October 2015: Letter from K Satchidanandan to the Sahitya Akademi

To the Secretary, the Executive Board and the members of the General Council of the Sahitya Akademi

Dear friends and colleagues,

As you all know I have had a long association with the Sahitya Akademi right from my young days when I was a Malayalam Advisory Board Member. Later, I was the Editor of Indian Literature, the Secretary, Guest Editor of Indian Literature, General Council member and Executive member, Convener of the English Advisory Board, Finance Committee Member, and the member of many other committees. I have given years of my life to the Akademi and served it with earnestness and sincerity and pioneered a lot of changes in the journal as well as the working of the Akademi. In lieu, I have also received a lot from the Akademi and I will always remain grateful to the institution which has become part of my very being.

After M.M. Kalburgi, who was an Akademi award winner and a great scholar I revere, was murdered in a most cowardly manner, and Uday Prakash, my good friend and outstanding Hindi writer, returned his award, I wrote a letter to the President of the Akademi through the Secretary, dated September 12, asking him to convene a meeting and pass a resolution. I also sent the draft resolution along with the letter. I did not get any  response to my letter even after a lot of waiting. I knew that now Indian writers with a conscience and self-respect would start reacting and wanted to avoid that embarrassment to the Akademi. If the Akademi had responded to my advice and summoned an urgent meeting of the EB – the context demanded it – it could have avoided this tragic situation where so many writers including very important ones like Nayantara Sahgal, Keki Daruwalla, Krishna Sobti, Shashi Deshpande, and Surjit Pattar have returned their awards. Several others have expressed their frustration through letters to the President and some GC Members and Advisory Board members have resigned.

I had no choice but to resign when my letter was completely ignored with arrogance and impunity by the President. When I met the Secretary later, I was told that a condolence meet was held in Bangalore and the President felt that was enough. He was also unhappy that some Pragativaadi (‘Progressive’) writers had met him to request the Akademi to hold a protest meeting and he did not want to listen to the Pragativadis. I found this argument strange though I do not belong to the Pragativadi group. I think we should be looking at the righteousness of the cause and not who is upholding or advocating it. Later, to the Press, he said it is politics and the Akademi does not want to be involved in politics. I do not understand where politics comes in here. To me it is a question of fundamental freedom to live and write. And the Akademi cannot wash its hands and say it has nothing to do when writers are denied this
freedom and the Constitution is violated with impunity. I am afraid the President was being political when he refused to hold a meeting because the Progressives had approached him. He should have known the cause was right whoever its advocates. He again erred when he spoke abusively about a great writer and a person of doubtless integrity like Nayantara Sahgal who had fought the Emergency and is one of the most responsible writers of India. He said to the Indian Express that she had made her fame because of the Akademi and she had enjoyed royalties from translations. She retorted promptly and sent theAkademi a cheque for one lakh. This has hurt me further: this is not the attitude to writers expected of a President of the Akademi, and no President before him would have spoken like this about a writer. He can say that about any of us any time.

I am sorry I cannot work with a person with this  kind of attitude to writers and I do not believe that the meeting now going to be held is being done out of any sincere commitment; it is only a damage control exercise done under pressure. I am saying all this with intense pain; as an Institution I have also nurtured spending sleepless nights , the only common platform for Indian writers of all languages and ideologies so far, has come to this plight, I hope now you can understand why I will not be attending the special meeting of the EB.

With warmest regards,

Professor K. Satchidanandan

October 17, 2015