down heavily on "reactions of BJP ministers in his government reveal their ignorance and prejudice", especially Mahesh Sharma, Minister of State for Culture, who has made "abhorrent comments about mob lynching and murder", the statement says, "His remarks suggesting that writers should stop writing to prove their point are alarming – empowered as he is to take policy decisions in the domain of culture." The statement also objects to the view of Arun Jaitley, Minister of Finance, Information & Broadcasting, who has "mocked the actions of our respected writers as a manufactured ‘paper rebellion’." Worse, it adds, Jaitley has asked "for scrutiny of the political and ideological affiliations of those who are protesting."
Pointing out that an unequivocal trend has now come about suggesting that artists and writers are getting "disaffiliation from a government that encourages marauding outfits to enforce a series of regressive commands in this culturally diverse country", the statement refers to the "escalating" scale of "social violence and fatal assaults on ordinary citizens (as in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh; Udhampur, Jammu and Kashmir; Faridabad, Harayana)".
"The contemptuous comments about the religious minorities and Dalits made by those within the government confirm that there is little difference between the RSS-BJP mainstream and supposed ‘fringe’ elements. The perfunctory warnings and regrets issued by ruling party ideologues – to defend the agendas of ‘development’ and ‘governance’ advanced by Modi – are merely expedient", the statement says.
The statement notes, "The ideology of the ruling party has revealed its contempt for creative and intellectual work; bigotry and censorship will only grow. As in the past, we must challenge the divisive forces through varied forms of appeal and protest, articulation and refusal."
Demanding that "the entire range of constitutional rights and freedoms of the citizens of this country – freedom of expression and speech, right to dissent and exert difference in life choices including culture and religion – be ensured", the statement says, "A government that does not tolerate difference, that does not safeguard the lives and interests of its marginalized and vulnerable citizens, loses its legitimacy in a democratic polity."

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