PEN Delhi, which is the branch of PEN International, PEN International, a UK-based charity promoting literature and freedom of expression known as a leading association of writers working to promote literature and defend freedom of expression around the world, has strongly condemned a recent tweet critical of Gujarat Member of Parliament (MP) Paresh Rawal on top litterateur Arundhati Roy. Founded by British poet, playwright and peace activist C.A. Dawson-Scott, PEN is an international club providing space for writers to share ideas and as a forum, uniting writers irrespective of their culture, language or political opinion. It has its presence in 100 countries, and has 149 PEN Centres worldwide. Text of PEN Delhi’s statement:
It is with deep concern that PEN Delhi notes and condemns a recent statement about author Arundhati Roy by Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament Paresh Rawal on the online news and social networking service Twitter. Referring to the act of soldiers of the Indian army strapping a citizen to their jeep as a ‘human shield’ against stone pelters in Jammu and Kashmir, Rawal tweeted on May 21, 2017, ‘Instead of tying stone pelter on army jeep, tie up Arundhati Roy.’
Roy, who won the Man Booker Prize for “The God of Small Things”, has also been involved in human rights and environmental causes. Among the books she has written are “Kashmir: The Case for Freedom and The Hanging of Afzal Guru and the Strange Case of the Attack on the Indian Parliament”. Her second novel, to be out soon, is “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”.
Four days before this tweet Rawal had tweeted of Roy, ‘70 lakh Indian army can’t defeat azadi gang of Kashmir – Arundhati Roy. Her birth certi in fact is a regret letter from maternity ward.’ This was reportedly in response to Roy’s having said in Kashmir that even if India increases its military footprint from seven lakh to 70 lakh in Kashmir, it wouldn’t be able to wrest Kashmir where it matters, that is in the hearts and minds of ordinary Kashmiris. However, such reports were based on those on Pakistani websites and a later report quotes sources saying she has not been to Kashmir for many years.
After Rawal’s tweet on May 21, in reply to a tweet responding to him saying, ‘If Arundhati Roy is not available @sagarikaghose is always available,’ he went on to suggest ‘we have a wide variety of choices’. Sagarika Ghose is an Indian journalist and author.
Speaking to “The Indian Express”, Rawal has said after these tweets, ‘I know it is harsh. I meant it to be harsh. That’s why I got the desired effect- it has called the attention of the nation to what she (Roy) has been saying and a debate will start now.’
PEN Delhi condemns such statements from a Member of Parliament as they contravene the principles of free speech and run the risk of inciting violence against writers whose views one may or may not be in agreement with. Further, it is incumbent upon Members of Parliament to stand by the principles of the Constitution of India to which they have sworn allegiance and which protects the rights of every citizen to her beliefs and values.