Amid widespread protests and return of the prestigious literary honour by at least 36 writers, the Sahitya Akademi on Friday finally broke its silence, strongly condemning "the murder of Prof M M Kalburgi and other intellectuals and thinkers" and urging the litterateurs to take back their awards.
The unprecedented marathon meeting held on Friday in the Capital was advanced from November under the increasing pressure of several writers like Nayantara Sehgal, Keki N Daruwalla and Ashok Vajpeyi who returned their awards and others like Vikram Seth who threatened to return their awards if the Akademi failed to "speak for" and "represent" the writing fraternity and safeguard "freedom of expression."
"As the only autonomous institution of Indian literature in all its diversities, the Akademi firmly supports the writers’ right to freedom of expression in all the languages of India and condemns any atrocity against any writer anywhere in the country in the strongest of words," said the Akademi president Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari after the meeting.
The emergency meeting of the Sahitya Akademi to discuss the alarming exodus of literary icons was attended by 20 out of 24 members of its Executive Board. K Satchidanandan (who had earlier resigned from all positions), Lalit Mangtrata, Prem Pradhan and Balchand Nemade did not attend today’s meeting where the body "unanimously" endorsed "the diligent and vigilant leadership provided by the president (Tiwari) to uphold the tradition and legacy of the Akademi". The resolution passed by the Executive Board also asked the governments at the Centre and in the states to take "immediate action to bring the culprits to book" and to ensure the security of writers. "Sahitya Akademi demands that Centre and States maintain the ambience of peaceful coexistence in the societies and urges various communities of our society to put aside the differences on the grounds of caste, religion, region and ideologies," the resolution said.
The Akademi president, while addressing the media, said the institution belongs to the writing fraternity and is guided "solely by writers" and requested the authors to take back their awards.
The Akademi’s resolution, however, comes after almost two months since the murder of Prof Kalburgi (30 August). The memorandum fails to explain why "the only autonomous institution of Indian literature in all its diversities" took 54 days to publicly condemn the death of a Sahitya Akademi recipient and other rationalist thinkers. "The meeting of Executive Board notes that upon the assassination of Prof Kalburgi, the president of the Akademi had telephonically requested the vice-president to contact Prof Kalburgi’s family and to convey the sense of pain and outrage felt by the Akademi." Several prominent writers, who have returned their awards, expressed their "disappointment" at the "self-congratulatory" tone of the Akademi. Kek Daruwalla told The Statesman, "I am not too critical of the Akademi now after the resolution as it says exactly what we had demanded but I am slightly disappointed by their self-congratulatory tone. The Akademi president should’ve condemned the murder of Mr Kalburgi but he does so now after almost two months. Although it’s too late, it’s a right step forward and I must make a point that it is only because of the pressure of the writers, who have returned their awards that the Akademi was compelled to speak up."
Eminent author and poet, Vikram Seth, who had earlier made it clear that he will decide his stance on returning his award after today’s meeting, expressed his "relief and gratitude", saying the statement is as strong as he could have expected and that it exhibited the "autonomous stature" of the Akademi.