As writers held a silent march against the Sahitya Akademi, another group of people staged a counter-protest in New Delhi today, alleging that the move by authors to return awards was "motivated by their vested interests" and the literary body should not buckle under "pressure".
The protest led by Joint Action group of Nationalist Minded Artists and Thinkers, JANMAT, also submitted a memorandum to the Akademi, questioning the motive of the writers and alleging these very people had earlier appealed to voters not to give mandate to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Activists of BJP's student wing ABVP also joined the protest, which coincided with the silent march by writers of different languages from Sri Ram Centre at Safdar Hashmi Marg to the Sahitya Akademi building, demanding that the Akademi pass a resolution pledging to take stern steps to safeguard freedom of speech and right to dissent of the writers.
"We want to appeal to the Sahitya Akademi to maintain its autonomous nature and not come under pressure from the very same writers who had earlier appealed to the people of the country to not give their mandate to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These writers are engaged in undemocratic actions," JANMAT said.
"What are these people dissenting to? The truth is that among them is a poet who has contested for the post of the Sahitya Akademi and failed miserably. He had suggested instead of an election for the president, the post should be directly appointed by the government," the memo said.
"The protest against the government is motivated not by ideology but by vested interests," it said.
Sangeet Natak Akademi executive member Nalini Kamilini said, "Art, literature and music are the assets of our culture. It is our strength. These protests show they are motivated. If it was not so then why they didn't do so for previous incidents."
One of the members of the counter protest Malini Awasthi, also an executive member of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, said,
"I find this to be 100 per cent political and socially motivated. The writers and artists should come together to keep Indian united and not create a divide, instead what they are doing is creating a divide."
"I am really surprised at their collective memory when it chose to react on certain issues. Where do they go for convenient sleep when other unfortunate incidents happen. How many of them have written on Kashmiri Pandits, Safdar Hsshmi or the Muzaffarnagar riots? she asked.
"I do not see them going to Uttar Pradesh or states to protest against the state government. Today they start branding any right thinking persons as pro-BJP or Sanghi. I am a right thinking person and reader. I have read them all and respect writers," Ms Awasthi said.
Around 50 people participated in the counter-protest organised by JANMAT which also submitted a memorandum to Sahitya Akademi chairperson. Among those who participated include Surya Kant Bali, Narender Kohli, Kamal Krishna Goenka, Shyam Singh Sashinad and Shiv Shankar Awashti, secretary of the Authors Guild of India.
At least 35 writers from across the country had over the past few weeks announced their decision to return their Sahitya Akademi awards and stepped down from official Akademi positions to protest the "rising intolerance" in the country.