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Arundhati Roy awarded UK’s Pen Pinter Prize

In the days since, more than 200 Indian academics, activists and journalists have signed an open letter calling on the government to withdraw the decision…reports Asian Lite News

Indian author Arundhati Roy has been awarded the PEN Pinter prize two weeks after Indian authorities granted permission to prosecute the writer over comments she made about Kashmir 14 years ago.

The prize is awarded annually to a writer who, in the words of the late playwright Harold Pinter, casts an “unflinching, unswerving” gaze on the world and shows a “fierce intellectual determination … to define the real truth of our lives and our societies”.

Judges praised Roy, who won the Booker prize in 1997 for The God of Small Things, for her “incisive commentary on issues ranging from environmental degradation to human rights abuses”.

On 14 June, Delhi’s most senior official sanctioned the prosecution of the writer under India’s stringent anti-terror laws because of a comment she made at an event in 2010 that the disputed region of Kashmir had never been an “integral” part of India.

In the days since, more than 200 Indian academics, activists and journalists have signed an open letter calling on the government to withdraw the decision.

Roy has been a vocal critic of Narendra Modi’s government. Salil Tripathi, a board member of PEN International, wrote in the Guardian last week that though Modi lost his parliamentary majority in the recent elections, it is “wrong to assume [he] has changed”.

“Pursuing someone as high-profile as Roy is the government’s way of warning critics that they must not expect anything different. The sword hangs over the critics; Roy reminds us why the pen must remain mightier than the sword.”

Roy is due to receive the prize at a ceremony at the British Library in October, where the award’s co-winner – a Writer of Courage, selected by Roy from a shortlist – will also be announced.

“I am delighted to accept the PEN Pinter prize,” said Roy. “I wish Harold Pinter were with us today to write about the almost incomprehensible turn the world is taking. Since he isn’t, some of us must do our utmost to try to fill his shoes.”

Roy was selected as this year’s winner in April by a judging panel comprising English PEN chair Ruth Borthwick, actor Khalid Abdalla and writer Roger Robinson.

Abdalla said that Roy is a “luminous voice of freedom and justice” and that her works “have been a lodestar through the many crises and the darkness our world has faced” since her debut novel, The God of Small Things, was published.

Roy published her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, in 2017. Her nonfiction books include Capitalism: A Ghost Story and The Algebra of Infinite Justice.

Previous winners of the PEN Pinter prize include Malorie Blackman, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie. In 2023, Michael Rosen received the award for what judges described as a “fearless” body of work that provides a “lesson in humanity”.

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