Marathi Literary Meet Withdraws Invite to Writer Nayantara Sahgal

Organisers of the All India Marathi Literary meet revoked their invitation to writer Nayantara Sahgal.

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Giving in to threats of disruption, organisers of the All India Marathi Literary meet revoked their invitation to Sahitya Akademi awardee Nayantara Sahgal. The 92-year-old Saghal, who had won the Sahitya Akademi for her English language novel Rich Like Us in 1986, was to inaugurate the 92nd literary meet on 11 January.

According to PTI, the organisers said on Sunday, 6 January, that the decision to revoke her invitation was taken to “avoid any untoward incident and in view of the controversy that has cropped up against her name” after threats by a political outfit to disrupt the meet.


The press release issued by the organisers added that “there were newspaper reports about objections and (likely) protests to Nayantara Sahgal inaugurating the event. It was being said that some people would not let the literary meet function.” Clarifying that the decision to withdraw the invitation was not a directive of the Akhil Bhartiya Marathi Sahitya Mahamandal, the group said that “it is the local organising committee which has taken the decision.”

Nayantara Sahgal was a part of the ‘award wapsi’ campaign in 2015 to protest fascism and the “vanishing space for diversity,” according to a report in The Hindu.

The Indian Express reports that, in response to the withdrawal of the invite, Sahgal wrote to Ramakant Kolte the working president of the literary meet reception committee on Sunday, 6 January, stating, “I quite understand that in the present distressing circumstances you have had to cancel your kind invitation to me to inaugurate the Marathi Sahitya Sammelan. I am deeply sorry that this had to happen. Please convey my warmest wishes to the organisers.”

In a tweet, Raj Thackeray, the president of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, clarified his party’s official stance on Sahgal’s presence at the meet. He said that, although “there was some resistance displayed by one of the colleagues of the party,” the party in fact had “no opposition to Nayantara Sahgal.” Thackeray said that, despite agreeing with the sentiments behind the resistance expressed by his colleague, he felt that the party should not oppose the presence of “a senior and noted writer like Nayantara Sahgal” at the meet.


Criticising the move to cancel her invitation, Sanjay Nirupam Mumbai Congress chief alleged that the BJP was behind the decision. According to PTI, he said, "The decision of the organisers was taken at the behest of the BJP, the MNS is just a front. Literature should not surrender before politics. If a government is scared of writers, it means that its days are over."

Maharashtra's Cultural Affairs Minister Vinod Tawde too expressed his disatisfaction at the decision to remove Sahgal, saying, "If someone had opposed Sahgal after her speech at the meet, then it could have been understood. It is not fair to oppose her completely. Maharashtra is a state that welcomes everyone to present their work."

PTI adds that noted Marathi author Aruna Dhere said, "It is shocking that you respectfully invite someone and later back out. She should be invited with utmost respect." Dhere is expected to preside over the meet.

Another Marathi author Sanjay Awate has said that he would boycott the meet to register his protest.


Historian and author Ramachandra Guha also expressed his views on the withdrawal of the invitation, with a post on Twitter:

Journalist Rajdeep Sardesai too tweeted his response to the revocation of Sahgal’s invitation.

According to The Indian Express, the chairperson of the Akhil Bhartiya Marathi Sahitya Mahamandal said that his organisation had “nothing to do with the revocation of the invite.” He said, “The revocation was done by the local organisers, who foresaw some trouble due to some local factors in the peaceful holding of the programme. The Mahamandal is in no way connected...”


Here’s What Nayantara Sahgal’s Was Going to Say

Sahgal was going to speak about “dangers to freedom” at the meet. She wanted to discuss as to what is happening in the society today as it is affecting our lives in every manner.

In her speech, which has now been published in The Indian Express, Sahgal speaks about how the minorities are being “targeted”.

“The minorities, and those who don’t support the Hindu rashtra agenda, have become targets for fanatics who roam the streets. We have recently seen five citizens falsely charged with conspiracy and arrested on grounds of sedition. These are men and women who have spent years of their lives working for tribal rights and forest rights, and for justice for the marginalised.”
Nayantara Sahgal

also addressed the issue of mob lynching and “attacks on Muslims” based on the rumours of cow slaughter. Referring to Uttar Pradesh, Sahgal in her speech wrote about the stand of the authorities on such issues and mob violence “backed by state”.

Mentioning one such incident, Sahgal goes on to add that in certain cases victims have been charged while the criminals “have been congratulated”.

Sahgal also wrote about the growing intolerance in the society and said, “We are told, ‘Don’t publish your book or we will burn it. Don’t exhibit your paintings or we will destroy your exhibition.’ Filmmakers are told, ‘Change the dialogue in this scene and cut out the next scene or we will not let your film be shown, and if you show it we will attack the cinema hall. Don’t do anything to hurt our sentiments’.”

(With inputs from PTI, The Hindu and The Indian Express.)

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