QUEEN’S ROAD: Last week, I met author Shashi Deshpande to interview her in the wake of her resignation from the Sahitya Akademi Council. She spoke about her reasons to quit in a pragmatic, matter-of-fact way.She is not on Twitter or Facebook and unlike the best-selling authors of this generation, does not feel the need to constantly stay in the public eye and her response to my questions did not even remotely reek of self-aggrandisement. This is in stark contrast to her juniors who don’t have her literary credentials but have a judgement and a joke about those who are returning awards at a time when a senior free-thinking Akademi winner was gunned down in cold blood over a difference of opinion.
In response to the accusation that writers are displaying ‘selective outrage,’ Deshpande said, ‘’I am protesting as a writer about the murder of a writer..a murder that has been brushed under the carpet by the Akademy. As a writer, I must voice my concern about the fact that a writer was killed for his free thinking. That does not mean, I and the other dissenting writers do not care about communal riots, about other issues that the country is facing.’’
It is really significant that the act of resignation from a literary council or returning an award which is a civil, non-violent gesture of protest against a murder, is attracting such a virulent response. Almost as if just because the writers have protested against the murder of a peer, they must react now or should have reacted to every single atrocity, riot or genocide that was ever committed in the past few decades.
Some posts on the social media asked why writers do not return awards when jawans and officers are killed protecting our borders? This in complete disregard to the fact that an unarmed writer in his seventies was shot dead not because he was defending a country but the right to think. He was not trained to kill his enemies. He was just a writer who was killed for defending his right to an opinion and the fact that blood is being shed at our doorsteps for doing that, should bring home the fact just how unsafe we all are regardless of the valiant and often unsung soldiers at our borders.
Courage comes in all forms. Soldiers, writers like Kalburgi, whistle-blowers like Shanmugam Manjunath, braveheart rape and acid attack survivors, men like Harvinder Singh Phoolka who is a senior advocate of Delhi High Court, politician and a human rights activist committed to bring some amount of justice to the 1984 riot victims, are all heroes and we cannot pit one against the other just to score political points.
Those who asked just what were dissenting writers during the 1984 riots, need to ask perhaps ask where they themselves were and are when atrocities are committed in the name of religion and politics, caste and gender in their backyard. Writers write. Soldiers fight.
There is no competition and should not be, to prove who is more patriotic than the other.
Shashi Deshpande also said post the interview, “There are writers who believe in their work and who want nothing but to be able to write without being controlled by anyone - the State or anyone else. The idea of writers, being, over the past few decades, so passive and uninvolved in issues, craving for prizes and positions, promoting themselves, intent on sales figures and advances, needs to be reexamined.Young writers think this is the right way to be.” It obviously is not.
And we should be thankful for those who are using their fame for something more concrete than self-promotion.
Because registering protest is anyday more constructive than posting insensitive tweets that achieve nothing.