International PEN brings together writers, journalists, poets – all those using the written word to promote ideas – in the common belief that it is through this sharing that bridges of understanding can be built between peoples. These bridges cross political, geographical, ethnic, cultural, religious and other divides.
It is for this reason that the protection of the right to freedom of expression – the freedom to express ideas without fear of attack, arrest or other persecution – has been at the heart of International PEN's work since it was formed in 1921.
PEN's work and advocacy was fully developed by the time the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was declared and adopted by the United Nations in 1948. It has been argued that PEN helped to define the concept of freedom of expression that is now enshrined under Article 19 of the Declaration, a right that is as important today as it was when it was defined in the aftermath of World War Two.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/go/freedom-of-expression
After more than two decades Mumbai Center of All India PEN Center led by Mr. Ranjit Hoskote, secretary and treasurer has talked to a key member, Mr Sunil Gangopadhyay, present president of West Bengal PEN chapter and is coming to join its estranged and forsaken part because of my three years labour (apart from my correspondence with International community, this includes my research on history of Indian PEN center, exploring earlier activities before I am born and since its inception, and learning the history of International PEN from different sources).
Today, I have been confirmed by Mr. Sunil Gangopadhyay that Mr. Hoskote of Mumbai All India PEN Center had made a call on last Oct. 12 .2009, regarding West Bengal PEN chapter, and my representation of West Bengal PEN. It is apparent that a connection being established between two states of India, one is eastern part of India, Kolkata, West Bengal and the other is western partof India, Mumbai, Maharastra, leaving in between a gap of 2000 Km. distance by the leaders of two community.
I am happy that my endeavour to save the future of West Bengal PEN Chapter which was cut off from its main office in Mumbai for almost two decades has yielded result and bearing fruit. From 29 june 2007 onward, till this day 23rd Oct 2009, a long time, I worked for it. Had I not been here for this task perhaps this darkness would wipe this writers community of West Bengal forever.
It started from the time of Mr. Santosh Adhikari in the eighties, succeeded by Mr. dev Kr Basu, then Mr. Jagannath Ghosh, succeeded by present secretary Mr Ranjan Gupta, a long time. West Bengal PEN chapter had lost its future, no one was there in these years to take initiatives for the future of West Bengal PEN chapter. But the community was practicing in the name of PEN International, feeling proud of earlier active members in better times. Oh, how they wish and feel proud calling themselves a member of PEN though they knew they are lost in dark.
I have published all reports in my two blogs . see them
I have experienced a lot of hatred, challenges among writers who presents himself a P E N member and from others. International PEN defends ‘Freedom of Expression’ and works for wiping defamation law from this world, because if there is defamation law/ libel cases it will create a hostile environment for Freedom of Expression.which is essential for writers. From my experience, I have seen most members do not know the charter of PEN International and its activities.
It will be appreciated if International PEN takes care making sure that its centers should follow its charter and do not contravene its principles, and break harmony. Atleast, the members should not bring defamation law and sue people in court for their criticism.
I have been intimidated, challenged and threatened several times by people call them pen members for my work for PEN.
I want to draw the attention of higher authority of International PEN, and active centers in this regard.
As the meeting started, Mr sunil Gangopadhyay informed us that he would be with us for 30 minutes, so business should be closed within the time frame. Mr. Ranjan Gupta opened his file and started to accuse me for my blog post.
click the link and read
Earlier I had criticized him and the members of this organization for not following appropriate ways of PEN. Read the whole matter in the link given above.
He showed it to all and to the president. As soon as he raised the topics the rest members (about 10 were present) supported him, as if earlier they had discussed this matter in my absence and made a plea to strip my designation as an executive member, and remove me from the journal that had been published under my editorship. Some said, "we shall take him to court for defaming us in his blog."
I just wanted to tell them that If you claim you are a member or belong to PEN you should follow its charter. There is a criteria to become a PEN member . Basic criteria for becoming a member is he/she should be a published author or any essayist or editor working for long time, check it you will find it in the websites of PEN centers.
Besides, I made a big poster and pasted it on the wall last year for public information regarding charter of ‘International PEN’, its address, communication and ‘ how one can become a member of PEN center’ where we writers meet weekly for reading session. still it is on the wall of BiswaGyan , 9/3 Tamer lane , kolkata - 9.
I had written articles also on the history of Indian PEN center and International PEN and published by Darshak Journal in Bengali for wide range of readers. Finally I posted all them in my blog.
But they don’t care, How they became a member it is a mystery. I am just sorry for them.
Finally, they have stripped my editorship without contest and replaced other for next issue. It is not contested and all action taken by Mr. Ranjan Gupta, in presence of Mr. Sunil Gangopadhaya.
Mr Ranjan Gupta pleaded to strip my executive power, but Mr. Sunil Gangopadhyay stopped this proposal. He asked me should I want to work with them, ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I told 'yes', because, I have been mentally involved with this organization, If I leave it or anybody force me to leave it it will hurt me. I have worked my best for last 3 years in many ways.
Because I am a writer and a painter, I want to sacrifice for Human Rights, and Freedom of Expression, and PEN is my only window to express myself.
Mrs. Jayati Gangopadhya, a member,( though I had no problem with her, because, she deserves what she is , a published poet, she came forward to rescue her friends) threatened me saying I want to take legal action against you for your comment on your blog. I said, we ( PEN Members from differenr centers) are against defamation law or libel cases. If you do so you are not a PEN Member, you go against PEN. She says, ‘stop here, we don’t care’. I am little afraid of defamation law, I think wrong people are choking my voice for right thing.
Still, Most people do not know What is ‘PEN International’, many executive members do not attend at all for years. But everyone is conscious about his/her designation and want to remain so whether they have least botheration about this organization PEN. Most people do not like to work for PEN but they use this very name as a qualification or level of status in society. Are not People misusing its name in this way? I hope International PEN should take care .
Regarding Mumbai center, Mr. Sunil Gangopadhya told, ‘…as Ranjit called me and made a connection, we hope we can deal the rest’, and asked me not to communicate concerning the bridge between West Bengal and Mumbai center.
I felt little bit relief. This particular job was buying enmity for me and among writers.I came across challenges, intimidation, threatening, because my job was unmasking many faces and revealing what happens inside a PEN Centers.
I was thinking to quit this job, and the chance has come to resign from this post as PEN Member of West Bengal Branch of All India PEN center.
I regret when I think that, had I used my time and thought for my works, perhaps it would have given me benefits. I have wasted my time buying some enemies for nothing. It was not my goal.
Thank you People, who had supported me and those who keep an eye open for everything.
Our Last conversation Between Mr. Ranjit Hoskote, International PEN and Me through email:
On Mon, Oct 12, 2009 at 11:12 PM, Albert Ashok
Dear Caroline and all ,
We, West Bengal PEN Chapter of All India PEN center of International PEN have been cut off from its Mumbai Center for Long. Mr. Annada Shankar Roy, a famous writer and Sahitya Academy award winner, was the president of All India PEN center in Mumbai for decades. He lived in Kolkata, West Bengal, and led West Bengal Chapter presiding over its most literary functions. This Bengal Chapter was born in the late thirties, and continued till today. Now Ranjit Hoskote, Present Secretary intentionally denying the existence of West Bengal Chapter of Indian PEN center. I have posted some document against Ranjits ill intention. See the Photos here
Once again, I have posted almost all the emails I had in my inbox and sent folder, to unfold the truth between All India PEN Center and PEN West Bengal chapter. I shall take these information and attitude of All India PEN center Mumbai that had been displayed for last a few years to the delegates of next PEN Congress in Linz, Austria. I shall with support of my fellow writers in West Bengal keep continue publishing this grievance against Indian PEN center and International PEN.
Do you think I need more proof for West Bengal PEN Chapter and concerning my membership and the questions that are raised by Ranjit Hoskote?
I hope Ranjit will mend his ill intention and beg apology to west Bengal PEN chapter.
My best wishes
West Bengal PEN chapter
In response to the above letter Mr. Ranjit Hoskote :
From : firstname.lastname@example.org
To : Albert Ashok
Cc: Ranjit Hoskote; Sampurna Chattarji; Caroline McCormick; email@example.com; Info - International PEN; Karen Efford; Mitchell Albert; PI Subscribers; Sara Whyatt; Tamsin Mitchell; firstname.lastname@example.org; Emily Bromfield; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
As before, my apologies to those of you who would regard this correspondence as an imposition on your time.
I have not actually checked whether Albert Ashok has published all the correspondence in this matter, but if he has, I am very grateful to him.
This correspondence will show that I have never doubted the existence of the West Bengal Branch (historically 'Branch', not 'Chapter') of the PEN All-India Centre. Why would I doubt it, when I have known of it since I became a member of the PEN in 1986? Yet the fact is that, in all these years, we have never been sent a list of members of the West Bengal Branch, nor have we ever received an application or the fee for a single new membership or membership renewal from Calcutta -- despite letters to Mr Annada Shankar Ray, while he was still alive.
At the time of our first contact with Albert Ashok, through Caroline McCormick, in summer 2007 -- at which point he modestly professed to represent nothing more than a group calling itself Pen Kolkata -- I had asked him quite cordially whether he had had any contact with our West Bengal Branch, of whom we had had no news for a very long time.
I assume this early email from me appears in the correspondence as Albert Ashok presents it. That alone should disprove his claim that I have "intentionally denied the existence of West Bengal Chapter (sic) of Indian PEN Center (sic)".
With very best wishes,
Another mail on the same day he sent to:
Just one last note before you close (correctly, in my view) this correspondence.
I did something, five minutes ago, that I should have done in July 2007 when this entire business started. You might recall -- or we could refer to Albert Ashok's email archive for it -- that Mr Ashok claimed proximity with Mr Sunil Gangopadhyaya, one of our most distinguished and respected writers, who lives in Calcutta.
I spoke to Mr Gangopadhyaya on the phone this evening -- we have met in other contexts, in Delhi and in Heidelberg -- and asked him whether he knew Mr Ashok or was associated with him in his literary organisation.
Mr Gangopadhyaya replied categorically that he did not know Mr Ashok personally, that he had heard from other people that Mr Ashok had claimed proximity with him, and that, in his considered view, Mr Ashok could not claim to represent PEN.
If anyone had to choose between who represents the West Bengal literary scene better, and who is the more credible figure, Mr Gangopadhyaya wins outright and without contest. His disclosure alone should put the entire matter of Mr Ashok's self-representations in pespective for you.
On a more constructive note, Caroline, I wish to thank you for your very precise statements in respect of criteria and governance. Our annual dues are on the way. Our very substantial activity report was presented in Tokyo by Sampurna, and you know of our work from it.
As before, our doors are open to all those who share the values of the PEN Charter and whose work meets our membership criteria -- indeed, to all who are, in your own excellent phrase from an earlier email, "qualified individuals".
* I am taking the liberty of copying this email to our President, Dr Dauji Gupta, who has been kept informed of this correspondence.
With very best wishes,
but he denied me on 4th Oct. 09, he wrote to International PEN
I write in response to your email of 15 September, and am sorry for this delay: we have had a very full schedule, including a discussion led by Sampurna, titled 'The Concentric Commitments of the Writer', which drew the large audience present into an intense space of participation, and a wonderful evening with Arundhati Roy four days ago, where we released her new book, *Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy*, followed by a public conversation between Arundhati and myself and ceaseless questions from the two hundred people present.
As to Albert Ashok's latest email, I am sorry that this deplorable conversation appears to continue unabated. However, what shocks me more is the tone you have adopted towards me in your email. I have made my position abundantly clear before, vis a vis Albert Ashok, and I repeat it in the 5 points I have made below, while also responding to your suggestion that I have contravened the spirit of cooperation and harmony.
1. As you are completely aware, the PEN All-India Centre has its hands full doing all the productive work that it is doing -- and doing it in a collegial, collaborative, receptive spirit. As against this, we have in Albert Ashok a man who is not a member of the PEN All-India Centre; who has never been able to prove that he represents the organisation in whose name he speaks; who never communicates with us except to send in his latest complaint of neglect; and who importunes you with accusations against us.
2. In this context -- and before you commit yourself to any further well-meant advocacy on this man's behalf -- I would like you to take note of a particularly shocking and intemperate attack, ad hominem (or ad feminem?), on Taslima Nasreen, put out by Albert Ashok on his blog under the titles, 'The wrong Number of Feminism' and 'Beware of Taslima she can bite you back!' (idiosyncratic capitals and punctuation in original). Please look this up at http://penwestbengal.blogspot.com/2009/08/wrong-number-of-feminism.html.
Please read this before you extend your support to someone who does not deserve it, under the mistaken assumption that this is in the spirit of fair play and let's have some proper cricket please, gentlemen.
The tone and content of Albert Ashok's attacks on a fellow writer are simply not acceptable to the PEN All-India Centre. They contravene the spirit of International PEN, and I cannot allow our hard-won reputation to be tarnished by association with anyone writing in this vein.
3. Let me make it clear that I am not constrained to admit Albert Ashok's claims to represent the PEN All-India Centre's West Bengal Branch until I have seen actual documentary proof to this effect. Unlike Albert, I am not in the habit of basing my actions on vague suggestions and unverifiable claims. Should he prove that he actually has a definite and verifiable connection with PEN, and should he indicate his willingness to engage in reasonable discourse, we would be happy to communicate with him. Until Albeert Ashok can offer such proof, there is no ground for communication and no crisis to resolve -- the need for communication only reflects his need for attention, and the crisis is one that he has generated out of thin air.
4. Please also note that I have, in a previous email to Albert Ashok -- copied to you and now posted by him on his blog (please look this up at http://penwestbengal.blogspot.com/2008_09_01_archive.html) -- clearly said that we would be happy for him to establish his own separate PEN Centre in West Bengal, so long as he does so on his own merit, and not by maligning actual members of the PEN in Bombay, who have been working hard and voluntarily, without any desire for personal recognition or financial recompense and often subsidising PEN activities, to sustain the PEN's work in India.
5. Unfortunately, unlike Albert Ashok, I am completely incapable of demanding attention or sympathy as though this were my birthright.
Even so, Caroline, I would like to register my deep sense of hurt and distress at the manner in which you have equated the PEN All-India Centre, whose commitment to the PEN Charter and whose many achievements are evident and publicly recorded, with a man whose main achievement has been to make repeated false accusations about us in the public domain through his blog -- an act that, as he should know, could invite legal action.
With best wishes,
Perhaps Ranjit would not want to read what he wrote two years back and compare what he tells now:
Thu, 19 Jul 2007 08:46:47 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Ranjit Hoskote"
Subject: Re: FW: Membership from India
To: "pen kolkata"
I am very glad that you have established a line of communication with us. I have to say that -- to the best of my knowledge; it is possible that some papers are missing -- we have not found any previous communication from you.
And tell me, have you had no contact, in all these years, with the West Bengal Branch of the PEN All-India Centre? Our President, Annada Sankar Ray, used to preside over its periodic meetings; but he passed away some years ago, at a very advanced age, and we have subsequently had no communication from the West Bengal Branch either.
Do write again with more details, and let us take this forward. And please convey my warm personal regards to Sunil-da.
With very best wishes,
I want to say either he intentionally did it or He was too busy to think properly.
International PEN kept its position clear in this regard:
On Tue, Oct 13, 2009 at 6:07 PM, Caroline McCormick
Dear Albert, dear Ranjit,
We have been very clear about this matter, and the rules of International PEN are very clear on this.
Any individual writer can apply for membership to any PEN Centre. That PEN Centre should consider all applications for membership based on the Centre's membership criteria.
No PEN Centre or chapter of a PEN Centre exists in perpetuity. In order to remain PEN Centres or members of a PEN Centre it is necessary to pay dues and send activity reports. If these have not happened the discussion about proof is irrelevant.
It is not permitted to use the name PEN without either the approval of the PEN Centre you wish to be a chapter of, or the approval of the Assembly of Delegates of International PEN.
We have made our position abundantly clear, therefore, in the absence of a significant change in the circumstances, we will no longer be in a position to engage in an extended correspondence on this matter.
50 / 51 High Holborn
LONDON WC1V 6ER
I had sent a last mail to Ranjit once again for his friendship and solidarity with Mumbai writers:
Today we had an executive meeting called by our secretary Mr. Ranjan Gupta, Meeting place was at Sunil Gangopadhya’s residence. The agenda was discipline, and reorganizing westbengal committee. Earlier, I had criticized our committee on the points below:
The committee never calls or shares information what is going on inside to the the general members for years, and no regular meetings.
There are a few members who are not published writers, nor essayists or editors (Members criteria should follow International PEN or other well known Pen centers)
The committee run by the secretary and by his only will , and pass by without checking in the meeting. It shows The secretary never contests any action.
The committee is not defender of Freedom of Expression and don’t go against defamation law. They violate also the charter of PEN.
For all these matters above I criticized and posted it on my blog earlier. This action has made me an enemy of them.
Today, at 11 am, at Sunil Gangopadhya’s residence, everyone attacked me in the meeting, a few expressed to strip my executive power, and a few expressed to sue me in court for my comment that they do not deserve to be a pen member. I hope, every pen center should follow the membership criteria what American pen center, English pen center and Canadian pen center follow.
Finally, Sunil Gangopadhya told us and I made confirmed about your conversation over phone on 12 oct, You called him ‘Sunil Da’. Sunil Gangopadhya told me to stop communicating with you and International PEN, for, He himself and the present secretary Mr. Ranjan Gupta want to talk and do the necessary formalities regarding reconnection with Mumbai Center after two decades. I told them about to pay dues of Indian PEN Centers and report activities.
Once again, I hope you would remind them about formalities regarding membership and other activities according to International PEN and other centers, nothing wrong creeps in. Very soon, Mr. Ranjan Gupta will mail you. Or again you can call Mr. Sunil Gangopadhyay. Today, I feel happy for the resolution by the two states in India coming together to work for PEN.
I was assigned this task by late Mr. Dev kr. Basu, a secretary and treasurer, West Bengal branch, your last letter has a proof that you want again to work and recognise West Bengal branch, after a long battle between you and me.
My task is finished, no more mail will be exchanged regarding membership until once again I am asked to.
I express my friendship with you as a writer and a defender of Freedom of Expression. I may resign from pen membership very soon that I bought by hard earned money. The enmity, hostility inside PEN, among writers, I think its too much.
Still I feel proud that the door is going to open after two decades for my action.
My best wishes,
165, R.N. Guha Road. Kol – 28
West Bengal Branch of All India PEN Center
Sat, October 24, 2009 9:10:18 AM
From: PEN India
To: Albert Ashok
Cc: Caroline McCormick
Thank you for your email. I am always happy to see constructive results emerge.
All good wishes,
Here I want to end the story of 'Inside All India PEN'
if you happen to be here and want to know the history of all India PEN you must read two of my blogs. I may not keep my membership of PEN as I am quite disappointed by the behaviour of my fellow writers, I intend to resign very soon . Thank you all .
Keep following my blogs