Theatre artist Maya Krishna Rao and noted poet Rajesh Joshi return Akademi awards

Theatre artist Maya Krishna Rao and noted Hindi poet Rajesh Joshi returned their Sangeet Natak Akademi and Sahitya Akademi award respectively to protest against the 'rising intolerance' in the country

New Delhi/Bhopal: Close on the heels of a string of writers handing over their literary awards, theatre artist Maya Krishna Rao and noted Hindi poet Rajesh Joshi today returned their Sangeet Natak Akademi and Sahitya Akademi award respectively to protest against the Dadri lynching and the "overall rising intolerance" in the country.

The Delhi-based actor expressed her disappointment over the government's failure to "speak up for the rights of citizens." 

"Rationalists, creative artists, thinkers, dissenters, activists have faced threats and even been murdered. On a carefully-orchestrated malicious rumour in Dadri village an ironsmith was lynched and killed. The government has failed to speak up for the rights of the citizens in disturbing incidents such as these," she alleged.

In a letter addressed to Helen Acharya, the secretary of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, Rao expressed her disappointment. "The present government has in spite of reminders from society, done little to stand up for the right of people to express their thoughts and ideas and love the way they would choose to in a free country," she said.

"The Prime Minister is just agreeing with the statement made by the President barring that he has not said anything else regarding the incidents that are happening in the country. The PM has to be acting on whatever is happening on the ground," Rao, who had received the award in 2010 from the Akademi, told PTI.

The 62-year-old New York-born actor, director and writer, has since the late 1970s produced a body of work that has provoked her audiences to delve into social and political issues.

A founder-member of the street theatre group Theatre Union, Rao scripted, directed, and performed street plays such as 'Om Swaha', a critique of dowry, and 'Dafa No. 180', on the Indian rape law, between 1979 and 1982. She has produced a succession of compelling single-actor plays such as 'Ravanama', 'Are You Home Lady Macbeth?', 'A Deep Fried Jam', and, 'Heads Are Meant for Walking Into' and 'Quality Street', based on a short story by the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie, was presented by her to great acclaim last year.

Claiming that universal issues ranging from personal and individual rights are "under threat" daily, she said, "As a woman artist of the country, I think it's high time we all stand up to this." Rao is the first artist to return her award.

Noted Hindi poet Rajesh Joshi, meanwhile, on Monday announced he had returned his Sahitya Akademi award in protest against the attacks on the freedom of speech and expression in the country. He was conferred the award in 2002.

"The government is keeping mum on writers' murders. On one hand the intolerance is on the rise in the country, on the other hand attacks are being perpetrated on the freedom of speech and expression," Joshi told IANS on Monday.

"The behaviour of the government following Dadri lynching (in Uttar Pradesh) reflects that the country is heading towards fascism," he added.

Till now there has been a growing chorus of protest in the literary community. At least 16 authors have so far returned their Sahitya Akademi Awards since 77-year-old Kannada rationalist and thinker M.M. Kalburgi was shot dead on August 30 by two unidentified assailants at his residence in Dharwad, about 430 km from Bengaluru in Karnataka.

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