Ashok Vajpeyi
Poet Ashok Vajpeyi returned his Sahitya Akademi Award in protest against killing of rationalist writers and lynching of an old Muslim man in Dadri.Wikimedia Commons/Lomita

To express solidarity with fellow writer Nayantara Sahgal, noted poet Ashok Vajpeyi has returned his Sahitya Akademi Award in protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's silence on fatal attacks on rationalist writers and the lynching of a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh's Dadri district over rumours that he ate beef.

"Reasons have been many, I have been watching with despair the growing ethos of violence. Artists are being killed and their killers have still not been caught. Irresponsible statements are made everyday... Freedom of expression is being attacked constantly," Vajpeyi told ANI.

He questioned the silence of prime minister Modi on the murder of writers who questioned Hindu mythology and the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq by a mob for eating beef. 

"A man is murdered on basis of a rumor and the PM is quiet about it. I mean, isn't there a right to life?" he added.

"He is an eloquent Prime Minister who addresses lakhs of people, but here writers are being murdered, innocent people are being killed, his ministers are making objectionable statements... Why doesn't he shut them up?" he told NDTV.

"Why doesn't he tell the nation and the writing and creating community that the pluralism of this community will be defended at every cost? Although the government makes announcements that this would not be tolerated, that would not be tolerated ...but tolerance is there. How is it that all this has erupted now?" he added.

Vajpeyi also slammed the National Academy of Letters – Sahitya Akademi – for failing "to rise to the occasion and respect its autonomy."

Sahgal was the second writer to return her Sahitya Akademi Award to express her disapproval of Modi's silence over several criminal offences in the name of Hinduism. Hindi writer Uday Prakash was the first to return his award in protest against Kalburgi's murder.

"A distinguished Kannada writer and Sahitya Akademi Award winner, M.M. Kalburgi, and two Maharashtrians, Narendra Dhabolkar and Govind Pansare, both anti-superstition activists, have all been killed by gun-toting motor-cyclists," Sahgal, the niece of first Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, said.

Slamming Modi for being a mute spectator, Sahgal had said: "The Prime Minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology".

"In memory of the Indians who have been murdered, in support of all Indians who uphold the right to dissent, and of all dissenters who now live in fear and uncertainty, I am returning my Sahitya Akademi Award," she said in her statement "Unmaking of India".

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