A public seminar, titled “The Rushdie Affair: a new perspective on the freedom of expression,” scheduled to be held here on Wednesday, was cancelled on the advice of police, who were petitioned by the Majlis Bachao Tehreek (MBT).

The seminar was planned by The India Peace Organisation (IPO) which, according to its president Fatima Shahnaz, seeks to promote non-violence.

Asked about the reasons for the cancellation, Dr. Shahnaz said the police had exerted pressure and suggested that the seminar be cancelled as they apprehended violence.

She said the MBT ‘influenced' the police to stop the seminar. “How can the police be influenced? It was completely on the false premise that the seminar will be pro-Rushdie or pro-Jaipur Literary festival”.

She said that two Urdu dailies had published reports quoting the group that it would not allow the seminar to be held. “The media conveyed the threats of violence and we were intimidated.”

Dr. Fatima said that contrary to what was believed, the speakers at the seminar would have spoken against “Rushdie's blasphemy and his attack on Muslim religion”.

Provocations like Mr. Rushdie's appearance (at the Jaipur Literature Festival) would destabilise relations by alienating communities. The Indian media hadmarginalised Muslim voices as fringe elements and “we wanted to rectify that marginalisation and speak out for people's religious rights, especially in a Republic like India, which is multi-ethnic and multi-religious,” she said.

“Shocking” development

Describing the cancellation as “pretty shocking,” she said, “You can't stop seminars.”“We wanted to use academic and civilised language to explain the viewpoint of people who revere religion. This organisation had supported the causes of Hindus, Christians and other religions whenever rights were threatened,” she said.

The IPO was started in New York by her and it believed in the Gandhian ideology of “ahimsa.” “Besides, Islam means peace,” she added.