Salman Rushdie with India-born Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta. Rushdie has co-produced a film based on his 1981 Midnight's Children, directed by Mehta. The film is set to release in India. (Photo: Midnight's Children Movie Official Site)
Salman Rushdie with India-born Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta. Rushdie co-produced a film based on his 1981 'Midnight's Children', directed by Mehta and released in 2012.Midnight's Children Movie Official Site

Salman Rushdie and nearly 200 other writers have penned an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron on the occasion of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to London demanding that the British government raise the issue of a 'climate of fear' in India and take action to safeguard freedom of expression in India.

The letter said the "writers and writers' organisations committed to protecting and defending freedom of expression around the worldare extremely concerned about the rising climate of fear, growing intolerance and violence towards critical voices who challenge orthodoxy or fundamentalism in India".

It urged Cameron to "engage with Prime Minister Modi both publicly and privately on this crucial issue" and to "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."

PEN International also noted that three public intellectuals, Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar, were killed by unknown assailants in the last two years alone and other writers have received threats.

(The Kannada writer-actor-playwright Girish Karnad is the latest one to receive a death threat from Hindutva militants who owe allegiance to Modi's BJP which is mentored by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and has supporters in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).)

PEN pointed out that over the past month, at least 40 Indian novelists, poets and playwrights have returned the prizes awarded to them by the Sahitya Akademi to protest the attacks and criticised "the deteriorating political environment in which those expressing dissent have been attacked by government ministers".

"Scientists, artists, film-makers, academics, scholars, and actors have either complained the climate of intolerance or returned awards on a scale unprecedented in India," the letter continued, pointing out that in Mumbai,  Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali had his performance cancelled by the Shiv Sena party, an ally of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The Shiv Sena has said it will not allow any Pakistani artist to perform until the situation in Kashmir has improved. 

The writers also noted that though India's Constitution recognises freedom of expression as a cornerstone of democracy, the nation's India's legal system makes it "surprisingly easy to silence others".

The writers asked Cameron to raise these issues with Prime Minister Modi and to urge him to provide better protection for writers, artists and other critical voices and ensure that freedom of speech is safeguarded.