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Arundhati Roy Wins PEN Pinter Prize Amid Indian Prosecution Threat




Indian writer Arundhati Roy has been awarded the PEN Pinter prize, two weeks after Indian authorities approved legal action over political comments she made 14 years ago. 

The novelist said she is “delighted” to accept the prestigious literary award, in a statement shared via a press release by PEN English. “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, 62, said after winning the prize.

The accolade was founded by English PEN in 2009 in tribute to the late playwright Harold Pinter, and is annually awarded to writers of "outstanding literary merit" who cast their “uNFLinching” gaze on the world. Roy was selected as the 2024 recipient by English PEN chair Ruth Borthwick, actor Khalid Abdalla, and writer Roger Robinson.

Roy, who became the first Indian writer to win The Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel The God of Small Things, was praised by Borthwick for writing "urgent stories of injustice with wit and beauty." 

"While India remains an important focus, she is truly an internationalist thinker, and her powerful voice is not to be silenced," Borthwick added. 

Roy is set to receive the PEN Pinter award during an Oct. 10 ceremony at the British Library in London. She joins a list of literary giants who have also won the award, including Malorie Blackman, Margaret Atwood, and Salman Rushdie.

Known for being a prominent activist and human rights advocate, Roy has become a polarizing critic of Prime Minister Modi, and the Indian government at large for its policies. On June 14, VK Saxena, Delhi's most senior official and a BJP politician, sanctioned the prosecution of Roy under its anti-terror laws for public comments she made at an event in 2010 about Indian-administered Kashmir, widely regarded as a disputed territory. 

During Azadi - The Only Way Ahead, a conference in New Delhi, Roy recalled being asked by a journalist to answer if Kashmir was an “integral part of India.” Roy said it “never” has been. “However aggressively and however often you want to ask me that, even the Indian government has accepted that it is not an integral part of India,” she responded.   

The recent complaint was originally brought by a right-wing Kashmiri Hindu activist against speakers at a conference titled “Freedom — the Only Way.” Roy was accused with two other co-defendants, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a Kashmiri separatist leader, and Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani, a professor, who have both since died, of jeopardizing “public peace and security” in advocating for the separation of Kashmir from India.

The move towards prosecuting Roy has been widely viewed as an attempt to silence the author for her criticism. More than 200 Indian academics, activists and writers have published an open letter urging the government to withdraw its sanctioning of legal action.