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Experiments with Truth: PEN Congress Pune

Jennifer Clement

The 84th PEN International Congress closed on 29th October 2018 in Pune, India with a focus on the critical situation for freedom of expression in India, the representation and voices of women in literature and the life and legacy of Mohandas Gandhi and his wife Kasturba. More than 400 writers from over 80 countries gathered in Pune for the annual PEN Congress, for a week of debates, literary events and workshops.


During the 84th PEN International Congress the following activities took place:

  • PEN International President Jennifer Clement and Executive Director Carles Torner joined local celebrations of Ganesh at the Balgandharva Rangmandir Art Gallery with a visit to an exhibition on Indian scripts and crafts.
  • Activities in tribute to Mohandas Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi, in celebration of languages across the globe.
  • PEN International and VIDA: Women in Literary Arts announced a new collaboration, the PEN VIDA Count, to monitor gender disparities in literature through PEN Centres across the globe. The VIDA count highlights imbalances in publishing by collecting data across genre, book reviews
  • Dozens of PEN delegates visited the Aga Khan Palace in Pune to take part in flower laying and a silent prayer as an act of tribute and remembrance to Kasturba and Mohandas Gandhi


  • PEN delegates planted 180 trees at Savitribai Phule Pune University as part of the Global Language Park, celebrating the thousands of languages spoken around the world. The finished exhibition will be called Bhasha Van, literally 'walkway of trees'
  • Delegates joined local students on a public wari traveling three kilometres over three hours in celebration of global languages
  • PEN International board members Ma Thida and Burhan Sonmez gave speeches on their experiences in prison at Pune's Balgandharva Rangmandir. PEN International Vice President Eugene Schoulgin described his many visits to imprisoned writers
  • The Trial: The State of Russia vs. Oleg Sentsov, documenting the irregularities in the unjust trial of imprisoned Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, was screened to dozens in Pune

The election of three new Vice Presidents, chosen for literary merit

1. Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, nominated by Catalan PEN, PEN Uganda and PEN Mali

2. Perumal Murugan, nominated by Catalan PEN, PEN South India and PEN Delhi

3. Nayantara Sahgal, nominated by PEN South India, PEN Delhi and San Miguel PEN Centre

The creation of five new PEN centres

PEN Iraq

PEN Perth

PEN Moscow

PEN Cape Verde

PEN Guinea-Bisseau