“Those who don’t agree with the government’s policies are being called anti-nationals and traitors”

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Noting that the job of literature is to question the ruler, veteran Hindi writer and poet Ashok Vajpayee today said at a time when dissenters are being called anti-nationals and traitors, if democracy doesn’t respect dissenters, who will.

The writer, who was in news last year for returning his Sahitya Akademi award, also supported “the right to dissent” at the inaugural session of the ongoing Delhi Literature Festival.

Ashok Vajpayee

“Those who don’t agree with the government’s policies are being called anti-nationals and traitors. If a democracy doesn’t respect dissenters, then who will?” he asked.

“Literature, in one word, is a constant opposition. While people come into power or sit in the opposition, literature can never be on the ruler’s side. It is the job of literature to question the ruler,” said Vajpayee.

Highlighting the importance of literature in current times, he noted how it has become more important to revive it.

“Today when political powers are creating chaos, running after each other, wanting to destroy, at a time like this it is the job of literature to re-establish the connect in language and truth,” he said.

Urging people to read more, the poet said, “If literature can do so much for you, shouldn’t you do something for it in return?”

“And you don’t need to do anything of great measure, you just need to read. (That) we can read is the only difference between us and animals, birds and trees. We created a revolutionary thing called language and books are the biggest gift of language to us,” he said.

The session was attended by BJP MP Babul Supriyo, AAP minister Somnath Bharti, NASSCOM CEO Srikant Sinha and senior journalist Mark Tully.

The literary festival also aims to push the Indian Public Library Movement to save and develop the institution.

On behalf of NASSCOM, which is also the host of India Public Library Movement, Sinha emphasised the importance and need of public libraries in the country, saying he was here because of Delhi Public Library.

“You don’t see people in libraries today. But I’m proud of being here because it was Delhi public library which helped me study when I was growing up,” said the NASSCOM CEO.

On the need to revive the “library culture”, Sinha said that libraries today need to be open spaces where people can talk and discuss.

“World is changing and there can’t be a finger on mouth at libraries. We will have to turn them into open spaces. We will have to ensure people can discuss, talk and understand important matters. Libraries today should be community points,” he added.

He also mentioned the need for digital libraries and better books that can be read.

Supriyo and Bharti also talked about the need of literature and books.

While Bharti said they have “found reduced crime rate in areas where they opened libraries”, Supriyo stated if nothing else “reading leaves tender memories in you heart”.

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