- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 14, 2015

NEW DELHI (AP) — Dozens of writers have returned India’s highest literary honor to protest what they call a growing climate of intolerance in the country since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government took office.

As of Wednesday, 41 novelists, essayists, playwrights and poets had returned the awards they received from India’s prestigious literary academy, saying they cannot remain silent about numerous incidents of communal violence or attacks on intellectuals across the country over the past year.

The writers, who write in English as well as regional languages, are also angry that India’s National Academy of Letters has said little about the attack on the well-known rationalist Malleshappa Kalburgi, an award-winning writer in the Kannada language gunned down in August for his writings against superstition and false beliefs.

Internationally renowned novelist Salman Rushdie, who was born in Mumbai, has come out strongly in support of the Indian writers, saying the government’s silence is allowing a new “degree of thuggish violence” in India.

The government has dismissed the writers’ protests, questioning their motives and accusing them of being politically motivated.

“If they say they are unable to write, let them stop writing,” Mahesh Sharma, India’s minister for culture, told reporters, further aggravating the writers.

What has angered the writers is the growing climate of intolerance and the curbs on free speech to which they say they cannot remain mute spectators.

“It’s become a question of an individual’s right to speak, to think, to write, to eat, to dress, to debate,” said Maya Krishna Rao, a playwright and theater actress, who returned her award to the academy this week.

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