Ask Modi about religious intolerance: Open letter to David Cameron

DailyBiteNov 12, 2015 | 12:02

Ask Modi about religious intolerance: Open letter to David Cameron

Dear Prime Minister,

Re: Urging Action by British government to Safeguard Freedom of Expression in India

As writers and writers' organisations committed to protecting and defending freedom of expression around the world, 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. As the three-day state visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United Kingdom between November 12 and 14 draws near, we urge you to engage with Prime Minister Modi both publicly and privately on this crucial issue. 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.

As you will no doubt be aware three public intellectuals, Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar, have been killed by unknown assailants in the last two years alone. At least 37 journalists have been killed in the country since 1992. Other writers have received threats.

Over the past month, at least 40 Indian novelists, poets and playwrights have returned the prize awarded to them by the Sahitya Akademi, the National Academy of Letters, to protest against these attacks. In their statements, the writers have criticised the Akademi's silence over the murders, the deteriorating political environment in which those expressing dissent have been attacked by government ministers, and challenged the government to demonstrate tolerance and protect free speech.

After this, and a silent march by protesting writers, the Akademi issued a statement condemning the murder of Kalburgi and a resolution asking "governments at the Centre and in the states to take immediate action to bring the culprits to book and ensure the security of writers now and in the future". It also requested the writers who had returned awards to reconsider their decisions. Dissenting writers responded to the Akademi saying it should have spoken out much earlier, and urged the Akademi to rethink how it can support "writers all over India, and by extension, the people of the country". They reminded the Akademi of the urgency, calling the present time a "moment of spiralling hatred and intolerance". Mr Modi's government has not yet formally responded to the Akademi's resolution.

The protests have grown beyond the community of Indian writers of all languages. Scientists, artists, filmmakers, academics, scholars, and actors have either complained the climate of intolerance or returned awards on a scale unprecedented in India.

In October, Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali had his performance in Mumbai cancelled by the Shiv Sena party, an ally of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The Shiv Sena has said it will not allow any Pakistani artist to perform until the situation in Kashmir has improved. A few days later, Sudheendra Kulkarni, chairman of Observer Research Foundation, was attacked by the Shiv Sena activists and smeared with black paint for hosting the book launch of former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri and refusing to cancel it.

India's Constitution recognises Freedom of Expression as a cornerstone of India's democracy; however despite its constitutional commitments, India's legal system makes it surprisingly easy to silence others. In a report earlier this year, PEN and the International Human Rights Programme (IHRP) at the University of Toronto's faculty of law outlined the overreaching legislation and longstanding problems with the administration of justice, which have produced cumbersome legal processes that deter citizens from exercising their right to free expression. The resulting chilling effect silences political criticism and often discourages marginal voices from speaking out on sensitive social, cultural, and religious matters.

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.

Raficq Abdulla

Jim Aitken

Lee Allane

Maggie Anderson

Kate Armstrong

Alan Ayckbourn

Sally Baker, Director, Wales PEN Cymru

Marion Baraitser

Marge Berer

Terence Blacker

Ricky Brown

Peter Buckman

Tom Bullough

Katie Burden

Jim Burnside

Maoilios Caimbeul

Jenni Calder, Membership Secretary, Scottish PEN

Fiona Cameron

Drew Campbell, President, Scottish PEN

Joyce Caplan

Aimee Chalmers

Regi Claire

Anne Clarke

Jennifer Clement, President, PEN International

Jo Clifford

Ken Cockburn

Anne Connolly

Michael Connor

Nicki Cornwell

Christine Crow

Manishita Dass

Suzy Davies

Christine De Luca

Patrick Dobbs

Colin Donati

Sasha Dugdale

William Duncan

Anne Dunford

Jonathan Edwards

Suzanne Egerton

Dorothy-Grace Elder

Menna Elfyn, President, Wales PEN Cymru

Moris Farhi

Penelope Farmer

Vicki Feaver

Euna Fisher

Matthew Fitt

Una Flett

Steven Fowler

Miranda France

Lindsey Fraser

Maureen Freely, President, English PEN

Vivian French

Leah Fritz

Iain Galbraith

Omar Garcia

Alan Gay

Maitreesh Ghatak

Magi Gibson

Anne Lorne Gillies

Brian Girvin

Jo Glanville, Director, English PEN

Fiona Graham, Vice President, Scottish PEN

Niall Griffiths

Jay Griffiths

Bishnupriya Gupta

Daniel Hahn

Georgina Hammick

Ann Harrison, Director, Freedom to Write Programme, PEN International

David Harrower

Jonathan Heawood

Mairi Hedderwick

Joy Hendry

Diana Hendry

Daisy Hirst

John William Hodgson

Eva Hoffman

Amanda Hopkinson

Sarah Howard

Sunny Hundal

Brian Johnstone

Alice Jolly

Carole Jones

Sally Roberts Jones

Beth Junor

Meena Kandasamy

Nitasha Kaul

Peter Kerr

Andrew Kidd

Hari Kunzru

Nikita Lalwani

Lee Langley

Joanne Leedom-Ackerman

Thomas Legendre

Joan Lennon

Paul Levy

Gwyneth Lewis

Marina Lewycka

Jean Liddiard

David Lodge

Sarah Lutyens

Pauline Lynch

Neil Mac Neil

Ian Macdonald

Carl MacDougall

Shena Mackay

Iseabail Macleod

Aonghas MacNeacail

Iain Maloney

Colin Manlove

Karen Margolis

Robyn Marsack

Henry Marsh

Annabelle May

Val McDermid

David McDonald

David McDowall

Ian McEwan

Sarah McIntosh

Sophie McKeand

Pauline Melville

Greg Michaelson

Paul Moore

Cathy Moore

David Morgan

Neel Mukherjee

Anne Murray

Rebekah Murrell

Maureen Myant

Beverley Naidoo

Liz Niven

Katharine Norbury

Georgina Norie

Heather Norman-Soderlind

Claire O'Kell

Ruth Padel

Simin Patel

Penny Perrick

Catherine Peters

Rosemary Phipps

Naomi Popple

Tom Pow

Chris Powici

Angharad Price

Faith Pullin, Chair of Women Writers Committee, Scottish PEN

Anna Purser

Jean Rafferty, Chair of Writers at Risk Committee, Scottish PEN

Monisha Rajesh

Ravinder Randhawa

Lynne Reid Banks

Elizabeth Rimmer

Fiona Rintoul

Prof Richard H Roberts

Ferial Rogers

Lesley Anne Rose

Sioned Rowlands

Salman Rushdie

Michael Russell

Gita Sahgal

Angela Saini

Chrys Salt MBE

Philippe Sands

Ros Schwartz

Andrew Sclater

Lawrence Scott

Robert Sharp

Owen Sheers, Chair, PEN Wales Cymru

Sara Sheridan

Nikesh Shukla

Salma Siddique

Francesca Simon

Penny Simpson

Joan Smith

Dennis Smith

Nicola Spurr

Tom Stacey

Anne Stevenson

Leslie Stevenson

Anne Stokes

Zoe Strachan

Lynsey Sutherland

Aniko Szilagyi

Mary Taylor

Carl Tighe

Carles Torner, Executive Director, PEN International

Hannah Trevarthen

Jonathan Trigell

Salil Tripathi, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International

Mirza Waheed

Jehanne Wake

Harriet Walter

Lynnda Wardle

Val Warner

Eleanor Watts

Nicola White

Zoe Wicomb

Colin Will

Karina Williamson

Les Wilson

Fiona Wilson

Peter Wood Cotterill

Last updated: November 13, 2015 | 14:00
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