A number of writers in India have recently returned their Sahitya Akademi (National Academy of Letters) awards in protest of government silence on violence.

“Rising religious intolerance and attack on freedom of expression,” says Nand Bhardwaj, a writer who writes in two languages (Rajasthani and Hindi), as his reason for returning the award he won in 2004 for his book “Samhi Khulto Marag.”

Some writers cited the recent lynching of a Muslim man in Dadri by a mob over suspicion of eating beef as their reason for returning their awards; some mentioned recent murders of writers including MM Kalburgi as their reason.

Voices against Writers

The Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley called the returns a “manufactured paper rebellion” against the Modi government. One Congress MP claims the act of returning the award amounts to “dishonoring” the recognition.

And Prime Minister Modi’s fans are saying who cares if the writers want to return their awards – we have never heard of these writers’ names anyway. They also add that returnees are a bunch of secular liberals out to malign the Prime Minister. Maybe so.

Voices for Writers

But the Narendra Modi followers fail to understand that these artistically gifted individuals including poets, painters, sculptors, writers, etc. love what they do. They do not create their work hoping they might win an award. If their creations win honors, fine. If not, that too is fine. How can it be a dishonor in returning an award when a writer did not seek an honor?
Some awardees keep their awards; some give away their awards; some return; and some even decline to accept the awards.

How many Modi followers have written a book, or articles, or scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals?

A scientist works long hours in a lab without ever thinking that someday he or she might win a Noble Prize. Awards, accolades, and prizes are all byproducts of the work scientists, writers, and others do.

A Message for Modi Administration

It is in Modi, as well as his supporters’ interest, not to put the writers down, but to listen to the writers’ message: end religious intolerance; end assault on freedom.

If the Hindu-Muslim conflicts persist, India may become so unstable that visitors, investors, and corporations from foreign nations may not come to India at all.

And this will have exactly the opposite effect of what Prime Minister Modi is trying to achieve. He is going around the world, at an exorbitant amount of cost to taxpayers, to request foreigners to come to India and, in Modi’s words, “develop” her.