Police ask organisers to stay back until investigation is over; to get Nandy’s speech translated into Hindi for further probe

The five-day Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) – billed as the biggest literary event in Asia-Pacific – ended here on Monday under the shadow of a raging controversy over the remarks of sociologist Ashis Nandy on Dalits, tribals and OBCs. Police have asked the festival organisers not to leave the city till the probe into a criminal case registered against Professor Nandy is completed.

The 2013 edition of the mega event was devoted to the legacy of Buddhism, the faith with its roots in India and finding its zenith towards the east. Dalai Lama addressed a session and Mahasweta Devi, an iconic voice of human rights, brought gender justice to the centre stage.

The heritage property of Diggi Palace, located in the heart of the Pink City, was the sole destination for the lovers of books and literature – the young and the old – from far and wide during the weekend. Festival director William Dalrymple said an estimated 2 lakh footfall was recorded this time, against 1.20 lakh last year.

Scholars from Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge and Columbia were among the 260 authors from all across the world, who addressed the audience on a wide range of subjects. They educated, inspired and regaled them and unhesitatingly mingled with the crowds. The event, in its sixth year, encompassed debates, talks, performances, children’s workshops and interactive pursuits.

Amid nation-wide denunciation and furious calls for immediate action against Professor Nandy, acclaimed Dalit-Bahujan author and ideologue Kancha Ilaiah adopted a conciliatory stance and said the noted sociologist and political critic had made a “bad statement with good intentions.” “As far as I know, he was never against reservation. The controversy should end here,” he said in a brief statement.

Even as Professor Nandy left Jaipur on Sunday, skipping the rest of the lit fest, police have obtained the CD of video footage of the session at which he spoke and the written notes of his speech. Festival producer Sanjoy Roy, named co-accused in the case, gave an undertaking on Monday that the JLF team would comply with the instructions of the investigating officer.

According to police sources, the team investigating the matter was collecting statements of different people and would shortly get Professor Nandy’s speech translated into Hindi for further probe. FIRs under the Indian Penal Code and the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act have been registered against Professor Nandy here and in Nashik.

Professor Ilaiah, who issued his statement at the release of his first work of fiction, Untouchable God at Durbar Hall in Diggi Palace, said the literary, political and civil society consciousness had risen to a level where one could tackle any kind of offence caused to a group. “While referring to Dalits as corrupt, Professor Nandy probably missed out saying that upper castes have always been corrupt,” he said.

“Upper castes have built a corrupt society, in which Dalits, bahujans and tribals are entering now. I would have fought with Professor Nandy if he had said higher castes are honest and Dalits are corrupt. This is not the case here,” said Professor Ilaiah, author of the widely-read book, Why I am not a Hindu.

Professor Ilaiah – presently heading a research centre at Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad – affirmed that Dalit thinkers were capable of taking on the higher caste theorists intellectually. Asked about Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati’s demand for action, he said she had probably not understood the issue in its perspective.

“Mayawati is a living icon of Dalits. I have never met her, but I have high regards for the courageous leader,” he said. He was in the audience during the discussion in the session on “Republic of ideas,” when Professor Nandy dealt at length with corruption in public life and made the controversial remarks.

Festival directors Mr. Dalrymple and Namita Gokhale told journalists shortly before the lit fest’s closure that it had provided a unique platform to people to debate the issues with the scholars, if they disagreed with their viewpoint. “The message is clear. Don’t reject someone without hearing them,” said Ms. Gokhale.

Mr. Dalrymple said the event’s success had sparked off similar festivals elsewhere in India, four in Pakistan and one each in Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.