October 27, 2016

Narendra Modi visits UK and authors call for David Cameron to address free speech

Narandra Modi Visits UK

Hundreds of writers including Salman Rushdie, Hari Kunzru and Ian McEwan have urged David Cameron to address the “rising climate of fear” in India as the country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi arrives in Britain later.

As Indian prime minister makes UK visit, hundreds of authors including Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan urge PM to ‘speak out on crucial issue’

An open letter to Cameron signed by 200 writers – including Val McDermid, Neel Mukherjee, Marina Lewycka, David Lodge, Owen Sheers and Francesca Simon – highlights their fears over the “growing intolerance and violence towards critical voices who challenge orthodoxy or fundamentalism in India”. It urges the prime minister to engage with Modi “both publicly and privately on this crucial issue”.

The letter was published by PEN International and signed by members of its centers in England, Wales and Scotland.

Modi will visit the Queen, stay at Chequers and address a joint session of parliament. The Red Arrows aerobatic display team will mark his presence with a fly-past over Westminster, and the visit culminate in a concert and fireworks display at Wembley stadium, billed as an “Olympics-style” reception.

Officials hope Modi will sign significant trade deals when he is in London. But the writers would like the “current state of freedom of expression” in India to be on the agenda, too.

They point to the recent murders of the intellectuals Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar, and to the protests that have seen at least 40 Indian writers return literary awards to the Sahitya Akademi, the National Academy of Letters, in condemnation of its silence over the attacks.

The writers’ letter continues: “The protests have grown beyond the community of Indian writers of all languages. Scientists, artists, film-makers, academics, scholars, and actors have either complained [about] the climate of intolerance or returned awards on a scale unprecedented in India. 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.”

Carles Torner, executive director of PEN International, said: “Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the UK is an opportunity … to ensure that the disturbing trend of intolerance towards dissent and criticism in India is raised.”

Jo Glanville, executive director of English PEN, added: “Writers in the UK are standing in solidarity with their colleagues in India. There has been an unprecedented wave of protest following ongoing threats to writers in India and the government’s failure to protect freedom of expression in an increasingly hostile climate.”

The letter follows an early day motion calling on Cameron to raise human rights with Modi during his visit, signed by more than 40 MPs, while demonstrations are planned outside Downing Street when the Indian prime minister arrives. On Sunday, a sign reading “Modi not welcome” was projected on to the side of the Palace of Westminster.

Cameron has given a brief description on Modi’s visit as a “historic opportunity” to foster ties between Britain and India. He said: “It’s an opportunity for two countries, tied by history, people and values, to work together to overcome the biggest challenges of our age.”

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