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Why did Nayantara Sahgal return her Sahitya Akademi Award?

Kunal Majumder | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 7:13 IST

Writer and political commentator Nayantara Sahgal, 88, returned her Sahitya Akademi (India's Academy of Arts and Letters) Award on 6 October in protest to the government's failure to protect cultural diversity in the country.

Explaining on The Wire, Sahgal wrote, "In memory of the Indians who have been murdered, in support of all Indians who uphold the right to dissent, and of all dissenters who now live in fear and uncertainty, I am returning my Sahitya Akademi Award."

"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," she added. "In all these cases, justice drags its feet. The Prime Minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology."

Earlier this year, Sahgal told The Hindu that the idea of India needs to be protected. "Unfortunately, today, we are ruled by people whose mindsets belong to the Dark Ages. We are being governed by people who are fascists by mind and ideology. The country is going through dangerous times," she said.

India's first Prime Minister's niece, Sahgal has always been an independent commentator on Indian politics. She was a vocal critic of Indira Gandhi's government in her columns and book, Indira Gandhi: Her Road to Power. Apart from various national and international publications, Sahgal also wrote for Jayaprakash Narayan's paper Everyman's Weekly.

She has authored nine novels, eight non-fiction books, and a collection of short stories. She received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1985 for her English novel Rich Like Us.

Read her first person account here

First published: 14 February 2017, 7:13 IST
Kunal Majumder @kunalmajumder

Editor for Speed News aka Catch Live and Operations at Catch, Kunal enjoys measuring his life in numbers. Of his 30 years of life, 12 have been spent working, 9 of them in journalism. The remaining 3 were spent in 2 call centres, talking to British and Australians about insurance and cellphones. In his journalistic capacity, Kunal has worked at 3 publications and headed 2 online teams. The '3' includes Images Multimedia, Tehelka and DNA. The '2' includes Tehelka and DNA. Catch is Kunal's 6th workplace, where he will head his 3rd team as speed news editor. As a reporter, he won 2 awards - Statesman Award for Rural Reporting and UNFPA-Laadli Award for Gender Sensitivity. That's his story in Prime Numbers (a section on this site from which he's taken inspiration).