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Jaipur Lit Fest begins with call for freedom of expression

January 24, 2013 17:17 IST

After a raging row that forced Salman Rushdie to keep away last year, this year's Jaipur Literature Festival kicked off to a peaceful start amidst tight security with overriding sentiments favouring independent space for authors and the need to defend the freedom of speech.

Even this year's edition, the eighth since 2005, is not free from controversies with both Muslim and right-wing Hindu organisations raking up issues but festival organiser Sanjoy Roy made it clear that they would not be "bullied" by anyone.

While Hindu organisations are opposed to participation of Pakistani authors, Muslim organisations want that four authors who had reportedly read out from Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses last year should be kept out.

Rushdie, whose presence in the festival was strongly opposed and led to his calling off the visit to India last year, himself remarked in Delhi on Thursday that "it is cultural emergency. Well it is a different emergency."

But, the organisers remained unfazed over controversies and Rajashthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot appealed against politicising the visit of the Pakistani authors. He promised adequate security for the meet.

"We are against terrorism of mind and all kinds. We are not ready to be bullied. We have an extremely good Constitution and we need to stick to its principles. We cannot allow the agenda of India to be hijacked by any group," said festival producer Sanjoy Roy.

"Authors don't write to please. We should allow them the independent space to write," he said.

Opening the meet Magsaysay-award winning Bengali author and human rights activist Mahashweta Devi in her keynote speech championed the common man's right to dream. "The right to dream should be the first fundamental right of people. That is my fight, my dream in life and literature," she said in her speech titled "O to Live Again" at the sprawling grounds of the Diggi Palace lawns, the venue of the five-day literary jamboree.

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