Sahgal has questioned the silence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and has said that she was returning the award in protest.
Sahgal is the niece of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The growing intolerance in the society and the rise of extremist Hindu outfits has prompted her to take the decision.
She mentioned that the award was returned by her to express solidarity with all Indians who uphold the right to dissent. The 88-year-old has expressed her disgust over the distortion of Hinduism by the ugly phenomenon of 'Hindutva'.
The step comes within days of the death of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri in UP. He was lynched by a mob that suspected him of having eaten beef. A false announcement was made from the temple and later the crowd had gathered at his house.
They entered his house, dragged him out and killed him on the spot. At least half a dozen members of a BJP leader have been found involved in this brutal murder. Akhalq's son is a corporal with the Indian Air Force.
Sahgal also mentioned the killings of Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi, the writers and anti-superstition activists, who were killed by suspected Hindutva-inspired extremist groups.
She said that PM hasn't said a word on all these killings. Sahgal said that the authorities had clearly failed to protect the lives of these people and that the attacks relect a growing extremism in the country, which needs to be checked.