Twenty nine years after she received the Sahitya Akademi Award, renowned author Nayantara Sahgal returned it to the government to protest against rising religious intolerance and curbs on people's right to dissent.
"The ruling ideology today is a fascist ideology and that is what is worrying me now. We did not have a fascist government until now... I am doing whatever I believe in," Sahgal, who is Jawaharlal Nehru's niece, said in a statement.
Sahgal, upset over the brutal killing of a Muslim man in Dadri of Uttar Pradesh over suspicion that he killed and ate a cow, said she was against “vicious assault” on “India’s culture of diversity and debate”. Sahgal had received the Sahitya Akademi award in 1986 for her English novel 'Rich Like Us (1985)'.
Citing various incidents of killings of writers and rationalists including MM Kalburgi and Govind Pansare, the 88-year-old alleged, "rationalists who question superstition, anyone who questions any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism known as Hindutva -- whether in the intellectual or artistic sphere, or whether in terms of food habits and lifestyle -- are being marginalised, persecuted, or murdered."
The author also blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his silence.
"In all these cases, justice drags its feet. The Prime Minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology," she wrote.
Sahgal is not the first to return the Sahitya Award. Earlier, Ashok Vajpeyi, former chairperson of the Lalit Kala Akademi, also returned his award to protest the murder of Kalburgi. In a Facebook post, Vajpeyi wrote, "This is not the moment to be silent and find a safe corner to hide in. Otherwise, these dangers will continue to rise."
When the announcement came, many took to Twitter to asking Sahgal why she didn't return the award during the other riots, including the Sikh riots.
Nayantara Sahgal returns her award saying govt persecutes minorities Funny,considering she took the award from a govt that did Sikh genocide
— The Bad Doctor (@doctoratlarge) October 6, 2015
Nayantara Sehgal is right.Intolerance is rising.Many unable to tolerate a tea-seller as the most powerful man in India instead of a Gandhi
— IndiaSpeaks (@IndiaSpeaksPR) October 6, 2015
Did Nayantara Sehgal resign after Kashmiri Pandits were thrown out of Kashmir in 1990? Wasn't cultural diversity then wiped out of India?
— Aditya Raj Kaul (@AdityaRajKaul) October 6, 2015
Nayantara Sahgal protested against Emergency only after her appointment as ambassador to Italy was cancelled https://t.co/2HSfTv0BvJ
— Rishi Bagree (@rishibagree) October 7, 2015
Nayantara Sehgal, hw much did u pay for this award,generally Gandhi-Nehru family pay money for such awards!!
— Subhasis (@sray1104) October 7, 2015
Add Nayantara Sahgal to this list of those who declared that they will leave India if #Modi becomes PM.
— Sumit De (@smtd0824) October 7, 2015
But, many supported her decision too:
For those with short memories, Nayantara Sehgal was among the first to publicly protest against Indira and the Emergency.
— Rajdeep Sardesai (@sardesairajdeep) October 6, 2015
Hindutva trolls note that Nayantara Sahgal protested against censorship during the Emergency;founded the PUCL which investigated 1984 riots.
— Gita Sahgal (@GitaSahgal) October 6, 2015
Earlier, Hindi writer Uday Prakash had also returned his Sahitya Akademi award.
Below is the full-text of Sahgal's statement as published on indianculturalforum.in.
In a recent lecture, India’s Vice-President, Dr. Hamid Ansari, found it necessary to remind us that India’s Constitution promises all Indians “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.”The right to dissent is an integral part of this Constitutional guarantee. He found it necessary to do so because India’s culture of diversity and debate is now under vicious assault. Rationalists who question superstition, anyone who questions any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism known as Hindutva – whether in the intellectual or artistic sphere, or whether in terms of food habits and lifestyle – are being marginalised, persecuted, or murdered. A distinguished Kannada writer and Sahitya Akademi Award winner, M.M. Kalburgi, and two Maharashtrians, Narendra Dhabolkar and Govind Pansare, both anti-superstition activists, have all been killed by gun-toting motor-cyclists. Other dissenters have been warned they are next in line. Most recently, a village blacksmith, Mohammed Akhtaq, was dragged out of his home in Bisara village outside Delhi, and brutally lynched, on the supposed suspicion that beef was cooked in his home.
In all these cases, justice drags its feet. The Prime Minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology. It is a matter of sorrow that the Sahitya Akademi remains silent. The Akademis were set up as guardians of the creative imagination, and promoters of its finest products in art and literature, music and theatre. In protest against Kalburgi’s murder, a Hindi writer, Uday Prakash, has returned his Sahitya Akademi Award. Six Kannada writers have returned their Awards to the Kannada Sahitya Parishat.
In memory of the Indians who have been murdered, in support of all Indians who uphold the right to dissent, and of all dissenters who now live in fear and uncertainty, I am returning my Sahitya Akademi Award.
Signed: Nayantara Sahgal, Dehra Dun, 6 October, 2015