NEW DELHI: Ashok Vajpeyi, a literary heavyweight, has returned the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award, joining a parade of litterateurs renouncing their coveted prizes, to protest "assault on right to freedom of both life and expression".
Vajpeyi's decision came close on the heels of celebrated writer Nayantara Sahgal yesterday returning the Sahitya Akademi Award over "vicious assault" on "India's culture of diversity and debate" and the "right to dissent". Vajpeyi, a former chairman of Lalit Kala Akademi, voiced displeasure over the Dadri lynching incident and a string of killings of rationalists, while questioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi's continued silence on these.
"Sehgal was right. He is a very loquacious Prime Minister. Why doesn't he tell the nation that the pluralism of this country will be defended at every cost?" Vajpeyi told PTI today.
The 74-year-old Hindi poet, essayist noted critic on literary and cultural matters, disapproved of statements by senior political leaders, including Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma which, he said, "belittled the "multi-cultural and multi-religious" fabric of the country. "There are the comments made by the Culture Minister about renaming Aurangazeb road to APJ Abdul Kalam road. He says Kalam was a great nationalist despite being a Muslim.
"These kinds of statements belittle the multi-cultural and multi-religious fabric of the country....What can writers do but protest," he said. Sahgal, the 88-year-old niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, had in an open letter titled "Unmaking of India" referred to the lynching of a Muslim man by a mob in Dadri on Delhi's outskirts over suspicion of eating beef, and also the killings of Kannada writer M M Kalburgi and rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare.
Sehgal had also questioned the silence of PM Narendra Modi on these incidents. "This is in solidarity with writers and intellectuals being murdered in broad daylight...," Vajpeyi said.
He also expressed disappointment over the failure of the Sahitya Akademi to "rise to the occassion" to protect the autonomy of writers. "The Sahitya Akademi has failed to rise to the occassion. They have not protested against what has been happening to the the writers' autonomy. The writers' community should rise in protest," Vajpeyi said.
Earlier, Hindi writer Uday Prakash had also returned his Sahitya Akademi Award, raising similar issues. Six Kannada writers too had returned literary awards conferred on them by the Karnataka government against the delay in probing the killing of Kalburgi, himself a Sahitya Kala Akademi award recipient.