Writers hold protest march against intolerance ahead of Sahitya Adademi meet

With black gags and arm bands, writers and their supporters held a solidarity march in New Delhi ahead of the Sahitya Akademi's emergency meeting to discuss the returning of awards by eminent authors in protest against "rising intolerance" in the country.

Writers from different languages converged for the silent march, carrying large banners, from Sri Ram Centre at Safdar Hashmi Marg to the Sahitya Akademi building, where they submitted a memorandum to the Akademi demanding that it pass a resolution pledging to take steps to safeguard the freedom of speech and right to dissent of the writers.

At least 35 writers from across the country have over the past few weeks returned their Sahitya Akademi awards or stepped down from official Akademi positions to protest the "rising intolerance" in the country.

Akademi chairman Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari accepted the memorandum and said "it will be considered" in the meeting.

"The executive council of the Akademi should pass a resolution that it will take stern steps to safeguard the freedom of speech and right to dissent of the writers," the memorandum said.

The protesters have also criticised Tiwari's recent statements in which he dubbed as "illogical" the act of several writers returning their awards. They also called for a written apology from Tiwari against statements he had made about Akademi award-winning writers having made gains from their award royalties.

"A delegation of 13 Hindi-Urdu writers had met the representatives of the Akademi on September 16 to demand for a 'shok sabha' but the Akademi denied to do so," the memorandum said.

The writers say if the Akademi does not conduct a condolence meet for scholar MM Kalburgi in Delhi, they will demand Tiwari's resignation.

The protest march was convened by five groups - Janvadi Lekhak Sangh, Pragatisheel Lekhak Sangh, Jansanskriti Manch, Dalit Lekhak Sangh and Sahitya Sanvad.

Eminent writers Keki N Daruwala, Geeta Hariharan, Anuradha Kapoor (former director National School of Drama), Shekhar Joshi and Javed Ali among others were part of the protest.

Calling the getting together of writers as a historic step in the literary history of the country, the protesters called for the Akademi to condemn in strong terms the killings of Kannada writer M M Kalburgi and other writers and rationalists and assure the writers that the Akademi would in these times of distress ensure the right to freedom of speech and expression.

"Tiwari has lost the trust of the writers. If Tiwari does not apologise and conduct a condolence meet for Kalburgi in Delhi, we will demand his resignation," a statement by the writers said.