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Nayantara Sahgal hits back at Sahitya Akademi chief over ‘credibility’ remark

Nayantara Sahgal

Nayantara Sahgal, whose renunciation of the Sahitya Akademi Award triggered a wave of return of honours by eminent writers, on Sunday hit back at the Akademi chairperson Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari for his criticism of her action. “I have considered the Award a high honour, but my ‘credibility’ had been established decades before 1986 through my long career as a writer, as had the ‘goodwill’ and recognition I have received over many years in India and abroad.

“You (Tiwari) have mentioned ‘profits’. The Award in 1986 would perhaps have been Rs 25,000, but not more than Rs 50,000. In consultation with Ashok Vajpeyi, who has also returned his Award, I am enclosing a cheque for one lakh rupees,” she said. She was replying to Tiwari’s criticism that “Her (Sahgal) Award-winning book has been translated into several Indian languages. She earned all the profits. She can now return all the Award money, but what of the credibility and goodwill she earned through the Award?”

Sahgal, in her letter, also said “the fact that so many writers are returning their awards or resigning from Akademi posts makes it clear how anguished we are that you have remained silent over the murder and intimidation of writers and the threat that hangs over dissent and debate”. “Has the Sahitya Akademi, like Pontius Pilate, washed its hands of its responsibility to safeguard our Constitutional right to freedom of speech?” she asked.

After Sahgal, Jawaharlal Nehru’s niece, returned the award on October 6, the literary body’s president had said authors should “adopt a different way to protest” and not politicize the autonomous body. “The Akademi is not a government organization but an autonomous body. The award is given to a writer for a chosen work and there is no logic to return the award because it is not like the Padma awards,” Tiwari had said. Several authors including Nayantara Sahgal, Sara Joseph, Uday Prakash and Ashok Vajpeyi have returned their Sahitya Akademi awards and others like poet Satchidanan and Keki Daruwalla have protested the Akademi’s “silence” over the killing of writer MM Kalburi and against “rising intolerance”.

Three eminent writers from Punjab- Gurbachan Bhullar, Ajmer Singh Aulakh and Atamjit Singh too announced today that they were returning their Akademi awards over the issue.