As of October 14, a total of 41 novelists, essayists, playwrights and poets have returned the awards they received from India's prestigious National Academy of Letters, or Sahitya Akademi, in protest what they call a growing climate of intolerance under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Salman Rushdie condemned the wave of "thuggish violence," while fellow acclaimed novelist Nayantara Sahgal explicitly called out Modi's reigning political ideology. "The prime minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology," she said. "Rationalists who question superstition, anyone who questions any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism known as Hindutva—whether in the intellectual or artistic sphere, or whether in terms of food habits and lifestyle—are being marginalied, persecuted, or murdered." The government has dismissed the writers' protests, accusing them of being politically motivated. "If they say they are unable to write, let them stop writing," Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma told reporters. (Pakistan Express-Tribune, NYT, Oct. 16; BBC News, Oct. 7)
The protests began after the Aug. 30 murder of 77-year-old writer and scholar MM Kalburgi by two unidentified assailants at his home in the southern state of Karnataka. A rationalist and critic of Hindutva, Kalburgi was also a leading figure in the Kannada-language cultural and literary revival. But this was only one emblamatic case. In February, Communist Party of India leader Govind Pansare was killed when two unknown assailants fired at him and his wife in front of their house in Kolhapur, Maharashtra. He was the author of Shivaji Kon Hota, a controversial biography of Shivaji, 17th-century founder of the the Maratha Empire, which was seen as an affront by Hindu nationalists in the state. Narendra Dabholkar, leader of Maharashtra-based Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti—an organization established to combat superstition—was killed in August 2013, with no arests in the case to date.
Protesters are also outraged over the Oct. 2 killing of a Muslim man, Mohammed Ikhlaq, by a Hindu mob in the Delhi suburb of Bisara—in the apparently mistaken belief that he had killed a cow and eaten its meat. The man and his son were dragged from their home and beaten in the street; the son survived after brain surgery. (NYT, Oct. 4; Indian Express, Oct. 2; First Post, India, Time, Aug. 31)