“I will return the award almost certainly if this institution fails to protect or robustly defend free speech or lives of writers. I didn’t want it to sound like a threat. However, I fully expect this institution do something worthy of their name and history,” Seth told IANS after the launch of his book, ‘The Summer Requiem’ here on Tuesday night.
The Akademi is slated to meet on October 23. If Seth does return his award, he will join a growing list of writers and academicians who have returned their award in protest against what they said was growing intolerance against writers and free thinkers.
The Padma Shri awardee has been trolled on Twitter on his support for those who had returned their awards. He said he would join the list of award returnees if the Akademi remains mealy-mouthed on freedom of expression. The author received the Akademi award in 1988 for his novel ‘The Golden Gate’.
Earlier, participating in a discussion with David Davidar of Aleph publishing, Seth hailed the decision of many writers to return their Akademi awards, saying that it was not a concerted action.
“I don’t think writers returning award is a concerted action. It’s not easy to return awards and I would call it as a courageous act. The award is a mark of recognition that you receive in your rather isolated professional life,” he said.
Seth also expressed anguish over Akademi’s mute response to the killing of writer M M Kalburgi and two more rationalists. “I heard that when poet Keki N Daruwalla wrote to the Akademi after the killing of writer M M Kalburgi, he only got a telephone call saying that there was pressure,” he said adding that Akademi has to stand up for writers.
“Pressure? Pressure not to say that the murder of Kalburgi or Pansare was wrong? Pressure not to speak out against or attempt to gag people who speak their minds? What kind of pressure is this?” Seth asked.
Seth said that he hasn’t spoken to other writers on the issue, but was waiting for the outcome of the October 23 meeting.
“I haven’t spoken to others but there might be people who think in that state. All bets are off that an institution which behaves like that is perhaps not something we have to accept awards from,” Seth said.
Seth had faced barbs in social media over receiving awards from ex-Union minister Jagdish Tytler in 2005. Seth said he was unaware that he was to accept award from the Congress leader, who was allegedly involved in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
“When I realised that Pravasi Bharatiya Samman is going to be given by Jagdish Tytler, I consulted my parents. They said that if I don’t accept, it will be an insult to the nation. So I went ahead,” Seth said.
However, he had refrained from shaking hands with Tytler as a protest. “I told my parents that under no circumstances, I would shake hands with him. I loathe what happened in 1984 and not only at the time of riots. Even the entire election campaign, which followed it, was nasty,” Seth said.
The author, known for his works like ‘A Suitable Boy’ and ‘Equal Music’, read a couple of poems during the launch. ‘A Suitable Girl’, a sequel to ‘A Suitable Boy’ is scheduled to be published next year.
The launch of ‘The Summer Requiem’, held at Taj Mahal hotel, coincided with Seth’s mother Leila Seth’s 85th birthday.