PEN Delhi condemns writers forced to leave literary meeting

PEN Delhi condemns the hooliganism that forced writers Pradnya Daya Pawar and Raosaheb Kasbe to leave a regional literary meet organised by the Maharashtra Sahitya Parishad in Patan, Satara, on the 9th of October, 2016. Pawar was nominated president of the two-day event dedicated to Babasaheb Ambedkar on the 60th anniversary of his conversion to Buddhism, and Kasbe was an invited special guest. A mob of Maratha activists protested their remarks and presence and drove them out of the event.

On the first day Pawar spoke about the ‘Challenge of Cultural Terrorism’ and criticized the suppression of the voices of artists and litterateurs. “Writers in India have become frightened and insecure today,” she said. “The rules regulating what to write and what not to write are being inscribed on their body.”

Her speech was well-received, but on the second day, Pawar recounts that a mob of “around 100 people started sloganeering ‘Jai Bavani, Jai Shiavji’ outside my room”. “The organisers asked us to leave,” she says. “Pretending as if we were being made to leave for our own security.”

Reports say the mob asked Pawar and Kasbe to leave for “hurting” the sentiments of the Maratha community with their remarks on the 17th century warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Kasbe has alleged that a local Shiv Sena MLA Shambhuraj Desai had sent the mob due to his “political rivalry” with Vikramsinh Patankar of the Nationalist Congress Party, who was one of the organisers of the literary meet. Desai denied any role in the protests but said he had written to the superintendent of police asking him to act against those who had hurt Maratha sentiments.

This is part of an ongoing pattern in India’s political discourse, where instead of debating and challenging controversial assertions, political and religious groups are making use of India’s arcane, outdated laws to stifle freedom of expression, PEN Delhi said. In a recent report, PEN Canada and PEN International have made specific recommendations to amend Indian laws that impose silence instead of promoting speech. PEN Delhi urges the appropriate authorities to act against such censorship by the mob who have forced two writers from a literary meet where all they were doing was expressing their opinions.