Nayantara Sahgal Delivers K P Singh Memorial Lecture, on 10th December, 2015. On International Human Rights Day, noted Indian writer in English language and member of the Nehru–Gandhi family, Ms Nayantara Sahgal delivered the 6th KP Singh Memorial Lecture on the topic, ‘Unmaking of India’ at the Aligarh Muslim University Polytechnic Auditorium.
She pointed out that it is sad that certain extremist ideologies are attempting to destroy the diversity in India. “But these people should understand that by changing the name of Aurangzeb Road in Delhi, they will not be able to wipe out the rich history of India,” she added.
Ms Sahgal further said we as individuals and nation are a result of the influences that shaped us. “In 1947, some extremists demanded Pakistan and now some extremists are demanding a Hindu nation,” said Ms Sahgal adding that it is necessary for us to tell these extremists that India had rejected the ideology of hatred at the time of independence and partition and Indians will reject it again.
She further pointed that extremists are trying to change our history, our social system, our sciences and school curriculums with the myths central to their ideology.
Ms Sahgal said that India had a learned man like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad as the first Education Minister and it is sad that today some extremists are trying to bring irrationality even in what is taught in schools.
Pointing out that intolerance is a serious issue with important ramifications; Ms Sahgal stated that today we are faced with disturbing trends.
“From the spate of murders of Indian writers and scholars like M M Kalburgi to the recent Dadri mob-lynching case, there are indications that there are schools of thoughts who believe that India is only for the majority community,” said Ms Sahgal. She further said that certain people now want a country where public speech, eating habits, alternative ideas, are all subservient to a restrictive interpretation of a single majority religion.
She further pointed out that considering the rising hatred and intolerance in the country, around 40 writers, scientists, scholars and intellectuals have returned their awards and 20 British writers also protested.
She said that the ongoing protests by writers, artists, scientists and historians in India “has nothing to do with politics”. She pointed out that when emergency was imposed by her cousin late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975, she was amongst the first persons to voice her dissent.
“I returned the Sahitya Academy award not because I was directed by a political party but because the growing intolerance is being fostered by the present government and these horrific murders are only a symptom of a deeper malaise,” said Ms Sahgal while concluding the lecture.
Ms Sahgal said that I never had the opportunity of meeting Prof K P Singh but I am sure that if he was alive today, he would have loved today’s lecture.
“Despite being a Hindi academic, Professor K P Singh as a believer in Indian diversity, always worked for a common ground for Hindi and Urdu,” said Ms Sehgal adding that our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawahralal Nehru, while adding Urdu in the official languages of India, proudly stated that Urdu is his mother tongue.
In his Presidential Address, the Aligarh Muslim University Vice Chancellor, Lt General Zameer Uddin Shah (retd) said that today’s lecture by Ms Sahgal shows that AMU is a secular and modern institution with Islamic ethos.
He added that while India is like a salad bowl with diverse cultures, people who are trying to shake this bowl will only end up bringing us together.
“Let us always be optimist to believe that better days are going to come,” said the Vice Chancellor adding that nobody can force unrealistic values on anyone in this country.
While remembering Prof K P Singh, Prof Azarmi Duhkt Safavi said that he was an inspiration to all of us. Prof Singh inspired us to do seminars, researches and academic work of utmost standards. “Prof Singh saw well in everything and urged us never to leave things unfinished, she added.
Dr Tariq Islam, Department of Philosophy, who delivered the welcome address and the vote of thanks, introduced Ms Sahgal to the audience. He said that Ms Sahgal was one of the first female Indian writers in English to receive wide recognition. He further said that Ms Sahgal was awarded the 1986 Sahitya Akademi Award for English, for her novel, ‘Rich Like Us’ published in 1985 and as writer with feminist concerns, Ms Sahgal’s novels seek to posit the independent existence of women and atrophy all attempts to preclude them from the centre-stage of human existence. He also informed that Ms Sahgal is the daughter of Mrs Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, who was the member of the AMU Executive Council.
The Aligarh Muslim University Pro-Vice Chancellor, Brigadier S Ahmad Ali also attended the lecture.