India literary council condemns attacks on writers

Indian writers hand over a memorandum to Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari, center, the current President of Sahitya Akademi, or National Academy of Letters, after a protest march in New Delhi, India, Image copyright AP
Image caption Akademi president Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari was handed a memorandum from a group of writers who held a silent march

India's Sahitya Akademi, which bestows literary honours, has condemned recent attacks on writers and rationalists.

It came as 100 writers protested outside the council, demanding it take measures to protect freedom of speech.

Several writers have returned their awards to the council in recent weeks, protesting against what they call rising intolerance in India.

The Akademi has condemned "any atrocity against any writer" in India, and urged writers to take back their awards.

In recent weeks, growing numbers of writers have been protesting against book bans, the silencing of writers like Perumal Murugan following attacks by right-wing groups, and the killings of rationalists such as Malleshappa Kalburgi and Govind Pansare this year.

The Akademi had been criticised for not speaking out against the attacks sooner, with over 40 writers returning their awards to protest the institution's "silence" on the "attacks against dissent".

Akademi president Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari had earlier called the protest "illogical", but accepted a memorandum on Friday from the writers, who held a silent march to the institution's headquarters.

The Akademi then later issued a statement condemning "any atrocity against any writer anywhere in the country in the strongest of words".

It also condemned the killing of rationalist Kalburgi "and other intellectuals and thinkers", and called on "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 now and in the future".

Image copyright AP
Image caption The killing of Mr Kalburgi was one of the main tipping points for the protest against the Sahitya Akademi
Image copyright Outlook Magazine
Image caption Nayantara Seghal has criticised the ruling government for "rising intolerance"

Speaking to the BBC, Githa Hariharan of the Indian Cultural Forum, made up of a number of writers who returned their awards, said that the Akademi statement was welcome although "late".

However she said that the issues that had prompted the protests in the first place remained a matter of concern for writers.

"The silence of the Sahitya Akademi was a tipping point for the pain and anguish felt by many of us who are struggling to recognise the India we grew up in. It became a symbol for our frustrations. But now it's time to move on to to addressing these larger issues as well," she said.

The writers' protest was seen as unprecedented in India.

Some of the writers who returned their awards included two of India's most highly respected writers, Nayantara Sahgal, and Krishna Sobti. Other writers like Shashi Deshpande, K Satchidanandan and PK Parakkadavu also returned awards and resigned from the Akademi's councils.

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