Tapping into Pen’s power to promote, protect writers

Source: The Times of India / www.timesofindia.com / By M T Saju | /

CHENNAI:Three years ago, writer Perumal Murugan announced his decision to give up writing after his novel ‘Madhorubhagan’ (One Part Woman), courted controversy. In 2014, various Hindu outfits objected to the portrayal of traditions at the Ardhanareeswarar Temple in Tiruchengode, in Murugan’s book.:

Carles Torner, director of Pen International
Carles Tornes, director of Pen International

So when Pen International launched its South India chapter a couple of months ago, it cited the Madhorubhagan episode as an example of attack on a writer’s freedom of expression. The new chapter aims to protect the freedom of expression of writers and focus on literature in Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Malayalam, Kannada and Konkani.

“The South India chapter of Pen International will help writers who are facing censorship from the government. We have been working all over the world, protecting the freedom of expression of writers. We have issued statement expressing solidarity with Perumal Murguan and of late with Tamil lyricist Vairamuthu (who was in the midst of controversies for his comment on saint Andal). With the launch of the South India chapter of Pen International, we hope to do more to redress such issues,” said Carles Torner, executive director of the organisation, during a recent visit to Chennai.

The South India chapter of Pen International will introduce projects to help translate regional works into other languages. “A number of works produced in regional languages are not getting the recognition they deserve. They should reach more people. We will have projects for translating the regional works into other languages,” said Torner, who is a popular Catalan poet.

Pen International was founded by British poet and playwright CA Dawson Scott in 1921 as an international club where writers could share ideas. Today, it connects an international community of writers from its headquarters in London, and has chapters in 100 countries, with 149 centres worldwide.

Pen International’s members include reputed writers like Chinua Achebe, Maragret Atwood, Aung San Suu Kyi, J M Coetzee, Joseph Conrad, Nadine Gordimer, Neil Gaiman, Vaclav Havel, Liu Xiaobo, Mario Vargas Llosa, Amin Malouf, Arthur Miller, Toni Morrison, Harold Pinter, Salman Rushdie and Orhan Pamuk among others.

“We are living in a dangerous period. Attack on writers is on the rise. We have been fighting for the fundamental rights of journalists who are in jail in Syria, China and other countries. In China, a scholar called Ilham Tohti is serving life sentence for his research on Uyghur-Han relations. It is ridiculous. We are fighting for his release. The situation is not good in India as well. So we are expecting more members to join the organisation,” Torner said.

Pen International will hold its annual congress in Pune in September, said Torner. “It is significant because this is the first time such an event is going to take place in India. The conference will have writers from all over the world. There will be discussions on promoting literature and freedom of expression. We will also discuss the killing of writer-activists Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Gauri Lankesh during the event,” he said.