By Deb A.
It has been 40 years since Ghulam Nabi Khayal received one of the top honours of India's literary scene: an award from the National Academy of Letters (Sahitya Akademi).
This week, he gave it back.
Like over 40 of his peers, he's returned his award to the academy to protest an atmosphere of intolerance and violence in India that began to emerge after last year's election, when a Hindu nationalist party took power. The movement was set in motion in September when 76-year-old scholar Malleshappa Kalburgi, who had criticized idolatry in Hinduism, was gunned down in his home; it gained momentum after Mohammed Akhlaq was killed by a mob that accused him of killing and eating a cow.
Members of the literary community have taken issue not only with the Prime Minister's failure to condemn the murders, but also with the academy's perceived silence on attacks on writers that span from deadly violence to censorship. The clampdown on freedom of expression has become so threatening that author Perumal Murugan recently announced his 'death' as a writer following a campaign by rightwing Hindu groups against his novel, Madhorubagan (One Part Woman).
"India's culture of diversity and debate is now under vicious assault," remarked renowned author Nayantara Sahgal when she became one of the first to renounce her award earlier this month.
Indian-born Salman Rushdie, whose 1988 novel The Satanic Verses is illegal to sell in his home country, also entered the fray, claiming that inaction from the government and the Sahitya Akademi had resulted in a new "degree of thuggish violence".
In response to the accusations, the academy put out a press release and has called an emergency meeting to deal with the protests and staunch the flow of rejected awards. Letters and cheques are coming in almost daily. The new awards are due to be announced next month.
The New York Times has printed a list of several of the leading authors and poets who are taking part in the revolt. Eager readers will use this as an opportunity to peruse the best of Indian literature while lending support to authors and poets who are taking a stand for freedom of expression.
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