20 November 2012
PEN International is seriously concerned for the safety of writer Amar Neupane, who has been recently threatened over his award-winning novel Seto Dharti. PEN International urges the Nepalese authorities to provide Neupane with effective protection immediately, and for the threats to be fully investigated so that the perpetrators are brought to justice. It is alarmed that writers continue to be targeted with apparent impunity in Nepal, and it reminds the Nepali authorities of their obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nepal is a signatory.
According to PEN’s information, Amar Neupane’s award-winning novel Seto Dharti was burned in the streets of the western city of Pokhara on 19 October 2012 by members of the Bhujel community, who accuse the writer of 'humiliating their community' in the book. Seto Dharti is Neupane’s second published novel, and was awarded this year’s Mandan Purashar prize, a prestigious literary award in Nepal. The novel was first published on 5 May 2012, and quickly sold out. A second edition soon followed.
Amar Neupane has also reported receiving telephone threats from members of the Bhujel Sewa Samity, an organisation belonging to the Bhujel community, demanding that he publicly apologise for the book or face attack. Committee members from Bhujel Sewa Samity have reportedly also ordered the bookshops in Pokhara to remove the novel from their shelves.
The issue at the heart of the controversy is that of Nepal’s child widows. The novel tells the story of Tara, a girl who was married at the age of seven and widowed aged nine. Nepal is believed to have one of the highest numbers of child widows in the world, yet their plight is largely unknown. Many face abuse and servitude for the rest of their lives, ostracised by their families and communities. According to Margaret Owen, ‘They have received scant attention from the UN, their governments, or international human rights monitors. Even UNICEF which has programmes designed to reduce child marriages and ensure that the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is implemented in UN member states, has failed to make the logical step to address child widowhood.’ Neupane was compelled to tell the story of Nepal’s child widows after meeting an old woman who had been rendered a widow as a child. In April 2011 he spent three months living in the remote western district of Humla, researching the novel. Both he and his publisher argue that the Bhujel community has misunderstood the context and the history of the novel.
Amar Neupane, aged thirty-five, published his first novel Paniko Gham in 2006, which received the Padmashree Sahitya Samman literary award.
Read an interview with Amar Neupane in Mi República
Read The Hidden Lives of Child Widows by Margaret Owen
Please send appeals:
Expressing serious concern for the safety of writer Amar Neupane;
Urging the Nepali authorities to provide him with effective protection immediately;
Calling on the authorities to take all necessary measures to protect writers in Nepal, in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nepal is a signatory.
Send appeals to:Prime Minister
Rt Honorable Dr Babu Ram Bhattarai
Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers
P.O. Box: 23312
If possible please send appeals via the diplomatic representative for Nepal in your country.
**Please contact the PEN WiPC office in London if sending appeals after 30 December 2012**
For further details contact Cathy McCann, 50/51 Brownlow House, High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, United Kingdom, Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: + (0) 20 7405 0339. Email: Cathy.McCann@pen-international.org