Protests against intolerance will continue, say artists who returned awards


Writers who had returned their awards in protest against what they felt was growing intolerance in the country say that the struggle would continue.

“It is a long struggle. We are planning many things. We will chalk out state-level meetings too,” poet Ashok Vajpeyi told IANS on the sidelines of the Indian Language Festival, Samanvay. Vajpeyi had returned his Sahitya Akademi award last month

The first artist to return the Sahitya Akademi award Maya Krishna Rao said the movement to return awards had created a “sense of nervousness” in the government.

“I can sense bitter nervousness in the government as resistance is coming from various quarters. Some of it is quietly churning,” Rao, the Delhi-based artist told IANS after the Festival which ended on Saturday.

Rao had received the award in 2010 and had returned it last month citing the Dadri lynching and rising intolerance in the country. In Dadri, near New Delhi, a person was killed after being accused of storing and eating beef at home.

Vajpeyi, who was a part of the delegation which met President Pranab Mukherjee early this week, expressed satisfaction over the positive reaction of the President. “The President was gracious enough to tell us that the return of awards by writers and intellectuals was evidently spontaneous and a way of protest that has triggered a nation-wide debate on the issue of intolerance, said Vajpeyi.

The poet said that recent attack against film star Aamir Khan for his comments was uncalled for. “The comment of the film star was cleverly misinterpreted. The dangerous aspect of the people who ask others to leave the country is that they are saying ‘you are not the nation, we are the nation'”, Vajpeyi said.

He said it was the duty of the government to protec everyone and that people in India were imbibing everything. “No single religion can claim this country,” he warned.

He also dismissed allegations that writers became silent after the Bihar elections. “We are not silent after Bihar elections. It was after elections that Odisha poet Jayanta Mahapatra and Kannada writer Devanuru Mahadeva have returned their Padmashri. Though award wapsi was a coincidence, Bihar was a good lesson for the ruling party,” affirmed Vajpeyi. He emphasised that the struggle would continue.

Rao said that allegations of a ‘manufactured rebellion’ did not apply as the protests had come from business persons top scientists in the country. “Personalities like Kiran Majumdar Shaw (chairman and managing director of Biocon) and Raghuram Rajan (RBI governor) can’t be politically motivated. There are also a number of leading scientists who have returned the awards, which is a very significant move,” she said.

She said the dissenting voices from top business houses in the country was not a good sign for the government. “The big businesses don’t want instability or uncertainty,” she said.

She it was not as if people got together and decided to return awards. “It’s kind of a disobedience movement. I feel wonderful energy to be a part of it,” she added.