Concern for national democracy

A Letter to the President of India and a collection of writings on the state of democracy are edited by PEN International and PEN America.

In Guwahati, Assam, on August 14, the eve of India’s 75th independence celebrations. Image – Getty iStockphoto: D. Talukdar

By Porter Anderson, Editor | @Porter_Anderson

“A myriad of threats to freedom of expression”

AAs India celebrated 75 years of independence from the UK, on ​​Monday August 15, 102 writers and other creative artists joined PEN International and PEN America in a statement of alarm over “the deterioration of freedom of expression” in the country.

They called for “the release of imprisoned writers and dissenting and critical voices” in an open letter to Indian President Draupadi Murmu.

In part, the letter says:

“We are writing to express our grave concern about the myriad threats to freedom of expression and other fundamental rights that have grown steadily in recent years since the government led by President Bharatiya Janata party.

“In PEN America’s most recent Freedom to Write Index, India is the only nominally democratic country included in the tally of the top 10 jailers of writers and public intellectuals in the world, with 8 writers imprisoned in 2021. Authorities as well as private actors regularly resort to and the threat of legal action against people expressing dissenting opinions, independent thought and the defense of human rights.

“Writers and public intellectuals are subject to arrests, prosecutions and travel bans designed to restrict their freedom of expression. Trolling and online harassment are rampant, hate speech is spoken out loud, and Kashmir-centric internet shutdowns limit access to news and information for significant numbers of people.

“The murders of leading journalists, thinkers and writers, such as Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh, have not yet been fully investigated or prosecuted and no one has been brought to justice. held accountable for these crimes.”

Indian-born British-American author Salman Rushdie, victim of Friday’s (August 12) stabbing attack at the start of a speech in Chautauqua, upstate New York, was one of the signatories of the letter. He signed it, of course, before the attack.

Rushdie was also involved in creating a collection of writings for PEN in which authors from India and the Indian Diaspora provided comments on their perceptions of the anniversary and the current situation in India.

‘Delhi February’ by Amitava Kumar. Image: PEN America

This exercise is called – in line with so many observances around the world –India at 75and you can see it here with illustrations, delhi februaryby Amitava Kumar.

In acknowledging the contributions to this collection of 113 writers, says Karin Deutsch Karlekar of PEN. “We are relieved that poet Varavara Rao’s parole was made permanent on medical grounds this week, but other writers and public intellectuals, including Hany Babu and Anand Teltumbde, remain behind bars, and dozens of writers and journalists face state-sanctioned threats and harassment,” in India.

“We urge the Indian government to stop trying to silence dissenting voices, to allow freedom of expression without fear of reprisal, and to release unjustly imprisoned writers.

“One of India’s great strengths,” she says, “is its linguistic diversity and vibrant literary culture.

“We hope that this collection of original writings from a wide range of essential voices, focusing on the state of Indian democracy on its 75th anniversary, will encourage creative expression at a time when it is under threat. and celebrates the key role that writers in India and the Diaspora play in speaking truth to power and contributing to the public sphere.Despite growing fear and self-censorship, the fact that so many notable writers have contributed speaks to the dynamism of the Indian literary community.

The collection includes original writings by Jhumpa Lahiri, Abraham Verghese, Shobhaa De, Rajmohan Gandhi, Romila Thapar, Aakar Patel, Anita Desai, Perumal Murugan, P. Sainath, Kiran Desai and Zia Jaffrey, Geentanjali Shree – the winner in May with translator Daisy Rockwell of the 2022 International Booker Prize.

Publication prospects readers will also find among the signatures on the letter Elif Shafak, Orhan Parmuk, Colm Toibin, Louise Erdrich, Jay McInerney and Ariel Dorfman.

And from Rushdie, you’ll read this in the collection:

Salman Rushdie

“Then, in the first age of Hindustan Hamara, our India, we celebrated each other’s festivals and believed, or almost, that all the multiplicity of the earth belonged to us all. Now that dream of brotherhood and freedom is dead, or close to death.

“A shadow hangs over the country we loved so deeply. Hindustan is no longer Hamara.

“The Reigning Ring – you might say – was forged in the fire of an Indian Mount Doom. Can a new brotherhood be created to oppose it?


More information on Publishing Perspectives on PEN International is here, more on PEN America is here, more on Salman Rushdie is here, more on the Indian market is here, and more on freedom of expression and freedom to publish is here .

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About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident member of Trends Research & Advisory, and was named International Business Journalist of the Year at the London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards. He is editor of Publishing Perspectives. He was previously associate editor of The FutureBook at The Bookseller in London. Anderson was a senior producer and anchor for CNN.com, CNN International and CNN USA for more than a decade. As an art critic (National Critics Institute), he has collaborated with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which is now owned and operated by Jane Friedman.