New Delhi: Breaking its widely-criticised silence, top literary body Sahitya Akademi today condemned the killing of Kannada Writer MM Kalburgi and other rationalists and came out strongly in support of writers who have protested against what they call "rising intolerance" in the country.
Backing the writers, the Akademi also also urged them to take back awards that they have returned over the past few weeks.
"The Executive Board is deeply pained and strongly condemns the murder of Professor Kalburgi and other intellectuals and thinkers," Sahitya Akademi chief Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari said after an emergency meeting today.
"The Akademi firmly supports the writers' Right to Freedom of Expression in all the languages of India and condemns any atrocity against any writer anywhere in the country in the strongest of words," he added, saying that the Centre and states must maintain an "ambience of peaceful co-existence in the society".
Speaking exclusively to NDTV, celebrated author Vikram Seth called the statement noble and said that the Akademi had asserted its independence.
"I am relieved. It shows the Akademi has acted as an independent body," said Mr Seth, who had earlier told NDTV that he would give up his Sahitya Akademi award if the literary organisation did not take a strong stand.
This morning, a large group of writers and others held a solidarity march in New Delhi with black gags and arm bands. After covering a short distance to the Sahitya Akademi building, they submitted a memorandum demanding stern steps to safeguard freedom of speech and the right to dissent.
Over the past few weeks, more than 40 writers from across the country have announced their decision to return their Sahitya Akademi awards alleging "growing intolerance" in the country.
They have cited the murder of three well-known rationalists, including Professor Kalburgi, and recent mob attacks over cow slaughter and beef-eating allegations.
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had described as "manufactured paper rebellion" the growing legion of writers returning their awards.