In the past week, several award-winning Indian writers have raised the stakes of a political debate that is roiling their country.

Not by producing new literary works, but by returning the awards they received from the prestigious, publicly funded Sahitya Akademi, or the National Academy of Letters, and its provincial units.

In a spiraling cycle of protest, some writers are questioning the academy’s silence over the killing of an atheist scholar in August who spoke against idol worship. Others are protesting what they describe as a rising climate of intolerance, citing the horrific killing of a Muslim man by a Hindu mob over false rumors that he had consumed beef. To many Hindus, cows are sacred and eating beef is taboo.

“It is high time that writers take a stand,” said Hindi poet Ashok Vajpeyi, 74.

“India’s culture of diversity and debate is now under vicious assault,” said Nayantara Sahgal, an 88-year-old writer who is also the niece of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. She received the award for her political novel “Rich Like Us” in 1986.

In an interview with the newspaper Indian Express, Sahgal said there is now “an attempt to blow up the idea of India and to put in its place a kind of travesty of Hinduism, a kind of monoculture, which has nothing to do with Hinduism.”

The academy has been awarding works of literary merit in Indian languages and in English since 1954. Other writers resigned from the governing council of the academy. Writer Shashi Deshpande said the academy’s “silence is a form of abetment.” She said she

that the academy “will go beyond organizing programs, and giving prizes, to being involved with crucial issues that affect Indian writers’ freedom to speak and write.” The culture minister Mahesh Sharma appeared to

the writers on Monday: "If they say they are unable to write, let them first stop writing. We will then see." Vishwanath Prasad Tiwari, the president of the academy,

the writers to adopt a different protest tactic. "If the Sahitya Akademi jumps in and protests against the restriction of the freedom of speech, then will it not divert from its primary work?" he said.

Others questioned the effectiveness of the resignations. “By bowing out, these writers and critics may have ceded space to people who see no wrong in the Akademi’s preferred stance of aloofness, and might even be in sympathy with the growing orthodoxy in public life,” according to an

in the news portal Scroll.

Others questioned the writers' inaction over many earlier instances of similar violence, before Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014.

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