With black gags and arm bands, writers and their supporters held a solidarity march ahead of the Sahitya Akademi emergency meeting to discuss the returning of awards by eminent authors in protest against “rising intolerance” in the backdrop MM Kalburgi’s killing.
Writers from different languages converged for the silent march carrying huge banners from Sri Ram Centre at Safdar Hashmi Marg to the Sahitya Akademi building, where they submitted a memorandum to the Akademi demanding that it pass a resolution pledging to take stern steps to safeguard the freedom of speech and right to dissent of the writers.
At least 35 writers from across the country had over the past few weeks announced their decision to return their Sahitya Akademi awards and stepped down from official Akademi positions to protest the “rising intolerance” in the country.
Akademi chairman Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari accepted the memorandum and said “it will be considered” in the meeting.
“The executive council of the Akademi should pass a resolution that it will take stern steps to safeguard the freedom of speech and right to dissent of the writers,” the memorandum said.
The protesters has also criticised Tiwari’s recent statements in which he dubbed as “illogical” the act of several writers returning their awards. They also called for a written apology from Tiwari against statements he had made about Akademi award winning writers having made gains from their award royalties.
“A delegation of 13 Hindi-Urdu writers had met the representatives of the Akademi on September 16 to demand for a ‘shok sabha’ but the Akademi denied to do so,” the memorandum said. The writers said if the Akademi does not conduct a condolence meet for Kalburgi in Delhi, they will demand Tiwari's resignation.
The protest march was convened by five groups – Janvadi Lekhak Sangh, Pragatisheel Lekhak Sangh, Jansanskriti Manch, Dalit Lekhak Sangh and Sahitya Sanvad.
Eminent writers Keki N Daruwala, Geeta Hariharan, Anuradha Kapoor (former director National School of Drama), Shekhar Joshi and Javed Ali among others were part of the protest.
The protesters called for the Akademi to condemn in strong terms the killings of Kannada writer Kalburgi and other writers and rationalists and assure the writers that the Akademi would in these times of distress ensure the right to freedom of speech and expression.
“Tiwari has lost the trust of the writers. If Tiwari does not apologise and conduct a condolence meet for Kalburgi in Delhi, we will demand his resignation,” a statement by the writers said.
The protest led by Joint Action group of Nationalist Minded Artists and Thinkers, also submitted a memorandum to the Akademi, questioning the motive of the writers and alleging these very people had earlier appealed to voters not to give mandate to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Activists of BJP's student wing ABVP also joined the protest, which coincided with the silent march by writers of different languages from Sri Ram Centre at Safdar Hashmi Marg to the Sahitya Akademi building, demanding that the Akademi pass a resolution pledging to take stern steps to safeguard freedom of speech and right to dissent of the writers.
"We want to appeal to the Sahitya Akademi to maintain its autonomous nature and not come under pressure from the very same writers who had earlier appealed to the people of the ountry to not give their mandate to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These writers are engaged in undemocratic actions," JANMAT said.
"What are these people dissenting to? The truth is that among them is a poet who has contested for the post of the Sahitya Akademi and failed miserably. He had suggested instead of an election for the president, the post should be directly appointed by the government," the memo said.
"The protest against the government is motivated not by ideology but by vested interests," it said. Sangeet Natak Akademi executive member Nalini Kamilini said, "Art, literature and music are the assets of our culture. It is our strength. These protests show they are motivated. If it was not so then why they didn't do so for previous incidents."
One of the members of the counter protest Malini Awasthi, also an executive member of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, said, "I find this to be 100 per cent political and socially motivated. The writers and artists should come together to keep Indian united and not create a divide, instead what they are doing is creating a divide."
"I am really surprised at their collective memory when it chose to react on certain issues. Where do they go for convenient sleep when other unfortunate incidents happen. How many of them have written on Kashmiri Pandits, Safdar Hsshmi or the Muzaffarnagar riots?” she asked.
"I do not see them going to Uttar Pradesh or states to protest against the state government. Today they start branding any right thinking persons as pro-BJP or Sanghi. I am a right thinking person and reader. I have read them all and respect writers," Awasthi said.
Around 50 people participated in the counter-protest organised by JANMAT which also submitted a memorandum to Sahitya Akademi chairperson. Among those who participated include Surya Kant Bali, Narender Kohli, Kamal Krishna Goenka, Shyam Singh Sashinad and Shiv Shankar Awashti, secretary of the Authors Guild of India.
At least 35 writers from across the country had over the past few weeks announced their decision to return their Sahitya Akademi awards and stepped down from official Akademi positions to protest the "rising intolerance" in the country.