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Authors react: 'Bigotry will not silence Rushdie's voice'

January 24, 2012 20:35 IST

Several authors and artists on Tuesday voiced their outrage over the cancellation of a video address by Salman Rushdie at the Jaipur Literature Festival, accusing the Rajasthan government of "abject surrender" to threats of violence by "fringe elements".

Some Muslim groups insisted that Rushdie should apologise to the nation for his alleged blasphemous content in his book 'Satanic Verses', saying it has hurt the sentiments of Muslims across the world.

The organisers called off Rushdie's video address in the afternoon, saying some Muslim groups had warned that there could be violence if this was allowed.

The social networking sites were abuzz with protests over the cancellation of the programme with some people posting the e-version of the novel banned in 1988 as a mark of protest.

Filmmaker Shekhar Kapoor was one among the first to go on Twitter asking, "So Salman Rushdie has won n Indian democracy lost. How immature can we be? In banning Rushdie all we have succeeded in doing is making him into a hero and us immature."

Comments like "Salman Rushdie's own book title has come back to haunt the entire nation: 'Shame' and "Normally the guilty are brought to book. But in this Salman Rushdie issue, maybe the book should be brought to the guilty," were a rage on the social networking sites.

Noted economist Lord Meghnad Desai accused the Congress of not doing enough and said, "I will say the Congress party, not just the Central government, did this to grab a few votes in UP elections. It's an abject surrender."

Dubbing this as "dubious", author Kiran Nagarkar said,

"Salman Rushdie by now must be so fed up with the way things are carried on."

M F Husain's artist-son Shamsad Husain described the episode as "awful" and said people who are protesting have no idea about what they are doing.

"I'm sure they haven't even read the story. These protests are led by unscrupulous elements who have no business at all but to protest. This is terrible.

"What I don't understand is why do people protest years after the work was actually done. Protests erupted over my father's painting which he did in 1976 in the 90's. Same thing has happened to Salman," he told PTI.

Kamal Farooqi, All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said they will continue the protest against Rusdhie as long as he "does not apologise to the entire community. The book is here and we will continue to protest".

Zafaryab Gilani, legal advisor of Personal Law Board, said, "We had only demand that he should not be allowed to come to India because he, according to us, has committed an offence under Indian Penal Code."

BJP said the entire episode exposed the "worst communal vote-bank politics" of Congress.

"Rushdie episode has exposed Congress for its worst communal vote-bank politics...the move to ask four authors to pack up and leave Jaipur was also an attack on freedom of speech," BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said.

"The attempt to block the video link also must be viewed

from vote-bank politics angle. It also exposed Congress of its real intentions to impose censorship on internet communication," he added.

Rubbishing BJP charge that it was "match fixing" by the Congress and the intelligence agencies, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh said, "There is no question of match fixing. Satanic Verses has been banned by the government of India and the ban continues.

"To quote from a banned book whether it violates any law has to be seen by the state government."

Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy said the Central government should be thoroughly condemned for the episode.

"The fight for democratic freedoms can succeed only when there is eternal vigilance and a commitment to defend even those with whom we do not agree," he said.

The Rushdie affair at the five day meet and the way it ended sparked a flurry of emotions and wide ranging reactions from people who witnessed the events at what is billed at Asia's largest literature festival.

While journalist-author Tarun Tejpal termed it a momentary setback in the fight against bigotry, lyricist Javed Akhtar said it was a wakeup call for people who have been selective in their protest against it.

"I don't think it is a setback. It is rather a wakeup call," said Akhtar.

"You should have woken up much earlier. You are sitting in a state where a film Jodha Akbar passed by the censor board was not allowed to be released and there was no protest. You are sitting in a country from where its most popular painter was thrown out without much protest," he said.

Poet and former chairman of the Lalit Kala Akademi, Ashok Vajpayee, said, "The book is banned under Customs Act, it can't be imported, bought or sold. I don't understand under which law the act is being opposed."

"As readers and concerned people, it was completely proper for them to have read those excerpts. The Rajasthan government is very ill-advised, and has earned a universal ignominy," he said.

Actor-activist Rahul Bose, who read out from the Constitution to define the freedom of expression, said while the writers had broken the law and will face consequences for it, "I think those writers were right to start to challenge this law".

Other authors and writers who have been present at the festival for the past five days termed the episode as unfortunate.

"It is very unfortunate. He was going to talk about Midnight's Children which is non controversial, so why was there an objection. An author cannot be stopped, nor his expression. I think the issue was politicised and the occasion was misued for show of strength," said poet Ashok Chakradhar.

Others blamed the state government for its handling of the situation.

"I would blame the state government for this unfortunate incident. Rushdie's book is banned, he is not banned. Is the police force not capable of protecting the venue? Can it not handle a group of 400-500 people? It can, the point is that the government did not want this conference to happen due to political reasons," said writer Ramkumar Singh.

Tejpal said this incident was just another event in India's long-drawn battle against bigotry that had begun even before the idea of India was conceived.

He said while the battle will go on, the decision to call off the video link was a practical one as it would not have been intelligent to put to danger the large number of people present at the festival.

"This is not a victory for them (the forces of bigotry) but a momentary setback for us. Rushdie will not be silenced. His voice speaks a thousand words through different mediums across the world. He is having a say," said Tejpal.

Actress Konkana Sen said she was very disappointed that Rushdie could not come and his works have not been allowed to read out. "I think it's a deeper problem. I think we need to practice tolerance."

Claiming that the government had no role to play in the cancellation, Rajasthan home secretary R S Sandhu said the decision was taken by the festival's organisers.

"It's not a government decision. In fact, we had given them clearance and the warning only. It was a condition in the clearance that they will not read anything from the banned book, that was all. The decision has been taken by the organisers only and the government has nothing to do with it," he said.

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