Celebrate, Not Mock the Dissenting Writers

Published: October 18, 2015 00:34 IST
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The young Erin Morgenstern, an American multimedia artist and the author of the successful fantasy novel 'The Night Circus' wrote something which caught my attention: "There is a movement happening, a quiet one, a low-profile, low-resolution revolution. Comprised of writers and dreamers, of guerrilla artists and thought-ninjas. Those with something to say. They communicate through text inscribed on true public spaces, rather than blogs and forums. Choosing fewer words, even without being bound by 140 character limits. Using ink instead of pixels. Sending messages in living, breathing space. Pens scream louder into the void. Even if permanent ink is not aptly named."

I re-read it yesterday and could not miss the uncanny reference to the situation in my country. MM Kalburgi, the rationalist writer and intellectual, was killed by those who were opposed to his views on radicalism. A Sahitya Akademi winner Kalburgi's death did not elicit a protest by the Sahitya Akademi, leave alone those who were responsible for good governance in the country. Good governance, which means to not just protect the rights of every citizen, but also those writers who speak for them. Kalburgi's death was preceded by the killings of Dabholkar and Pansare, both rationalist thinkers, activists and writers. Let us assume for the sake of argument that the Sahitya Akademi does not bear any responsibility for condemning the death of these two writers. But Kalburgi, was he not one of their own? Does the murder of a member of the Sahitya family not deserve our mourning and demand for tolerance and accountability? Homen Borgohain, Assamese journalist and writer; Nayantara Sehgal who stood against the tyranny of the Emergency during the Emergency; Keki N. Daruwalla; Ganesh Devy; Sarah Joseph, the feminist who fought for the oppressed; Ghulam Nabi Khayal; Uday Prakash who exposed social injustice through his writing like none other; Mandrakanta Sen; Kum Veerabhadrappa, Kannada writer, whose fiction is soaked with the idea of social reform; writer Shashi Deshpande, who resigned from the Akademi's general council last week, called the PM's statement on the Dadri killing "wishywashy" and "evasive".

As many as 42 writers in the last two weeks have returned their awards in protest, one of the last being seventeen-year-old Ria Vithasha, who has authored five novels - the killing of senior Kannada writer MM Kalburgi distressed her enough to take the decision to return her Karnataka Sahitya Akademi Award. In an interview to a newspaper, she was quoted as saying, "I knew Kalburgi from childhood and have read all his books. I cried a lot when he was killed and wanted to return my award but my parents told me to have patience and wait. Now so much time has elapsed and still there is nothing being done so like the other writers have done, I have returned my award"

Yesterday noted author Amitav Ghosh whose novels have been responsible for bringing Indian literature on the international map "appreciated the courage" of writers who had returned their Sahitya Akademi awards. However, he would not return his own as that would "amount to a repudiation of the institution's history". He also said the government was "tacitly enabling attacks (on writers)" and accused the Akademi of "dereliction of duty".

India is a vibrant democracy where its writers like Kaifi Azmi, Gopi Chand Narang, Sardar Jafri, Khushwant Singh, Manto have used their pen to lay out to the common man where the country stood. Post the Babri Masjid destruction and the riots that ensued across the country - a communal blot on the history of India - Kaifi Azmi, who was distressed, wrote a poem called "doosra banwaas" in which he imagines Lord Ram watching his devotees wreck havoc in the name of religion and returned back to his second banwaas. We as a country have taken immense pride for our writers who wrote the iconic 'Tamas' and showed a mirror to the country.

But today these writers who are accused of being selective in their protest are being mocked not just by the government but by some of their own colleagues who unfortunately are yet to use their pen for an awakening. The pen, they said, brought down democracies and the tyranny of rulers, and the same BJP which hailed them for their writings against the Emergency has made a mockery of the power of the pen, the sentiment of the common man. Sample the comments of three of the most important voices of the government wherein they not just attribute motives to the resignations, but call the protest against the murder and the increasing intolerance politically motivated:

"Its intellectual intolerance that society needs to guard against" - Jitendra Singh, MoS PMO on writers returning awards

"After the new Government was sworn in May, 2014, those who had enjoyed the patronage under the earlier establishment, have obviously been uncomfortable with the present Government. This discomfort has been furthered by another political reality in India. With shrinking fortunes, the Congress is showing no signs of revival. The Left is being increasingly pushed to the margin. The new strategy of anti-Modi, anti-BJP sections appears to be to resort to 'politics by other means'. The easiest way is to manufacture a crisis and subsequently manufacture a paper rebellion against the Government in the wake of a manufactured crisis": Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

"If they say they are unable to write, let them first stop writing. We will then see. This is an award given by writers to writers. It has nothing to do with the government. It is their personal choice to return it... we accept it": Mahesh Sharma, Culture Minister.

I am amused and distraught that this government sees absolutely nothing wrong in a political party which is an ally of the BJP smearing black paint on the face of Sudheendra Kulkarni when all he wanted was to release a book by former Pakistan minister Khurshid Ahmed Kasuri: Kulkarni felt  the book launch in Mumbai would give a momentum to India-Pakistan dialogue.

I am not even trying to venture into the controversy over the beef ban, the Dadri lynching and the polarizing statement by the PM's handpicked Chief Minister for Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, who said "Muslims can live in this country, but will have to give up eating beef." Similar statements have been given by various members of this government in the past one year and it has now come to be a new 'normal'.

But if the Sahitya Akademi and the present day rulers could just look at the isolated case of the murder of Kalaburgi and the plan to attack journalist Nikhil Wagle by the Sanatan Sanstha, does all the protest amount to just a fad?

Punjabi writer Dalip Kaur Tiwana in her note of protest wrote: "In this land of Buddha and Guru Nanak, the atrocities committed on the Sikhs in 1984 and on the Muslims recurrently are an utter disgrace to our state and society." Author Krishna Sobti, 90 who returned her award, said "We do not want any more Dadris or Babris."

Do those who call it fashionable to return the award as a part of a conspiracy and to get two minutes of fame realise the effect it is causing to the fabric of India when students and youth are being encouraged to believe that the writers that they have read and through whose writings they have witnessed history are rogue elements? Do we realise that by mocking our literature and the literatuters  who are pleading to save the country, we are undoing everything that this country has achieved pre and post independence?

I, as a citizen of this country, am pleased that despite the intolerance, there is a resistance, a dissent that ought to be celebrated for the conscience of the common Indian is not dead yet. Dear writers, yes, you will be mocked, criticized, but history shall be objective and searingly honest;  yes, you are fighting an unpopular battle but history and the generations to come shall absolve you. We as your fellow countrymen are proud of our dissenters. Let the flame of justice and tolerance burn bright enough for those who have developed blinkers and will soon wake up to the free hand given to intolerance.

(Rana Ayyub is an award-winning investigative journalist and political writer. She is working on a book on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which will be published later this year.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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