KOLKATA: Clarifying that he has never said that the entire country has become intolerant, eminent Hindi poet Ashok Vajpeyi, who has returned the Sahitya Akademi award, today said India has always been tolerant and will remain so.
"We have not said India has become intolerant. It is certain forces, which are promoting intolerance," the 75-year-old writer said at a literary meet in the Kolkata Book Fair.
"The country as a whole, people at large, India as a civilisation, has been plural, diverse and tolerant through millennia and will continue to remain so because the people of this country will not allow the elements of intolerance to have a hay day," Vajpayi said.
In the same breath, he said in some ways the country has also been intolerant.
"Our caste system existed because we have been intolerant. Now the voices of the marginalised are being heard. They are claiming their share of power and it is disturbing for those in the power," he said.
The Hindi poet was among the earliest of about 40 writers who had returned their awards in the past few months to the Sahitya Akademi in protest against the literary body's silence on attacks on free thinkers like M M Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare.
"We did it to bring the issue to the attention of the people at large because ultimately it is the people who are going to decide what kind of India they want," Vajpeyi said.
On Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula's suicide, he said now the whole machinery and important ministers were beginning to dig into details to tell us that he was not a Dalit.
"As if the fact that his mother was a Dalit is not enough. If he is not Dalit, then should we kill him or push him to suicide like that?" he wondered.
He had recently returned the D Litt honour conferred to him by the Hyderabad Central University in protest against the "anti-Dalit" attitude of authorities.
To a suggestion by one of the panelists, the poet, who has been the chairman of the Lalit Kala Akademi, said the word tolerance was inappropriate.
"I agree that the word is a bit difficult. It is as if you are tolerating me although you don't agree with me. Words like accommodating or understanding, etc must have been better. Somehow this word got currency," he said.