Several writers in India returned awards from one of the country’s top literary institutions over the past week. This was done in a symbolic show of protest against what the writers see as a growing disregard for freedom of speech under the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
So far, a total of 23 writers from across the country have given back awards from the Sahitya Akademi, or the National Academy of Letters, according to the Indian Express newspaper. A few have also resigned from positions they held within the prestigious government-funded but autonomous literary body.
The list of those who have returned their awards includes poets, playwrights and authors from various parts of the country, working in several Indian languages.
The writers’ revolt began in September after a 76-year-old critic of Hindu idolatry was gunned down in his home. This unrest rapidly gained strength this month when Mr. Modi failed to promptly condemn the killing of a Muslim man, Mohammed Ikhlaq, by a Hindu mob because they suspected he had killed a cow and eaten its meat.
“India’s culture of diversity and debate is now under vicious assault,” Nayantara Sahgal, a recipient of the Sahitya Akademi award in 1986, and one of the first to return it, said in an open letter to the government.
This revolt by Indian writers is regarded as a critical challenge for Narendra Modi.