Standing in solidarity with Indian authors who are protesting against “rising intolerance” in the country, PEN International — a global association of writers — has urged India to provide better protection to such individuals and safeguard free speech as guaranteed by the Constitution.
In a statement on Saturday, delegates from 73 countries participating in the 81st Congress of Pen International in Quebec City in Canada, also expressed solidarity with the writers and artistes, who have returned their prestigious awards in protest.
Letter to Pranab, Modi
Simultaneously, PEN International president John Ralston Saul has written a letter to President Pranab Mukerjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Sahitya Akademi, urging the Indian government to take “immediate steps” to protect the rights of everyone, including writers and artists.
“We stand in solidarity with the more than fifty novelists, scholars, poets, and public intellectuals who have returned their awards to the Akademi and admire their courage,” the letter said.
“Writers from 150 countries, who assembled here in Quebec City in Canada for the 81st Congress of PEN International, have expressed grave concern over the crisis following the murder of noted scholar and intellectual, M.M. Kalburgi,” Mr. Saul wrote.
“They have asked me, as president of PEN International, to share with you our strongly-held view that the Indian government take immediate steps to protect the rights of everyone, including writers and artists, in the finest traditions of Indian society and culture, and indeed, the letter and spirit of the Indian Constitution,” he said.
‘Govt. must reassure writers, artists’
“For this, the government must reassure the community of writers and artists that its Ministers are tolerant of diverse views. Also, it must ensure that the investigations into the murders of M.M. Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare are conducted fairly and expediently and their killers are brought to justice,” Mr. Saul said.
Mourning the passing away of Kalburgi, Pansare and Dabholkar, killed by unknown assailants, the association called upon the Indian government to identify and arrest the perpetrators of these crimes.
Queries Akademi’s “silence”
Kalburgi was the recipient of one of India’s highest literary awards, the Sahitya Akademi Award, and yet, after his murder, the Akademi “remains silent” even as its members resign in protest, and several award recipients return their awards, the statement said.
“Two government ministers have questioned the motives of the writers returning the awards. It takes courage in the current climate in India to express public dissent in a public manner. PEN International salutes the courage of and expresses solidarity with those who have returned their awards in protest or resigned their membership of the Akademi or its governing council,” the statement said.
Defending freedom of expression
PEN International is the world’s leading association of writers, working to promote literature and defend freedom of expression around the world.