The Hay Festival 2019

Indian writer Arundhati Roy has been awarded the PEN Pinter prize, just two weeks after Indian authorities authorized legal action against her for comments she made 14 years ago.

The novelist expressed her “delight” at receiving the prestigious literary award, according to a press release issued 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, stated after accepting the prize.

The accolade was established by English PEN in 2009 to honor the late playwright Harold Pinter and is presented annually to writers of “outstanding literary merit” who shed light on global issues. Roy was chosen as the 2024 recipient by English PEN chair Ruth Borthwick, actor Khalid Abdalla, and writer Roger Robinson.

Roy, the first Indian writer to win The Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel The God of Small Things, was commended by Borthwick for crafting “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 scheduled to receive the PEN Pinter award during a ceremony at the British Library in London on October 10. She joins a distinguished list of literary giants who have also won the award, including Malorie Blackman, Margaret Atwood, and others.

Known for being a prominent activist and human rights advocate, Roy has become a polarizing critic of the Indian government and its policies. On June 14, VK Saxena, Delhi’s most senior official and a BJP politician, sanctioned legal action against Roy under anti-terror laws for public comments she made at an event in 2010 regarding Indian-administered Kashmir. 

During Azadi – The Only Way Ahead, a conference in New Delhi, Roy recounted being asked by a journalist whether Kashmir was an “integral part of India.” Roy asserted that it was not. “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 initially filed by a right-wing Kashmiri Hindu activist against speakers at a conference titled “Freedom — the Only Way.” Roy, along with two other co-defendants, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a Kashmiri separatist leader, and Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani, a professor, who have both since passed away, were accused of jeopardizing “public peace and security” by advocating for the separation of Kashmir from India.

The move to prosecute Roy has been widely perceived as an attempt to silence the author for her criticisms. Over 100 activists and writers have published an open letter urging the government to withdraw its authorization of legal action.