Indian author Arundhati Roy wins this year’s PEN Pinter Prize

Arundhati Roy speaks during a press conference on Supreme Court’s opinion on public protests in New Delhi on 22 October 2020 (AFP via Getty Images)
Arundhati Roy speaks during a press conference on Supreme Court’s opinion on public protests in New Delhi on 22 October 2020 (AFP via Getty Images)

Indian author Arundhati Roy has won the PEN Pinter prize set up in 2009 in memory of Nobel laureate Harold Pinter.

The award comes two weeks after capital Delhi’s lieutenant governor VK Saxena gave his permission to prosecute Roy over comments she made about Kashmir in 2010.

The PEN Pinter prize is awarded every year to a writer who, in the words of 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”.

English PEN chair Ruth Borthwick said: “Roy tells 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.”

Along with Borthwick, the judging panel comprised actor Khalid Abdalla and writer Roger Robinson.

On winning the prize, Roy said: “I am delighted to accept the PEN Pinter prize.”

“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.”

Abdalla called Roy a “luminous voice of freedom and justice” and said her works “have been a lodestar through the many crises and the darkness our world has faced”.

Roy will receive the prize on 10 October in a ceremony at the British Library.

Roy, 62, is a vocal critic of the Narendra Modi government for its controversial policies and laws targeting minorities.

The charges filed against Roy relate to an event that took place in Delhi in 2010 where Roy and a former professor of international law from Kashmir, Sheikh Showkat Hussain, spoke under a banner reading “Azadi (Independence) – the only way”.

Roy is reported to have argued that the Kashmir region had never been an “integral part of India”.

An activist from Kashmir, Sushil Pandit, filed a police complaint alleging that the participants discussed and promoted the “separation of Kashmir from India”.

The Himalayan region of Kashmir is at the heart of a decades-old dispute between India and Pakistan. Both countries claim the region as theirs, but control only parts of it.

Roy’s prosecution has been allowed under a section of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) pertaining to charges of sedition.

The UAPA allows authorities to detain suspects for up to 180 days without any charges, and was tweaked by the Modi administration in 2019 so that individuals could be classified as terrorists without necessarily being linked to a designated terror group.

Previous winners of the PEN Pinter prize include Malorie Blackman, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie.