Poet, short story writer and former Indian Police Service officer Keki N Daruwalla was honoured with the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1984 for his poetry collection titled The Keeper of the Dead. Today, he returned the award as a mark of protest against the Akademi not standing in solidarity with authors currently under political duress and not speaking against physical violence on writers and scholars across the country.
The entire text of his letter to the Akademi has been reproduced here:
Dear Dr. Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari,
This is in continuation of my letter of October 10, 2015, and it is with a heavy heart that I write this. The Sahitya Akademi has indeed done laudable work in the past, possibly in the present under your guidance as well, in nurturing the literatures, especially of our Indian languages. The institution and its office bearers deserve credit for this.
But sadly in recent months it has not stood up as boldly as it should for values that any literature stands for, namely freedom of expression against threat, upholding the rights of the marginalised, speaking up against superstitions and intolerance of any kind. The Akademi has also not distinguished itself in standing by authors who are under political duress. Nor has the Akademi, under your dispensation, spoken out against organizations/ideological collectives that have used physical violence of the worst sort against authors. That Dr. MM Kalburgi, a Sahitya Akademi prize winner should be killed for no other reason except his rationalist views is something that cannot pass muster without some protest from brother authors. A goon rings a door bell at dawn; he opens the door and gets shot. This could happen to you and me Tiwariji.
At the same time I realise the limitations of the Akademi. It is not the state or the CID, it can’t prevent crimes or hasten investigation. But it has a voice and that could have been used for attacking the mindset which is behind such murders.
I wish to make it clear that I have no party leanings. I was no lover of the corrupt UPA 2. People like the late Dhabolkar were murdered during the previous dispensation. The landscape that confronts the writer today is bleak. People will die in our country for eating beef, or pork, perhaps one sad day for eating muttar paneer—a dish invented by us home-grown Aryans who never came across the mountains. People in the south could take umbrage at the concoction, you never know. Faces will continue to be blackened with paint and painters like M.F. Hussein will be forced into exile. A writer like Taslima Nasreen will have to leave Kolkota under a leftist regime. Statesmen will continue to be praised for their nationalism ‘despite’ the fact they are Muslims. Mob murders will continue to be described as accidents.
The Hon’ble Culture Minister has been quoted in the press as saying that let writers not write. It was up to you to put across to him that it would be a sad day for literature and the arts, if this were to happen. He has also been quoted as stating, “There have been many riots earlier. When did they (authors) last return their awards?” (Indian Express, October 13, 2015). The Minister, who I am certain means well, needed to be informed that all authors are not protesting against riots alone. Some like me are protesting more for the fact that the Akademi kept silent, and lacked the boldness to stand up for a murdered author. That is also a major reason behind this ferment.
Lastly, respected novelists like Nayantara Sahgal, poets like Ashok Vajpeyi and others have been attacked in certain quarters in the vilest possible terms. I would have expected the Akademi to intervene. It did not.
I admit this award I got is prestigious and I must have gained in reputation from it. It still is almost the only award open to a poet writing in English. But there are times when one must stand up to be counted, as the cliché goes. The rising tide of intolerance being what it is, I am constrained to return the Sahitya Akademi Award (1984). My signed letter and cheque will be in your office tomorrow.
With best wishes,
Keki N. Daruwalla
October 14, 2015