Protesters wearing Nayantara Sahgal masks displayed solidarity with the author whose invite to the event was rescinded by the organisers, at the opening ceremony of an all-India Marathi literary meet here Friday.
Three women writers wearing the masks, with photos of the 91-year-old Sahgal on them, were asked to leave the venue by women police personnel. The masks were seized.
Addressing the meet, the 92nd Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan, Maharashtra education minister Vinod Tawde conceded that withdrawal of the invite to Sahgal had caused embarrassment to the state.
Some protesters at the venue shouted slogans while the minister was speaking.
Laxmikant Deshmukh, outgoing president of the Sammelan, said the Akhil Bharatiya Sahitya Mahamandal, which holds the annual event, had failed to stop the meet organisers from rescinding the invite to Sahgal.
At a 'parallel' literary meet at Ambajogai in Beed district, social activist Arundhati Lohiya Patil read a Marathi translation of the speech Sahgal was scheduled to render while inaugurating the Yavatmal meet, which was opened by a farmer's widow instead.
Vaishali Sudhakar Yede, resident of village Rajur in Kalamb tehsil of Yavatmal, inaugurated the Sammelan. She works as an anganwadi (government-run child care centre) helper. Her husband committed suicide a few years ago after failing to repay debt.
The drought-prone Yavatmal district in Maharashtra is the 'epicentre' of farmers suicides, accounting for the maximum number of agrarian crisis-related deaths in the state.
Joshi had invited Sahgal as the the chief guest and keynote speaker for the meet. The invitation was revoked on Sunday after some workers of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) objected to it.
Amid flak by opposition leaders and authors over rescinding the invitation to Sahgal, the Chief Minister's Office (CMO) had Monday distanced itself from the controversy.
Soon after the CMO clarification, Sahgal had said she won't attend the meet now even if a fresh invite were to be sent to her.
The CMO said the decision on whom to invite for the meet is taken by the organisers and the state government has no role in it, after opposition leaders alleged the invitation was cancelled at the behest of the ruling BJP.
The Sharad Pawar-led NCP had said the invitation was cancelled "out of fear that Prime Minister Narendra Modi" would not like if Sahgal, niece of first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, attended the literary meet.
The noted English-language author was at the forefront of the 'award-wapsi' (returning of awards) campaign. In 2015, several writers returned their awards to protest against what they described as "rising intolerance and growing assault on free speech" under the Modi government.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)