With nearly two dozen writers having returned their national and state literary awards to protest against the rising tide of intolerance in India, respected author Amitav Ghosh has lauded his peers for their courage and commitment. But, in a short statement emailed to Scroll.in,  he suggested that the anger would be more effective if it were directed at the people now at the helm of the Sahitya Akademi rather than the institution itself.

Here is the statement.
I very much appreciate the courage and commitment of the writers who have returned their awards in protest against the Sahitya Akademi's silence in regard to the recent attacks on writers. There can be no doubt that the present government is tacitly enabling these attacks by failing to take punitive and preventive action. In refusing to protest, the Sahitya Akademi is shamefully in dereliction of its duties.

However I do also feel that my outrage, as an Indian writer, should be directed at the present leadership of the Sahitya Akademi rather than the institution as such. The Sahitya Akademi has in the past been held in general respect by  writers across India; it is the only forum where writers in every Indian language are on equal footing. Moreover I know that several past presidents and office-bearers of the Sahitya Akademi would have vigorously protested the recent spate of attacks on writers – Sunil Gangopadhyaya is one such, UR Ananthamurthy is another. Unfortunately neither of them are with us at this time or I am sure they would have spoken forcefully on this issue.

I received my Sahitya Akademi award 25 years ago, in 1990; at that time the institution was held in general respect by writers. I feel that to return the award now would be more than an expression of outrage at the Sahitya Akademi's current leadership: it would amount to a repudiation of the institution's history.

We have to consider another possibility as well. What if the Sahitya Akademi alters its stand, perhaps because of a change of leadership? Would the awards then have to be re-accepted?  Or are we to assume that the institution is now permanently delegitimized?

As I noted above, I feel that the writers who have returned their awards have done the country a public service. But in my view, the focus at this point should be on targeting the protests at the current leadership of the Sahitya Akademi rather than the institution itself. In Goa, the eminent Konkani writer Damodar Mauzo has called a meeting to consider how writers can collectively proceed in that direction. Unfortunately I cannot be present as I am currently on a book tour in the United States but I do feel that this is the most productive way to take this forward.