Literary meet flayed for withdrawing Sehgal invite

Prajakta Joshi
Tuesday, 8 January 2019

“All the stakeholders in this controversy, the MNS, the organisers, the State government have denied responsibility of the issue. Sahitya Sammelan should be a platform for people with different views and ideals to interact and share their opinion. I would not be surprised if the writers, in protest, would not want to attend the meet this year,” Devy said.

Pune: All India Marathi Literary meets and controversies have become synoynmous in recent years. This year, the 92nd edition of the Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan, received flak from Marathi authors and literary scholars over its ‘uncourteous and coward’ move to withdraw the invitation extended to renowned English author Nayantara Sehgal who was supposed to inaugurate the meet, which is to be held in Yavatmal this year. 

While the decision is said to have been made due to the threats received from activists of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), the authors suspect this to be a reflection of Sehgal’s anti-government statements and the ‘Award-Wapsi’ controversy.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) Chief Raj Thackeray has expressed ‘regret’ over the controversy created by one of his party functionaries, and clarified that MNS would not oppose Sehgal’s participation in the event.

Reacting on the issue, author and linguist Ganesh Devy said that the organisers should have displayed at least some amount of courtesy and culture, while dealing with a personality like Sehgal, who is respected globally.
 
“All the stakeholders in this controversy, the MNS, the organisers, the State government have denied responsibility of the issue. Sahitya Sammelan should be a platform for people with different views and ideals to interact and share their opinion. I would not be surprised if the writers, in protest, would not want to attend the meet this year,” Devy said.

Author Dr Ashutosh Javadekar (also the son of Union Minister Prakash Javadekar) has also boycotted the meet this year. He said, “The only solution to the whole controversy is to apologise wholeheartedly to Sehgal, and invite her again respectfully. However, the probability of anything like this happening is so remote that I would rather react by not attending the meet this year.” Javadekar was the coordinator of the ‘Lalit Gadya’ discussion in the meet.

Devy also added, “Sehgal is not an anti-social person. She is a respected writer and listening to her would only enrich the participants of the meet with wisdom. A literary organisation is not at all expected to react in this manner and Sahitya Sammelan organisers have miserably failed in handling the situation.” 

While some authors have said that this to be a threat to the heritage of Marathi literature that is known to reflect humility and inclusion, author Sadanand More said that this is just a handiwork of some people who were possibly unaware of Sehgal and her legacy and does not seem to have any other political connection.

“I believe that the organisers are at fault here as they hurriedly took the decision of taking back the invitation, instead of trying to make people understand the work and reputation of Sehgal. Their only objection was that she is not a Marathi author or related to Maharashtra in any manner,” More added.

An excerpt from the speech that Nayantara Sehgal had planned to deliver 

I am asking this question because our freedoms are in danger. The dangers to them are so much on my mind that when I was thinking about what I should say to you, I knew I had to talk about all that is happening in India today, because it is affecting every side of our lives: what we eat, whom we marry, what we think and what we write, and, of course, how we worship. Today, we have a situation where diversity, and opposition to the ruling ideology, are under fierce attack.

Different viewpoints
The decision regarding whom to invite to inaugurate the Sahitya Sammelan lies totally with the organisers, and the State government does not have any part in the process. However, controversy is deliberately being created over the issue of extending and withdrawing the invite to Sehgal. As Akhil Bharatiya Sahitya Mahamandal is an autonomous organisation, the chief minister or the State government does not interfere in its decision making. Also, the literary meets like these always give a platform to people to air different opinions on several subjects related to the government and the society and government also takes these comments positively. Hence, there is no need to involve the State government in such unrelated issues.
— Devendra Fadnavis, Chief Minister

Sammelan’s then president and writer Durga Bhagwat had the courage to speak against emergency from the platform of Sahitya Sammelan. Today, there is no formal emergency, but the fear in the atmosphere is making organisations coward of the highest rank and this should be condemned. In our country, there is a widespread fear of consequences if free expression is encouraged or entertained.
— Ganesh Devy, author and linguist

I am in a dilemma of whether to boycott the event or go there and express my protest on the dais. I am also saddened by the fact that the number of literary organisations associated with the sammelan are refusing to comment on the incident, citing the reason of losing the funds given by the government. As opposed to what some believe, Sehgal also has a connection with Maharashtra. I believe that behind the scenes, it is a government agency that has prompted the whole controversy as Sehgal is known to have been vocal against the government.
— Ulhas Pawar, Former MLA and executive trustee of sammelan

While I do not believe that the State government had anything to do with the withdrawal of invitation to Sehgal, one cannot deny the political pressure exerted by groups that may have forced the organisers to take this step. It is very wrong on their part, however, to fall prey to such pressure and take such a drastic step. Now the question that remains is that, after all this controversy, who is going to inaugurate the meet and who is going to take responsibility for this issue?
—  Shripal Sabnis, writer

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