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Above: Novelist and short-story writer Dalip Kaur.


Writers (Finally!) Protest India’s Trampling Of Freedoms
By Spurning Government Honours & Awards





Several writers in India have relinquished honours received from the Indian government and awards from one of the country’s top literary institutions over the past week, in a symbolic show of protest against what they say is a growing disregard for freedom of speech under the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

As of Monday, October 12, 2015, a total of 23 writers from across the country had given back national honours as well as awards from the Sahitya Akademi, or the National Academy of Letters. A few have also resigned from positions they held within the prestigious government-funded but autonomous literary body.

The primary motivation for returning the awards, some of them have said, is the academy’s failure to publicly protest the murder of a prominent atheist scholar in late August -- allegedly by hard-line Hindu fundamentalist groups. However, others also cited the recent lynching of a Muslim man by a Hindu mob on suspicion of his having consumed beef (cows are considered sacred by Hindus), pointing at a growing climate of intolerance that bodes ill for freedom of speech in the South Asian nation.

The list of those who have returned their honours and awards includes poets, playwrights and authors from various parts of the country, including the following Sikh-Punjabi writers:

Dalip Kaur Tiwana

Jaswinder Singh

Ajmer Singh Aulakh

Atamjit Singh

Gurbachan Singh Bhullar

Waryam Singh Sandhu

Baldev Singh Sadaknama

Darshan Singh Bhuttar

Surjit Singh Patar

Novelist and short-story writer Dalip Kaur, 80, is the first to give up her Padma Shri to express “solidarity with writers who are protesting against increasing cultural intolerance in our society and politics.”

“To kill those who stand for truth and justice put us to shame in the eyes of the world and God. In protest, therefore, I return the Padma Shri," she said.

“India’s culture of diversity and debate is now under vicious assault,” Nayantara Sahgal, a recipient of a Sahitya Akademi award in 1986, and one of the first to return it last Tuesday, said in an open letter to the government.

“Rationalists who question superstition, anyone who questions any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism … are being marginalized, persecuted, or murdered,” added Sahgal.

The writers also received support from renowned author and Booker Prize recipient Salman Rushdie, who tweeted his solidarity in what he said are “alarming times for free expression in India.”

The academy’s board has convened an emergency meeting on October 23 to discuss the current situation, even as 15 more writers announced their intention to return their awards on Tuesday.

India’s Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma was dismissive of the writers’ actions, saying the award has “nothing to do with the government” and that it was a “personal choice” to return it.

“If they say they are unable to write, let them first stop writing,” he said. “We will then see.”

[Courtesy: TIME Magazine, Indian Express. Edited for]
October 14, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), October 14, 2015, 4:37 PM.

The Left in India are also completely morally bankrupt. Where was the return of awards when Sikhs were being raped and murdered on the streets of their "democracy"? O that's right, these awards were given to them under the Congress governments, and now they have to ply the party line and make the BJP look bad. The woman in this article, Dalip Kaur, she claims by her own statements that she protested against the killings in 1984. Why would a person accept an award from a government which raped and murdered their own people when that person claims to have stood up to that atrocity? That is the definition of being morally bankrupt. The Left in India is no better than the Right. I remember an interesting line in a book that I read relating to the Left's view of 1984: The left bled for the Sikhs, they just weren't sure if they should bleed with them.

2: Roop Dhillon (London, United Kingdom), October 16, 2015, 7:41 AM.

Don't tell me cows are sacred to pagans ... look at this: And yet we are told we shouldn't eat beef, etc. India is one of the world's biggest meat exporters, by the way. But it is okay to drag out Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs and Muslims from their beds in Modi's India and kill them for eating beef, or whatever?

3: Roop Dhillon (London, United Kingdom), October 16, 2015, 7:46 AM.

That said, I am not of the Right or of the Left and anyone reading my Punjabi books (maybe because I have been brought up in the West and recall 1984) will know what I espouse ... but I am inclined to agree with Sunny Grewal.

4: Roop Dhillon (London, United Kingdom), October 16, 2015, 7:50 AM.

One further comment: Makes no bones about it, whether you are an observant Sikh or an atheist, etc -- the issue is that there is no rule of law in the pagan world of India and the rest of the subcontinent. We can't just say it is limited to Hindutva. Look at the killing of people who held differing views in Bangladesh just for blogging.

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