Writers' action of returning awards not concerted: Vikram Seth

New Delhi: Eminent author Vikram Seth today said that the decision by various authors to return their Sahitya Akademi awards was not a concerted action but courageous acts of protest against an institution which they looked up to defend their rights of free speech.

"I don't think it was a concerted effort in this giving back about writers giving back their awards. It is ironic that an institution with such a wonderful history and such an august institution not only does not stand up for writers who otherwise lead such lonely professional lives, but it also admits openly that it was under pressure," the 63- year-old author said.

Seth himself a Sahitya Akademi award winning author was participating in a discussion after the launch of his book of poetry, "The Summer Requiem".

Seth said he had heard about fellow poet Keki N Daruwalla had written to the Sahitya Akademi chair after the killings of writer M M Kalburgi and others but failed to get a reply.

"I heard that he only got a telephone call stating that there was pressure (on the institution)."

"Pressure? Pressure not to say that the murder of Kalburgi or Pansare was wrong? Pressure not to speak out against or attempt to gag people who speak their minds? What kind of pressure is this?" Seth asked.

The poet was in conversation with David Davidar of Aleph Book Company, which had released the poetry book. Commending the "courageous acts" by authors who had returned their awards, Seth said, "I feel these are courageous acts. The award is one of the true mark of recognition that you get in your rather isolated professional life that your colleagues and compatriots think well of you.

"Those people who returned the awards have actually forced the powers in the Akademi, with their relaxed way, to prepone their meeting to October 23 which is two days from now," he said.

"I think they will come up with something robust to the defence of free speech, reason and the right to life of the people who speak their minds. If they do not, then I haven't spoken to other people but there might be people who think in that state. All bets are off that an institution which behaves like that is perhaps not something we have to accept awards from," Seth said.

At least 35 authors including Nayantara Sahgal, Ashok Vajpeyi, Sara Joseph, and Uday Prakash have decided to return their Sahitya Akademi honours in protest of the rising intolerance.

Several people have termed the authors' decision as being "motivated" and as "manufactured paper rebellion". The event was attended by Seth's parents, actor Sharmila Tagore and politician Shashi Tharoor among others. On the occasion, Seth's mother Leila Seth, a retired judge, cut a cake to celebrate her 85th birthday.

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