In perhaps the first international expression of support for Indian writers protesting against ‘growing intolerance’, Pen, a worldwide association of writers, said on Saturday it stood with them and their cause.
The body, which is holding its 81st congress in Quebec, Canada, also called upon the Indian government to provide protection to those threatened by intolerance and safeguard free speech.
“There is a climate of growing intolerance in India where those who challenge orthodoxy or fundamentalism have become increasingly vulnerable,” Pen said in a statement .
Citing the killings of Sahitya Akademi award-winner MM Kalburgi and writers Govind Pansare and Narendra Dhabolkar, the body called for their killers to be identified and arrested.
Protests against the killings and the government’s response to it are beginning to attract international attention. The New York Times published a primer earlier this week on the issue.
Pen is an influential world body whose membership has included Indian-born Salman Rushdie, Joseph Conrad, Arthur Miller, Toni Morrison, and Orhan Pamuk.
In a separate letter to President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Pen president John Ralston Saul said writers from 150 countries who gathered in Quebec have expressed “grave concern over the crisis following the murder of noted scholar and intellectual, MM Kalburgi”.
On their behalf, he added, he was sharing with the two leaders, their “strongly-held view that the Indian Government takes 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”.
Over 50 novelists, scholars, poets and public intellectuals have returned their awards in protest against the killings and the government’s response, exacerbated by comments from ministers that have been called both offensive and insensitive.
“Pen International finds it disturbing that India’s Minister of Culture Mahesh Sharma has reacted to these tragic developments by saying, ‘If they (the writers) say they are unable to write, let them first stop writing. We will then see’,” the association said in its statement.
To Sharma, and perhaps to all those who have questioned the rationale behind returning awards, the association said “it takes courage in the current climate in India to express public dissent in a public manner”.