Noted writer Nayantara Sahgal has returned the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award in protest against what she called the 'vanishing space' for diversity.
The niece of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sahgal said the recent killing of a man on the suspicion that beef was cooked in his home and recent killings of rationalists MM Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare prompted her to return the government honour.
Sahgal is known for strongly criticising imposition of Emergency by her cousin Indira Gandhi and for her scathing account of Gandhi's rise to power. She also wrote for Jayaprakash Narayan's newspaper in the seventies.
"There are many incidents of violence that have happened in the last 15 months which have appalled me and forced me to come out and speak at last. The last trigger was the murder of eminent rationalists and the poor man in Dadri. In all these cases, the prime minister has remained silent,"she told ET.
Sahgal said the government's decision to interfere in the functioning of cultural and educational institutions such as ICHR and Nehru Memorial have shocked thousands of Indians.
"We are appalled at the way this government is meddling with institutions built with great effort and pride. We are going backwards. These are dangerous times for the country," she said, adding that the country was rejecting its own great idea of cultural diversity and narrowing down to following 'Hindutva'.
In a telephonic interview with the Hindu news paper, the niece of the former Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru also said people were being “killed for not agreeing with the ruling ideology.”
Excerpts:What made you take this decision…has it been a gradual one, or a reaction to this incident in Dadri?
I have been concerned about the environment in the country and it seems to be getting worse and worse, in the past fifteen months. I guess the death of this poor man in Dadri was the final…the last straw.Your critics will say this is a politically driven decision that you are returning the award because you belong to the Nehru family, that you are against the ruling party….
I am not against any political party. India is a democracy, and in democracies every party has a right to be in power, but what we are seeing in India today is fascism. There is a vanishing space for diversity to the extent people are being killed for not agreeing with the ruling ideology.Ruling ideology?
We have seen it with the killings of writers, and now with this man being killed for a rumour that he ate beef. In this rising tide of hatred, India is being unmade, being destroyed.Have you already informed the Culture Ministry of your decision?
Well, I live in Dehradun, so it will have to wait until I next go to Delhi, but the decision has been made, and I am writing to the Sahitya Akademi that I am returning the award to register my protest.