Writers must stand up to threats to freedom of expression: M T Vasudevan Nair

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Jnanpith laureate delivers keynote address at Mathrubhumi Litfest

Writers should not fall silent and give up creative pursuits even in the face of serious and sinister assaults on freedom of expression and dissenting voices being witnessed in the country now from various quarters, including power centres, eminent writer and Jnanpith laureate M T Vasudevan Nair said here today.

“We are living in times when freedom of expression in India is confronted with challenges arising from intolerance and violence. There are concerted efforts to suppress independent voices. What now appears the initial signals could lead to serious consequences later if we choose to remain silent,” MT, as Malayalam’s literary legend is known, said in his keynote address to the four-day Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters (MBIFL 20223) at Kanakakunnu Palace here.

He said the pressure exerted on writers by forces of intolerance could often be intense and agonising. There are sinister forces around determined to suppress dissenting voices. “Pushed to the wall, Tamil writer Perumal Murugan once went to the extent of saying that he was giving up writing. But I would say writers should stand up instead of giving in to forces of suppression and remaining silent,” he stressed.

Observing that the prevailing culture of intolerance and violence has cast its shadow on creative freedom in the country, he said such a scenario can be likened with what had gradually happened in Nazi Germany.

“I would like to believe that this will not happen in India. Still, it is important to remain alert and stand up to the challenges,” said MT, who has also made a deep impression as a film director, screenplay writer and cultural observer.

Flagging the issue of growing religious intolerance as a matter of grave concern, he stressed that all religions have their basic philosophies that envision the spiritual and cultural development of human beings and intolerance and violence have no place in that. True followers of different faiths should come out and resist such tendencies, he added.

He also voiced concern over the gradual disappearance of languages and estrangement of the societies from their languages. A UNESCO study says half of the world’s 6,700 languages are in dire straits. In India alone, 196 languages have become non-functional. Even in South India, five languages are on the brink of vanishing. “This is an issue that calls for serious introspection,” he said.

“It is through the language that the history and culture of a society are expressed. It is vital to examine if our school syllabuses are aware of the threat faced by our own language and corrective measures taken to reverse the trend,” MT said.

He said this issue appears all the more serious as far as Malayalam is concerned. “It would be hard to come across a Tamil child who could not recall a few lines of poet Bharatiyar, or a student in Bengal who could not recite poems of Rabindra Nath Tagore. But that may not be the case in Kerala where you would not come across many children who could recite lines of Asan, Vallathol and Ulloor, the celebrated poetic trio of Malayalam.”

MT, who has a long association with Mathrubhumi, including as its past periodicals editor, said literature festivals like MBIFL bring together writers from various parts of the world and India, and are vital cultural events to understand each other’s culture and enhance mutual connect.

Mathrubhumi Managing Director and Festival Chairman Shri M V Shreyams Kumar, and Mathrubhumi Chairman and Managing Editor Shri P V Chandran, who is also the Chief Patron of the Festival, were also present. The Curator of MBIFL Shri M P Surendran presented memento to Shri M T Vasudevan Nair.

The theme of the festival is “Shadows of History, Lights of the Future.”

One of India’s biggest literary festivals, the MBIFL2023’, (known as ‘Ka’ in Malayalam), is packed with a variety of events during which literary icons from around the world and stalwarts of arts, media and films will share their perspectives on key topics of contemporary times.

The current edition of MBIFL coincides with centenary of Mathrubhumi, one of India’s leading media houses

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