Indian playwright and theater artiste, Maya Krishna Rao disclosed at her residence in New Delhi, India, on Wednesday, October 14, that 41 novelists, essayists, playwrights and poets writing in English as well as regional languages, have returned the awards they received from India’s prestigious literary academy in protest, saying they cannot remain silent any longer about numerous incidents of communal violence and attacks on intellectuals across the country over the past year.
Rao, who returned her award to the academy this week said: “It’s become a question of an individual’s right to speak, to think, to write, to eat, to dress, to debate.”
Many in India’s literary community are disgusted. Dozens of writers say every day brings more evidence of intolerance and bigotry going mainstream — a man lynched allegedly for eating beef; an atheist critic of Hindu idol worship gunned down — all met by a deafening silence from the government.
These professionals had returned the awards they received from India’s prestigious literary academy on the basis of what they termed, “A growing climate of intolerance under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government”.
The writers are also angry that India’s Sahitya Akademi, or National Academy of Letters, has said little about the murder of the well-known rationalist Malleshappa Kalburgi, an award-winning Kannada-language writer, gunned down in August for his writings against superstition and false beliefs.
The government has dismissed the writers’ protests, questioning their motives and accusing them of being politically motivated.
The Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma told reporters: “If they say they are unable to write, let them stop writing,”
The writers say they cannot remain mute spectators to numerous incidents of communal violence, attacks on intellectuals and increasing curbs on free speech.
When Modi won a landslide victory in May 2014, many voiced fears of right-wing Hindu nationalism leading to communal violence and religious intolerance.
Modi, who had spent years dodging allegations of failing to stop riots in Gujarat state in which around 1,000 Muslims died, assured the nation that he was Prime Minister for all and would work for everyone.
But the last year has seen a rising crescendo of violence by Hindu fringe groups, trying to force a regressive Hindu nationalism on all, causing fear among India’s minority communities.
The ban on cow slaughter has given rise to Hindu vigilante groups and mob violence has risen. Last month, a Muslim man was lynched in northern India over false rumors that his family had eaten beef for dinner.
In response to persistent demands that the Prime Minister break his silence on the lynching, Modi said the mob killing was “sad and undesirable,” but added that his government could not be blamed as the local administration was responsible for the state.