Neither literature nor cricket

The resolution passed “unanimously” by the Sahitya Akademi — which still pretends it is India’s National Aca-demy of Letters, no less — at its special meeting on October 23, leaves little doubt that it is about as “autonomous” as the IITs, with which the minister for human resources development has been playing ducks and drakes with abandon to force top technologists and scientists out of IIT boards in order to allow saffron-hued “Vedic” technology chaps in.

Writers across the country were waiting to see the SA’s bared soul at that meet before deciding what they should do with their SA awards when fellow-writers were returning their prizes in droves to protest the atmosphere of intolerance, suffocation and violence unleashed in the country by communalised Hindu crazies, who seemed to be going about their business without a care for a year or more.

The circumstances of throwing away the awards by a galaxy of writers and a couple of creative artists (who gave back their Sangeet Natak Akademi Award), are well known and bear no retelling. The murder of the Kannada litterateur and rationalist M.M. Kalburgi and SA’s public silence over the outrage was a part of it. The murder by a lynch-mob of a Muslim villager in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri was also a part of it in the wider sense of the build-up of an atmosphere of violence against those who think or pray differently, or eat and dress differently.

Relinquishing the accolade was not to do with a particular episode. It had to do with wrought emotion produced by a sense of a creative intellect’s sense of helplessness and despair — a kind of loss of identity, of autonomy — over an extended period of time. Writers can only hit back with their awards, as the poet Keki N. Daruwalla has said.
In such an atmosphere SA president, Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari, went public with this craven remark: “If the Sahitya Akademi jumps in and protests against the restriction of the freedom of speech, then will it not divert from its primary work?”

In other words, if writers and thinkers are threatened or killed, and this causes the freedom of speech or expression to be extinguished or curtailed, then it is none of the SA’s business. So, presumably in Dr Tiwari’s reading, the primary work of the “autonomous” body he heads is to give awards (and carry on doing so even when free speech is guillotined and writers of any mark cannot emerge).

This may be expected from a man bearing the burden of such an understanding to seek to lacerate Nayantara Sahgal with words that even a pettifogging bureaucrat may be too squeamish to muster.

As chairman of SA (besides being Prime Minister), Nehru chided Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1958, when Moscow (with which India had the best of relations by then), threatened Boris Paster-nak with exile if the great writer — the author of Doctor Zhivago — went to Sweden to collect the Nobel Prize for literature he had been awarded.
Nehru’s standards were usually unattainably high, and there is little hope of the likes of Dr Tiwari even approximating it. But the SA apparatchik could have spared us this self-serving paean contained in the concluding part of the October 23 resolution: The SA executive committee (which he presided over) “unanimously endorses the diligent and vigilant leadership of the president to keep the dignity of the Akademi intact”, etc.

The SA president signed the words of self-praise, unmindful that the culture of no land sanctions self-exaltation. But what is at the core of the infamous resolution? It shamefacedly exhorts the writers to take back the returned award merely because (now) it says it “strongly” protests the Kalburgi killing. And then there is some galling advice — that the “Center” (yes, with this American spelling) and the states should maintain “peaceful co-existence in society”, and that the various communities should “put aside the differences on grounds of caste, religion, region and ideology”.

This plainly means that the ordinary people of different communities are guilty of fighting one another and creating an unbearable situation — that the saffron ideologues and their servitors have nothing to do with the goings-on. This is exactly what the Sangh Parivar foot soldiers trot out on television.

They say one other thing most prominently — that since law and order is a state subject, the state governments (and the parties that rule them) should be hauled up for the horrible crimes that are becoming routine; in short, the proponents of Hindutva are absolved. In this view the Centre — the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — is being unfairly targeted because of ideological differences, and that the stifling atmosphere that engulfs us, the “rising intolerance” that the dissenting writers spoke of, is not a national question. The October 23 SA document flags exactly the same issues, and in just the same way.

Under this argument, the demolition of the Babri mosque was not a national issue but a Uttar Pradesh state issue, and for the 2002 post-Godhra violence and spread of hatred in Gujarat the state government was cynically targeted by opponents on account of an ideological dissonance with the then chief minister. Thank you, autono-mous Sahitya Akademi, for a command performance of a high order.

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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