Kannada author MM Kalburgi’s cold blooded murder on August 30 followed by lynching of a hapless 52-year-old man last month for eating beef have set a new trend of dissent from the literary society. So far fifteen writers have returned their literary awards and another Kannada author, Aravind Malagatti, has resigned from the Akademi’s general council citing rising intolerance and communal atmosphere in the country the reason. When City Express asked renowned authors from the city, “is space for free expression shrinking,” this is what they had to say:
Jameela Nishat, author and director and founder of Shaheen Welfare Trust
Yes, definitely and this is why we had organised a meeting “Bol ke lab azzad hai tere” soon after Kalburgi’s murder. Giving up a state honour is a laudable way of showing dissent. But what has added insult to injury is the way Sahitya Akademi has handled the issue. Lack of appropriate response from the body that is held in high esteem is disappointing and personally I feel let down. On the other side this has also become the reason that people are talking and debating the infringement of freedom of expression.
As a creative person, I am not really scared nor am I new to facing threats. Muslims fundamentalists had threatened to burn my first book, but it was published. So such acts just show how intolerant you are.
T Vijay Kumar, professor English Literature, Osmania University and director of Hyderabad Literary Festival
Civil space for expressive and democratic speech and differing opinion is threatened and is thus a cause of worry. And Sahitya Akademi being an autonomous body that speaks for democratic people, should have taken a lead and commented that expressing one’s opinions can not be curtailed. I feel authors returning their awards will have a negative impact on writers. A writer’s job is to write and when you tell them when, how and what to write, you steal their creative edge and demean them. This is the time civil society should step in and take ownership and speak about it.
Vasanth Kanabiran, author and activist
Isn’t it obvious that the space has already shrunk? And I am gald that the laureates are returning their awards and thus telling the state it is responsible for this. Unlike previously when censorship was state sponsored, now we have street censorship. What people don’t like they destroy and state by not taking any action, condones it. State is thus playing politics. At a time when it should take a loud and clear stand, it is playing hide and seek. And this is not scaring me personally but then it does instill a sense of fear in me for several other things. You can burn a book, kill a person but you can’t obliterate an idea.