Multiple letters, signed by some of the best-known writers and academics, have been issued in Britain coinciding with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit. The following are excerpts from some of the letters:
Subject: Urging action by the British government to safeguard freedom of expression in India
Sent by: More than 200 writers, including Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Hari Kunzru and Neel Mukherjee
Supported by: PEN International, a worldwide association that promotes literature and freedom of expression
Addressed to: David Cameron, Prime Minister, the UK
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.... 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.
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”…. 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.
Subject: Atmosphere of intolerance and hatred
Sent by: Over 120 academics from institutions such as the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, the London School of Economics, SOAS, University of London, University of Edinburgh, and University of Warwick
Where: In The Guardian newspaper
Since assuming power in May 2014, Narendra Modi’s government and BJP politicians have created in India an atmosphere of intolerance and hatred that has surpassed the worst expectations of his many critics.
There has been an escalation of violence against Dalits, Muslims, Christians and women, including the brutal lynhing of a Muslim man in Dadri on suspicion of consuming beef, murders of rationalists and dissenters… the banning of academic books by Hindu fundamentalists.
These events represent a direct assault on constitutionally protected freedom of speech and expression, and freedom of religion and belief.
Mr Modi’s complicit silence in these horrifying acts bodes ill for the future of India.
There has been a sustained undermining by the Modi government of some 13,000 NGOs….
We urge members of the international community to call attention to Mr Modi’s human rights abuses and to hold him accountable for violations of freedom of speech and religion. For those of us who uphold human rights, Mr Modi is not welcome to the UK.
Subject: Human rights abuses on Modi’s watch
Sent by: Seven academics, including sociologist Lyla Mehta of the Institute of Development Studies, UK
Where: In The Guardian newspaper
As UK academics researching development in India, we are deeply concerned about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official visit to the UK, and call for the human rights abuses on his watch to be questioned in the public domain. It is important that the growing economic ties between India and the UK, which will no doubt be applauded during this visit, should not mask
acknowledgment of the darker sides of what’s happening in India today.
Since Modi came to power in 2014, minorities and women have experienced rising intolerance and intimidation and cultural and academic freedoms have been eroded.
Under Modi’s rule, inflammatory hate speech and violent acts against Christian and Muslim minorities have steadily increased. Mr Modi’s silence and delayed response to all these crimes does nothing to stem the violence….
We support the recent statements by eminent scientists, academics, artists and writers in India who seek to draw attention to growing intolerance in India.