Muslim organisations planning to sue organisers
The controversy over the cancellation of author Salman Rushdie's participation in the Jaipur Literature Festival refuses to go away, with his name popping up in many sessions on Saturday, second day of the event, as well.
On the other hand, Muslim organisations are planning to sue the organisers and authorities for the reading of excerpts from Mr. Rushdie's controversial novel The Satanic Verses by some authors on the opening day. The All India Milli Council, Rajasthan, blamed the police and the administration for lapses which led to the speakers reading out excerpts from the banned book. “We are upset at the developments. They were angrily reacting to the cancellation of Mr. Rushdie's visit to the Festival. We are looking for the course of action we could pursue legally,” said secretary Abdul Lateef Arco.
Talking to The Hindu, Mr. Arco said reading out from the banned book “appears to us as a pre-planned programme. We blame the organisers, the police and the government for this serious lapse.” The Milli Council would approach court on Monday or Tuesday after considering all legal aspects. “We also propose to make parties in the petition the authors who had read from the book and those who commented on Mr. Rushdie, and Mr. Rushdie himself for his comments thereafter,” Mr. Arco said.
The Muslim Ekta Manch in Ajmer has also threatened to approach court. Its spokesman Musaffar Bharti said author Hari Kunzru reading out from the banned book amounted to inciting religious passions. However, every Muslim did not seemingly share this aggressive viewpoint. “This is stretching the matter too far. Since Muslims have registered their resentment over inviting Mr. Rushdie to the festival and he is keeping away, they should stop at that. Stretching the matter any further would be unproductive for the community,” Hasan, a Muslim academic, said at the festival venue.
Both the festival organisers and the Rajasthan government appear to be playing safe, talking very little to the media. This when author after author, participating in the sessions, blamed the police and the government on the Rushdie issue. Government sources said they had no specific role in the developments.
In the morning session on “Gandhi, Ambedkar, and the crossroads at Jantar Mantar,” the panellists, who included Sunil Khilnani, Aruna Roy and M.J. Akbar, regretted the “denial of passage” to Mr. Rushdie. Dalit activist S. Anand even charged the organisers with taking a “pusillanimous” stand over the issue.
The developments made the organisers send a fresh advisory to the panellists and speakers. It reiterated the stand of the organisers on freedom of expression but asked for caution on the part of the participants.
“The Jaipur Literature Festival continues to uphold the right to free speech and expression and the right to dissent within the constitutional framework. We hope all authors express their personal views in an appropriate and responsible manner. Please refrain from actions or readings that might cause incitement to public violence and endanger the festival and the spirit of harmony in which it is conceived. This is to advise you that The Satanic Verses is banned in India and reading from it may make you liable to prosecution and arrest,” said the advisory from Namita Gokhale, one of the directors of the festival.