They didn't know that this was against law: Dalrymple
The four writers who read extracts from Salman Rushdie's banned novel The Satanic Verses — Hari Kunzru, Ruchir Joshi, Amitava Kumar and Jeet Thayil have all left the Rajasthan capital on the advice of a lawyer, William Dalrymple, the co-Director of the Jaipur Literature Festival told The Hindu here. They would otherwise have risked arrest in the State.
A source close to the festival said the police had gone to Hari Kunzru's room to question him. But that information could not be independently verified, especially since Mr. Kunzru had already hurriedly left town.
“What a lot of people don't realise is that even reading from a banned book is against the law. This is part of a piece of absurd and draconian legislation going back to 1867 or thereabouts. I am convinced that the writers who did the readings were not aware that this is a punishable offence and could carry a fairly long prison sentence. You can discuss a book, read from other writings by the author, have conversations with him, invite him, but you cannot either possess a copy or publicly read from a book that is banned. That is a punishable offence,” Mr. Dalrymple said.
The consequences could be serious for the four delegates since the readings constituted a premeditated act — the four had informed the media of their intention to do the readings, Mr. Dalrymple said.
“What saved us from immediate — the festival risked not opening on Saturday morning — closure is the fact that the four gave written statements saying they had acted on their own and that the festival was in no way involved with the readings.”
The Rajasthan government had communicated information received from the Intelligence Bureau (IB) to the JLF authorities. “The documents we were given contained three names of alleged underworld assassins who were making their way to Jaipur. It was on the basis of this information that Salman decided not to come.” Mr. Dalrymple was not in a position to give the three names disclosed by the IB and the Rajasthan government. Mr. Sanjoy Roy, the festival's producer was not immediately reachable for a comment.
Defending himself against charges of weakness and failing to adequately defend Mr. Rushdie, Mr. Dalrymple said: “We stand for the freedom of expression. We support Salman and we will protest, send a petition around, hold a video-conference with him but all that has to be done within the law. We cannot act outside the law. If the four who read from the banned book had not given written statements to the police, we risked turning away thousands of people. A closure of the festival would not have been a victory; it would have meant defeat. So, much as I dislike having to stop reading and all that, it had to be done. Fortunately, M.F. Husain's lawyer was here and he helped us draft both the statement issued by the Festival on Friday night and the letters the four readers willingly signed for the police which staved off much graver consequences and allowed us to buy ourselves time.”
This story has been corrected for factual error on January 22, 2012