President Droupadi Murmu
Rashtrapati Bhawan
President’s Estate
New Delhi, Delhi 110004


Dear President Murmu,

We the undersigned writers, journalists, creative artists, and supporters of PEN America, PEN International, and the global PEN network are writing to express our grave concerns about the rapidly worsening situation for human rights in India, specifically freedom of speech and creative expression, on the eve of India’s 75th anniversary of independence.

In 1947, India’s successful struggle to win independence offered a beacon of hope for dozens of countries still shackled by colonial rule—a secular society choosing democratic governance, respect for human rights such as freedom of expression, and a Gandhian vision of inclusion and tolerance. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru spoke of India’s ‘tryst with destiny,’ and the hope was that the country would live up to the dream of its only Nobel Laureate for literature, Rabindranath Tagore—“Where the mind is without fear, into that heaven of freedom, let my country awake.” Although independent India retained many colonial-era laws that restricted free speech and were used on occasion over the years to charge critical writers and journalists, India has for decades been seen as the world’s most populous democracy, a beacon and model for other countries to emulate.

We write to express our grave concern regarding the myriad threats to free expression and other core rights that have been building steadily in recent years, since the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has come to power. In PEN America’s most recent Freedom to Write Index, India is the only nominally democratic country included in the count of the top 10 jailers of writers and public intellectuals worldwide, with 8 writers jailed in 2021. Authorities as well as private actors regularly use legal action and the threat of legal action against people expressing dissenting views, independent thought, and human rights advocacy. Writers and public intellectuals are subject to arrest, prosecution, and travel bans intended to restrain their free speech. Online trolling and harassment is rife, hate speech is expressed loudly, and internet shutdowns centered on Kashmir limit access to news and information for a significant number of people. The murders of leading journalists, thinkers, and writers, such as Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi, and Gauri Lankesh, have yet to be fully investigated or prosecuted and no-one has been held accountable for these crimes.

Seven of the eight writers in prison in India during 2021 have been detained in connection with the ongoing Elgar Parishad case, concerning a deadly inter-caste altercation in the village of Bhima Koregaon in 2018. In response, state- and national-level authorities detained a broad swathe of leftist writers and intellectuals, accusing them of inciting the violence and of links to banned groups. Available information has cast doubt on the authenticity of the evidence against them, painting a dark picture of injustice. A number of these writers—most notably octogenarian poet P. Varavara Rao—were not given adequate health care, were restricted from sending and receiving letters and accessing reading materials while in jail. Hany Babu, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navlakha, and Anand Teltumbde are still in prison.

In addition to these cases, we are also witnessing and protesting the persecution of writers, columnists, editors, journalists, and artists including Mohammed Zubair, Siddique Kappan, Teesta Setalvad, Avinash Das, and Fahad Shah. The intense online trolling and harassment of journalist Rana Ayyub, the cancellation of OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) status of Aatish Taseer after writing an article critical of Modi, the travel bans that prevent critical Indian writers and journalists from leaving the country, and the expulsion at Indian airports of academics with valid research visas, are additional worrying signs of a state intolerant of criticism.

We urge you to support the democratic ideals promoting and protecting free expression in the spirit of India’s independence, and restore India’s reputation as an inclusive, secular, multi-ethnic and -religious democracy where writers can express dissenting or critical views without threat of detention, investigation, physical attacks, or retaliation. Wrongfully jailed writers should be released, and state-sanctioned harassment against dissident voices cease. Free expression is the cornerstone of a robust democracy, and by weakening this core right, all other rights are at risk and the promises made at India’s birth as an independent republic are severely compromised.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.


1. Marina Abramovic
2. Ayad Akhtar
3. Sunil Amrith
4. Paul Auster
5. Natasha Badhwar
6. Gaiutra Bahadur
7. Dev Benegal
8. Anuradha Bhagwati
9. Akeel Bilgrami
10. Amit Chaudhuri
11. J. M. Coetzee
12. Imraan Coovadia
13. Molly Crabapple
14. David Davidar
15. Lydia Davis
16. Shobhaa De
17. Kiran Desai
18. Tanuja Desai Hidier
19. Namita Devidayal
20. Sabrina Dhawan
21. Hemant Divate
22. Rosalyn D’Mello
23. Ariel Dorfman
24. Tishani Doshi
25. Jennifer Egan
26. Louise Erdrich
27. Jonathan Franzen
28. Rajmohan Gandhi
29. Shruti Ganguly
30. Amitav Ghosh
31. Philip Gourevitch
32. Lev Grossman
33. Ruchira Gupta
34. Minal Hajratwala
35. Hamraaz
36. Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket)
37. James Hannaham
38. Tom Healy
39. David Henry Hwang
40. Siri Hustvedt
41. Mira Jacob
42. Maya Jasanoff
43. Sandeep Jauhar
44. Sonora Jha
45. Ruchir Joshi
46. Mira Kamdar
47. Meena Kandasamy
48. Jacinta Kerketta
49. Bhanu Kapil
50. Amitava Kumar
51. Jhumpa Lahiri
52. Jonathan Lethem
53. Karan Mahajan
54. Allison Markin Powell
55. Jay McInerney
56. K R Meera
57. Suketu Mehta
58. Sangamesh Menasinakai
59. Ritu Menon
60. Neel Mukherjee
61. Akshaya Mukul
62. Paul Muldoon
63. Perumal Murugan
64. Azar Nafisi
65. Karthika Naïr
66. Ahmed Naji
67. Orhan Pamuk
68. Rajesh Parameswaran
69. Jerry Pinto
70. Gyan Prakash
71. M V Ramana
72. Victoria Redel
73. Sumana Roy
74. Salman Rushdie
75. Angela Saini
76. Devyani Saltzman
77. Amandeep Sandhu
78. Esmeralda Santiago
79. Sabitha Satchi
80. George Saunders
81. Stacy Schiff
82. Alice Sebold
83. Nandana Dev Sen
84. Arjun Sethi
85. Elif Shafak
86. Gary Shteyngart
87. Kiki Smith
88. Patti Smith
89. Andrew Solomon
90. Alec Soth
91. Art Spiegelman
92. Samanth Subramanian
93. Nandini Sundar
94. Manil Suri
95. Amy Tan
96. Preti Taneja
97. Aatish Taseer
98. Colm Toibin
99. Salil Tripathi
100. Anne Tyler
101. Thrity Umrigar
102. Sita Venkateswar
103. Abraham Verghese
104. Ghazala Wahab
105. Tobias Wolff