Salman Rushdie backs authors who returned their Sahitya Akademi awards in protest

New Delhi: Booker Prize winning author Salman Rushdie on Monday joined the growing chorus of protests by leading writers against spread of “communal poison” and “rising intolerance” in the country even as seven more authors decided to return their Sahitya Akademi awards.

“I support Nayantara Sahgal and the many other writers protesting to the Sahitya Akademi. Alarming times for free expression in India,” he tweeted. 88-year-old Sahgal, niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, was among the first to lodge her protest against the Akademi’s silence over repeated attacks on writers and rationalists who were raising their voice of dissent.

Kashmiri writer Ghulam Nabi Khayal, Urdu novelist Rahman Abbas and Kannada writer- translator Srinath DN said they were handing back their Sahitya awards. Khayal and Srinath were joined by Hindi writers Mangalesh Dabral and Rajesh Joshi who backed the spiralling protest by litterateurs against “communal” atmosphere following rationalist M M Kalburgi’s killing.

Punjabi author Waryam Sandhu and Kannada translator G N Ranganatha Rao said they have intimated to the Akademi their decision to give back their awards. With this, at least 16 authors have announced their decision to return their awards with some warning that minorities in the country today feel “unsafe and threatened”.

“The communal poison is spreading in the country and the threat of dividing people looms large,” the writers warned. Under fire from several quarters, the Akademi has called for a meeting of the Executive Board on October 23.

Sahitya Akademi President Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari had said that the institution was committed to the core secular values enshrined in the Constitution of India. Khayal said, “I have decided to return the award.

The minorities in the country are feeling unsafe and threatened. They feel their future is bleak.” Urdu writer Rahman Abbas said, “After the Dadri lynching, the Urdu writing community has been quite unhappy. Therefore, I decided to return the award. There are some other Urdu writers who also want to join the protest.

It is high time we stood up to the injustice surrounding us.” Expressing his anguish over recent developments, Kannada translator Srinath said,”In the place of the pen, there are now bullets being fired.

Author Kalburgi was murdered and both the Centre and the state should quickly act against the offenders so that such an incident is not repeated in the future.” Later in the day, theatre artist Maya Krishna Rao decided to return her Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. Four other writers from Punjab and a Gujarat-based author Anil Joshi also returned their awards.