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Updated: January 22, 2012 21:18 IST

Four writers who read from The Satanic Verses leave Jaipur to avoid arrest

Vaiju Naravane
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William Dalrymple.
William Dalrymple.

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

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India is clearly heading towards dystopia. Parochial mindsets, belligerent fundamentalists & blatant selfishness is accelerating our journey.

from:  Balagopal P. Menon
Posted on: Jan 23, 2012 at 13:09 IST

This is the right to speech as per the current definition.
"Right to freedom which includes speech and expression, assembly, association or union, movement, residence, and right to practice any profession or occupation (some of these rights are subject to security of the State, friendly relations with foreign countries, public order, decency or morality, right to life and liberty, right to education, protection in respect to conviction in offences and protection against arrest and detention in certain cases."
The exceptions should be taken out. People can be offended by anything. Morality is relative: what I see as moral might not be seen by everybody as moral. There is no freedom of speech as long as there are exceptions to the rule. Of course, there should be liability as far as slander and libel is concerned, but that is to be decided in courts, not by religions fanatics and criminals.

from:  Krishna N
Posted on: Jan 23, 2012 at 06:16 IST

1857 law was pre-independence to rule over Indian Common man.

from:  chandra
Posted on: Jan 22, 2012 at 18:50 IST

This is a cowardly behavior of writers.If they are brave enough for freedom of speech they must face the prosecution.If they are so timid must not disobey the law of the nation.

from:  Ramesh Raghuvanshi
Posted on: Jan 22, 2012 at 16:54 IST

Committing a crime without knowing the law doesn't absolve anyone of the crime. One who eats salt, shall drink water.

from:  Sudharsan R
Posted on: Jan 22, 2012 at 16:46 IST

Everyday we see freedom being trampled upon. By persons with a louder voice and unruly behaviour. I guess we deserve that what follows.
Another sad day for the loss of freedom of expression and thought.

from:  Philip George
Posted on: Jan 22, 2012 at 13:10 IST

I am extremely disappointed with the official reaction from the JLF. Instead of standing up in support of these writers, they are running helter skelter and hiding behind officialdom. It reminds me of a line from Yeats poem " The Second Coming", " The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity".

from:  G. Parameswaran
Posted on: Jan 22, 2012 at 12:37 IST

" I may not agree with what you say but I will defend with my life your right to say it" Voltaire. Freedom of thought and expression is the most precious right under the Constitution and the Judiciary in India has gone great lengths to uphold that right.It is high time literary figures in the world start taking a stand and not cave in meekly to opposition from amy quarter. Socrates, Galileo, Jesus Christ, Osho and many other individuals have faced persecution in their times.

from:  umesh bhagwat
Posted on: Jan 22, 2012 at 11:37 IST

My favourite writer William Dalrymple deserves applause for doing everything that the law required to keep the festival going. That the law, which four Rushdie admirers are said to have violated, is antiquated and stupid is a different matter. Contempt for the law can be, and should be, expressed in different ways, at different forums. Those who came from far corners of the world to attend the festival should be grateful to Mr. Dalrymple for not letting them down. That, however, doesn't let the law enforcement authorities, who diplayed their spinelessness throughtout the episode, off the hook. The least they could have done was to arrest the three would-be assassins, who they said were on their way to the festival to carry out the mission assigned to them by the goons of the Mumbai underworld. If they have done it by the time this appears in print, I congratulate them. Otherwise, I reiterate that they miserably failed in their duty.

from:  M.P. Prabhakaran
Posted on: Jan 22, 2012 at 08:29 IST

This is all making me very curious to read "Satanic Verses" at least once....

from:  Ganesh
Posted on: Jan 22, 2012 at 08:05 IST

Reading from a state banned book a punishable crime in this 21st century? Are we living in a stone age? What about thinking state banned thoughts?

from:  James Kottoor
Posted on: Jan 22, 2012 at 05:40 IST

This is why i have immense respect for the Protestor/The Activist who daily fights govts/corporate without any support and at great personal risk .
If such learned man can stand and wait to face the music , who else will . In this case , Words are lot weaker than actions

from:  ishan
Posted on: Jan 22, 2012 at 04:54 IST

Oh God,this was not the freedom of expression I wished to have to live in peace. Please save us, the hapless people of this country from the clutches of the political magicians ruling us in the garb of leaders to help inhale the air of real freedom that was achieved by our father of the nation Mahatma Gandhiji which is still oblivion and to be reached out by many.

from:  Anthony Rao.Reddy
Posted on: Jan 22, 2012 at 04:39 IST

Congress is taking this issue too far!

from:  Harish
Posted on: Jan 22, 2012 at 02:23 IST

Many laws are ineffective in the age of internet and wifi. These law works only for the poor who have little resource to access internet. This is just one example how laws do not apply effectively to rich sections of society. Unless the ban is worldwide and on worldwideweb , there is no meaning of banning anything in this world except a political tool to manipulate society. In today's time , science and scientific endeavor should be given more importance than religion by a state. Otherwise, society is destined to fall into chaos as it is being witnessed in many countries of the present world. India and neighboring countries are no exception.

from:  Hitesh
Posted on: Jan 22, 2012 at 02:20 IST
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