PEN Delhi and South India Centres on the Social Media Vilification and Threats Against Writer and Journalist Rana Ayyub

PEN Delhi and PEN South India join the Network of Women in Media, India, to note with deep concern the sustained and apparently orchestrated social media vilification of writer and journalist Rana Ayyub, author of the award-winning book, Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up which focuses on the organised violence against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.


On 22 April 2018, a twitter account, using the name of Republic TV, attributed a fake tweet to Ayyub in which she purportedly defended child rapists, calling them ‘human’ and apparently said Musims were not safe in India. The twitter account, purportedly belonging to Republic TV, has since been proved to be fake by the website AltNews. The tweet, however, has spread far and wide, it has been translated into Hindi and shared with thousands on social media. Ayyub herself has been trolled and traumatised and has had her face morphed and photoshopped onto all sorts of images, and she has been threatened with gang rape if she doesn’t stop ‘talking against Hindus and (Narendra) Modi.’ Moreover, her address and personal number have been made available on the media, which has increased the harassment and threats exponentially.


This concerted, malicious misrepresentation and open intimidation as well as incitement to violence through the use of ‘fake news’ has serious implications for Rana Ayyub and, indeed, all journalists. It has a very real chilling effect on free speech and opinion. It is also in contravention of laws in India concerning violence against women. 


Pen Delhi and Pen South India affirm our solidarity with Rana Ayyub. We condemn her vilification in the strongest terms. We ask that all responsible politicians speak out against such vilification and the spreading of fake news, and they act to rein in their followers who abuse and threaten in their names. Further we ask that the cyber crime cell of the Delhi Police take immediate steps to trace the source of the threats and act against the perpetrators, as well as to ensure the safety and security of Rana Ayyub.


We believe that it is the responsibility of social media platforms like Twitter to ensure that parody accounts can be distinguished from real ones and to intervene when their platforms are used to spread hate speech and issue threats of violence. Social media platforms must take such threats seriously and not allow themselves to be a party to such illegal acts.


We stand in solidarity with all journalists and writers in their right to freedom of expression.



PEN Condemns Vindictive Action Against Prof. Kancha Ilaiah

PEN South India and PEN Delhi stand in solidarity with Prof. Kancha Ilaiah, who has been facing agitations, death threats and vindictive action for his book Samajika Smuggluru Komatollu. We unequivocally condemn the Hyderabad police for filing a case against the book instead of going after Prof. Ilaiah’s detractors who are guilty of hate speech in demanding that he be publicly hanged. The Government’s failure to stop the agitations and the case against the book is clearly an attempt to deny Prof. Kancha Ilaiah his basic right to freedom of expression and speech, and seeks to intimidate him into silence.


The intimidation of writers in this new climate of hate and fear is becoming a norm rather than an exception.


Prof. Ilaiah’s ordeal began this September when he was forced to face a mob that had allegedly attacked his car near Warangal. The mob took exception to Prof Ilaiah’s book that dubbed Vysyas as social smugglers. The book was an excerpt from an English book published by Prof. Ilaiah in 2009. In a clear death threat, prominent Vysya leader and Telugu Desam MP T G Venkatesh shockingly sought public hanging of Prof Ilaiah and a ban on the book. Members of Parliament are sworn to protect and abide by the Constitution of India. Could Mr Venkatesh have been unaware of this?


It is pertinent to note that the state police failed to provide protection to Prof Ilaiah despite his repeated requests and complaints, forcing him to go into a self imposed house arrest till October 4. At a meeting on October 6, Prof. Ilaiah had declared that the State should be held responsible if he is ‘dead.’ “Let the world know that the State has failed” he had said.


The Pen centres wish to point out that Prof. Ilaiah had expressed apprehensions about the present environment being more conducive to his detractors in an interview to and shared his valid concerns on this issue.


The hounding of Prof Ilaiah, coming as it does immediately after the brutal murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bangalore, is yet another example of the State’s inadequacy and willful reluctance to protect writers or allow them the freedom to speak their minds.


The Pen centres are distressed to note that no major progress has been made in the murders of Narendra Dabolkar, Prof. MM Kalburgi and Govind Pansare who were killed for their rational views and their fearless opposition to the Hindutva agenda.


We fear for Prof. Kancha Ilaiah’s life. The state must quickly and firmly intervene to stop another open, free-thinking mind from being felled by a bullet.


PEN recognises the importance of the Supreme Court judgement which supports the right to freedom of speech and expression but also insists that much more needs to be done by the state in terms of protecting writers from threats, intimidation and harassment.


PEN’s centres of South India and Delhi demand that:


  •          The state take stringent action against those who have been issuing death threats to Prof Ilaiah and firmly handle the agitations that demand a ban on the book.


  •          The case filed by the Hyderabad police against the book be immediately withdrawn.


  •          Adequate security be provided to Prof. Kancha Ilaiah till such time he feels safe and free.

PEN Delhi Statement on the Murder of Gauri Lankesh

We at PEN Delhi are deeply saddened and outraged at the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, a fearless exponent of freedom of speech and a defender of the right to dissent. Gauri spoke out against all forms of fundamentalisms and censoring and, in her writings, was outspoken against and critical of casteism and communalism.

Gauri’s murder comes at a time when writers and thinkers are increasingly under attack in India and several have been similarly targeted and killed. Gauri too had received all kinds of threats for her writing and the stances she took, including having to face (and being convicted of) defamation charges for an article she published in her journal Gauri Lankesh Patrike.

We are deeply concerned at the ways in which the right to free speech is increasingly coming under threat in India, and at how violence is being used with impunity, and no accountability, to silence voices of dissent. We call for an immediate and proper investigation into this murder and demand that the authorities act with all speed and arrest the killers.

We resolve to continue to defend the freedom of speech and expression that was so dear to Gauri. This is our tribute to her courage and commitment.

PEN Delhi Statement on the Court Order Restraining Juggernaut Books from the Publication and Sale of ‘Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev’.

PEN Delhi notes with concern the 4 August 2017 order of the court of the ACJ-CCJ-ARC (East) at the Karkardooma District Courts in Delhi restraining Juggernaut Books from the publication and sale of their book, Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev.

The order was passed ex-parte without hearing either the publisher, Juggernaut Books, or the author, Priyanka Pathak-Narain.  While any reader or the subject of a book has the full right to protest and question or to seek legal redress if they find the content to be defamatory, it is important that the views of all concerned parties to a dispute be taken into account before the courts arrive at a verdict. India’s robust tradition of legal recourse and remedies has always upheld this principle, and it is particularly important that it be further validated in cases which concern issues of the freedom of expression.

PEN Delhi also notes that, in view of the lengthy time taken to resolve legal disputes in India, injunctions can result in a piece of literature being held up for many years while the case is heard and decided, and thereby seriously impact the free speech rights of authors and publishers.

An environment of free thinking and expression is both important and necessary for a vibrant writing and publishing culture to flourish. The restraints imposed on publishers and writers from freely placing their content in the market for people to read, judge, comment on and differ with, are what endanger a healthy and democratic culture of writing and reading.

Unfortunately, muzzling free speech is becoming increasingly common in India. Such censorship can chill any speech that a particular section of society finds distasteful, as noted in a 2015 PEN International report.

The courts have recognized the danger of such restraints as mentioned in the judgment about the restraints on the publication of Khuswant Singh’s autobiography in 1995,

“82. The previews of the proposed autobiography stated to be an authorised version were published in the 31st October, 1995 issue of India Today. The ex-parte injunction was granted soon thereafter and was subsequently confirmed. Almost six years have passed. The book could have been published possibly soon after the October edition of India Today in 1995. The appellant has been prevented from writing and publishing his thoughts, views, personal interaction and his perspective of life in his proposed autobiography for almost six years at this late stage of his life. In our considered view this cannot be countenanced.”

It is our hope that the principles of the above judgment will be kept to in order to allow a vibrant publishing culture to flourish.

The Harassment of This Writer Must Cease

Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar must be free to practice his craft of writing without fear of intimidation and harassment, PEN International said today.

Shekhar’s critically acclaimed literary and journalistic writing focuses on the Santhal community, which lives primarily in eastern India and parts of Bangladesh. His books include The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey (Aleph 2014) and The Adivasi Will Not Dance (Speaking Tiger 2015).

Since 2015, some aggrieved readers have been running a campaign of harassment against him in social media, calling him a ‘pornographic’ writer. Some have threatened violence. On 4 August, they have threatened to burn his effigy and copies of his two books in Pakur, Jharkhand, where Shekhar works as a government physician.

Shekhar’s detractors, who claim that his works are pornographic and misrepresent Santhal society, have set up a dedicated parody Facebook page to express their views, where they have published photographs of Hansda with other prominent writers. Shekhar reports that the local police have offered him protection in the wake of the calls to burn his effigy. PEN welcomes this news and calls on the authorities to investigate those responsible.

“The outrageous intimidation of Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar must stop and the authorities must continue to offer him protection from any threats of physical violence as well as investigate those who are making such threats. Shekhar is a novelist; he writes fiction, and as a writer he has the freedom to imagine. He writes for himself and offers his view of the world. Those who disagree with his writing have the option of not reading his books, of criticising his writing without threatening violence, and writing their own books. Shekhar should continue to enjoy the freedom to write without fear,” said Salil Tripathi Chair of PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee.

“The intimidation of Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar is part of what seems to be becoming a pattern in India, where the threat comes from organised groups, who attack perspectives they disagree with. Women, minorities, and other voices, forced to remain on the margins, are often the targets. The state must uphold their right of free expression,” PEN Delhi added.

A medical doctor by profession, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s debut novel, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey (Aleph, 2014), won the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar in 2015 and jointly won the Muse India Young Writer Award 2015, while his collection of short stories The Adivasi Will Not Dance (Speaking Tiger, 2015) was shortlisted for The Hindu Prize in 2016. His stories and articles have been published widely in, The Statesman, The Asian Age, LiveMint, The Wire, and Alchemy: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories II (Tranquebar Press, 2012), among others. Shekhar’s works, written in English, have been translated into Hindi, Marathi and Tamil.

Online harassment of writers is not uncommon the world over, however, the phenomenon in India is particularly aggressive. According to PEN’s research, online trolls are succeeding in silencing their intended victims in the country as the authorities fail to grapple with the issue. In its recent statement in support of Shekhar, the Indian Writers’ Forum raised concerns for the rising number of attacks on writers on social media.

PEN Delhi Statement on Paresh Rawal’s tweets about Arundhati Roy


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 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.