Writer returns award to protest Modi 'silence on intolerance'

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Nayantara Sahgal

A leading Indian writer has returned a prestigious literary award to protest the "vicious assault" on "diversity and debate" in the country.

Nayantara Sahgal, 88, received the coveted Sahitya Akademi award in 1986.

Hindi poet Ashok Vajpeyi has also returned his award, saying the government had failed to protect "people and writers".

Both say the BJP government is not doing enough to stop Hindu zealots from targeting minorities and writers.

In a statement titled "The Unmaking of India", Ms Sehgal, who is the niece of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, alluded to last month's killing of a Muslim man over rumours that he had consumed beef and the murders of rationalists, MM Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare.

Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to protect all religious groups, he has not spoken about the recent attacks.

"The prime minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology," Ms Sahgal said in the statement.

She said India's culture of diversity and debate was now "under vicious assault".

"Rationalists who question superstition, anyone who questions any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism known as Hindutva - whether in the intellectual or artistic sphere, or whether in terms of food habits and lifestyle - are being marginalised, persecuted, or murdered."

Ms Sahgal told NDTV news channel that under Mr Modi "we are going backwards, regressing, narrowing down to Hindutva... there is rising intolerance and lots of Indians are living in fear".

Poet Ashok Vajpayee has also returned his Sahitya Akademi award, saying that the government has been "promoting violation of rights".

"It's a disturbing trend. It is allowing extra-constitutional agencies to dictate things, whereas it is duty-bound to protect people and writers," he told The Indian Express.