New Delhi, October 7: After writer Nayantara Sahgal returned her Sahitya Akademi award protesting against what she called a "vicious assault" on India's diversity and debate, poet Ashok Vajpeyi has also given up the prestigious literary honour.
Mr. Vajpeyi said that "it's high time that writers take a stand" to mark their protest against the recent murders of writers and minorities. "We have an eloquent Prime Minister, who addresses lakhs of people, but here writers are being murdered, innocent people are being murdered, his Ministers make controversial statements...Still he is quiet. Why doesn't he shut them up?" Mr. Vajpeyi told a private news channel.
After seeing Ms. Sahgal, the 88-year-old niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, Mr. Vajpeyi said he decided to give up the award and express his solidarity with her.
The 74-year-old Hindi poet, essayist noted critic on literary and cultural matters, disapproved of statements by senior political leaders, including Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma which, he said, "belittled the "multi-cultural and multi-religious" fabric of the country.
"There are the comments made by the Culture Minister about renaming Aurangazeb road to APJ Abdul Kalam road. He says Kalam was a great nationalist despite being a Muslim.
"These kinds of statements belittle the multi-cultural and multi-religious fabric of the country....What can writers do but protest," he said.
Sahgal in an open letter titled "Unmaking of India" referred to the lynching of a Muslim man by a mob in Dadri on Delhi's outskirts over suspicion of eating beef, and also the killings of Kannada writer M M Kalburgi and rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare.
Sehgal had also questioned the silence of PM Narendra Modi on these incidents.
"This is in solidarity with writers and intellectuals being murdered in broad daylight...," Vajpeyi said.
He also expressed disappointment over the failure of the Sahitya Akademi to "rise to the occassion" to protect the autonomy of writers.
"The Sahitya Akademi has failed to rise to the occassion.
They have not protested against what has been happening to the the writers' autonomy. The writers' community should rise in protest," Vajpeyi said.
Earlier, Hindi writer Uday Prakash had also returned his Sahitya Akademi Award, raising similar issues. Six Kannada writers too had returned literary awards conferred on them by the Karnataka government against the delay in probing the killing of Kalburgi, himself a Sahitya Kala Akademi award recipient.