Over 200 noted authors, including Salman Rushdie and Neel Mukherjee, have asked British Prime Minister David Cameron to raise the issue of “rising climate of fear” and “growing intolerance” in India during his talks with his counterpart Narendra Modi.
Booker Prize winner Rushdie, recent Booker prize shortlisted British-Indian author Mukherjee and other well- known names like Ian McEwan and Hari Kunzru are among the signatories of an open letter to Cameron.
“We, the undersigned, are extremely concerned about the rising climate of fear, growing intolerance and violence towards critical voices who challenge orthodoxy or fundamentalism in India… We urge you to engage with Prime Minister Modi both publicly and privately on this crucial issue,” the letter says.
“Please speak out on the current state of freedom of expression in his country, urging him to stay true to the spirit of the democratic freedoms enshrined in India’s Constitution,” it adds.
The letter was published by PEN International – a worldwide membership organisation for prominent literary figures, and signed by members of its centres in England, Wales and Scotland.
It points to the recent murders of the intellectuals Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar, and to the protests that have seen at least40 Indian writers return literary awards to the Sahitya Akademi, the National Academy of Letters, in condemnation of its silence over the attacks.
The writers’ letter continues: “The protests have grown beyond the community of Indian writers of all languages. Scientists, artists, film-makers, academics, scholars, and actors have either complained (about) the climate of intolerance or returned awards on a scale unprecedented in India.
“In line with the United Kingdom’s stated commitment to promoting human rights, we ask that you raise the above issues with Prime Minister Modi and urge him to provide better protection for writers, artists and other critical voices and ensure that freedom of speech is safeguarded. Without these protections a democratic, peaceful society is not possible.”
Carles Torner, executive director of PEN International, said: “Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the UK is an opportunity… To ensure that the disturbing trend of intolerance towards dissent and criticism in India is raised.