India: Novelist Anita Desai appeals to Sahitya Akademi to defend free speech
Anita Desai, author of over a dozen novels, has asked PEN International to distribute the following statement regarding the current crisis affecting the Indian literary world:
‘I was born in an India that enshrined democracy, pluralism and the freedom of speech in its constitution. I do not recognize the India of the present time where, under the banner of ‘Hindutva,’ intimidation and bigotry seek to silence writers, scholars and all who believe in secular and rational thought.
It saddens me that the august body of the Sahitya Akademi has not been able to support and protect writers from the intimidation and violence, verbal and physical, watched publishers withdraw books, universities delete texts from syllabi, distort and manipulate history, and silently witnessed institutions like the National Book Trust, the Nehru Museum and Library, and the University of Nalanda replace distinguished scholars. In an atmosphere where there is no security or support for those who voice dissent, criticism or rational thought, there can be no intellectual or artistic work of any worth.
At this crucial moment I appeal to the Sahitya Akademi to make clear that it does not represent any government or its policies, but is an independent body that exists to defend free speech and the right to question and dissent, in short what the constitution of the country promised us.
If it is not able to declare and pursue such a policy, I will be obliged, in solidarity with my fellow writers, to renounce my membership of the Akademi and the award it gave me when I was a young writer in more hopeful times.’
PEN International promotes literature and freedom of expression. Founded in 1921, our global community of writers now spans more than 100 countries. PEN International is a non-political organisation which holds Special Consultative Status at the UN and Associate Status at UNESCO. For more information, contact Ann.Harrison@pen-international.org, Tel: +44 20 7405 0338.