Two hundred writers – including Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Hari Kunzru – have urged British Prime Minister David Cameron to raise issues of freedom of expression and intolerance with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, who began his three-day visit on Thursday.
An open letter by the writers to Cameron was prominently published on the front page of The Guardian, which also carried similar letters from a large number of Indian-origin and other academics in British universities such as Cambridge, SOAS, Sussex, London School of Economics and Edinburgh.
In the open letter coordinated by Pen International, an association of writers across the world, they said: “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.”
They added, “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.”
According to the writers, protests in India had “grown beyond the community of Indian writers of all languages”. They also mentioned protests by scientists, artists, filmmakers, academics, scholars and actors.
Over the past few weeks, dozens of writers and artists have returned government awards while scientists and scholars have criticised the government for its silence on growing intolerance and assaults on the freedom of expression.
The letter detailed several recent incidents in India, including the murder of rationalists MM Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar.
The letters by academics said they were “deeply concerned” about Modi’s visit and called for alleged rights abuses on his watch to be questioned in the public domain. They academics also said Modi should be held accountable for alleged violations of freedom of speech and religion in India.