Indian writers stand up to modi _ foreign affairs
Over the past month, Indian writers have been returning awards from India’s National Academy of Letters, the Sahitya Akademi. They have issued individual statements, signed written petitions, and staged vigils, marches, and sit-ins. Their acts of dissent have received an enormous amount of attention in India’s print, broadcast, electronic, and social media. Officially, the writers are protesting the recent assassinations of three intellectuals—Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar, and M. M. Kalburgi—and
the failure of the academy to react forcefully enough to these murders, especially to that of Kalburgi, a 78-year-old historian who was also a Sahitya Akademi awardee himself.
But the assassinations can’t be the only reason that more than 60 authors have returned their prizes and criticized the academy, which has been doing its work for several decades without controversy. The prize money itself is modest, and although the award carries a kind of official prestige, other literary awards have begun to challenge its preeminence in the prolific and multilingual world of Indian literature.
The Sahitya Akademi controversy can best be understood as part of a larger battle: a culture war between India’s literary establishment, dominated by left-leaning, secular writers, and India’s right-wing government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP came to power in New Delhi in May 2014, securing a majority of seats in the Indian Parliament despite winning just 31 percent of the votes cast in the national election (an anomaly made possible by India’s “first