Gujarat-based writer Ganesh Devy returns Sahitya Akademi award

After Nayantara Sahgal and Ashok Vajpeyi, city-based writer Ganesh Devy on Sunday returned his Sahitya Akademi Award to express solidarity with the writers, who have recently given up their awards to condemn the “shrinking space for free expression and growing intolerance towards differences of opinion” in the country. “It is high time that writers take a stand,” Devy said in a letter addressed to the president of Sahitya Akademi Prof Viswanath Pratap Tiwari. It is with utmost regret that I would like to convey to you that I wish to return the 1993 Sahitya Akademi Award given in the category of books in English to my work ‘After Amnesia’ (1992),” he said in the letter.

Ganesh Devy

The founder director of the Vadodara-based Bhasha Research and Publication Center, said, “I do this as an expression of my solidarity with several eminent writers, who have recently returned their awards to highlight their concern and anxiety over the shrinking space for free expression and growing intolerance towards difference of opinion. “These eminent writers have already stated their concerns in statements sent to you as well as through media interviews and discussions. I need not, therefore, state again what has already been conveyed to you. I hope you will give this country the assurance that it is the writers and thinkers who have come forward to rescue sense, good-will, values, tolerance and mutual respect in all past ages. Had this not been so, why would we be remembering the great saint poets who made our modern Indian languages what they are today?

“The great idea of India is based on a profound tolerance for diversity and difference. They far surpass everything else in importance. That we have come to a stage when the honourable Rastrapatiji had to remind the nation that these must be seen as non-negotiable foundations of India should be enough of a reason for the Sahitya Akademi to act,” Devy said in the letter.

Nayantara Sahgal, the 88-year-old niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, had announced her decision to return her Sahitya Akademi award. In an open letter titled “Unmaking of India”, she had referred to the Dadri lynching of a Muslim man by a mob over suspicion of eating beef, and also the killings of Kannada writer M M Kalburgi and rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare. Sahgal had also questioned the silence of PM Narendra Modi on these incidents.

Former Lalit Kala Akademi chairman Ashok Vajpeyi has returned the Sahitya Akademi Award to protest the “assault on right to freedom of both life and expression”.

In the letter, Devy, a former professor of English at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, further said, “I would like to add that I visited Dharwad in the first week of August, just three weeks before the shocking attack on the Kalburgi, which resulted in his death. I was there for delivering the first V K Gokak Memorial Lecture.

“You (Tiwari) may recall that the high office that you hold at present on behalf of the literary community of our country was at one time held, among many other mighty predecessors you are blessed with, by V K Gokak. He was the Principle of Willingdon College during the years of the Independence movement,” he said. “On one occasion, when the police came to arrest students, he stood at the entrance of the college, blocked their entry and asked them to first arrest him before they touched the students. It was this kind of concern for freedom that he brought to the institutions he headed. I hope you do not think that he was not sufficiently pragmatic. When I gave the Gokak lecture, Dr Kalburgi was still alive. Alas, he had to fall to the forces of intolerance. A week after his killing, I participated in a seminar organised by the Sahitya Akademi. This was in Nagpur. I was to preside over the inaugural Session. I was quite dismayed to see that the seminar began without a word of reference to the recent attack on a scholar honoured by the Akademi,” the letter further said.

“Therefore, when my turn to speak came at the end of the session, I asked the audience if they would object to my observing a two minute silence to mourn the dastardly killing. Please note that all of them stood up in silence with me “If our writers and literary scholars had the courage to stand up in Nagpur, I fail to understand why at the Ravindra Bhavan there should be such a deafening silence about all that is happening to free expression in our country? I have personally known both of you as my seniors and have admired your writings and imaginative powers. May I make bold to say that your moment of reckoning has come.” Devy said.