Before the storm over the absence of Salman Rushdie at the Jaipur Literature Festival abated, another controversy has broken out, this time at the 36 Kolkata International Book Fair. On Wednesday, the publishers of a book written by Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen were not allowed to release it as per schedule.
Even as Kolkata police officers said they had received complaints from the Milli Ittehad Parishad, a minority outfit, about the promotion of the book, the publishers released it outside their stall at the fair.
There was commotion outside the bookstall with the arrival of some Muslim clerics, accompanied by All-India Minorities Forum president Idris Ali. But they left the area before any disruption could be caused. This was followed by a protest march by Ms. Nasreen's supporters and friends.
The book, Nirbasan (Exile), is the seventh volume of an autobiographical series and includes her recollections of the incidents that led to her ouster from the city in 2007. Her controversial Dwikhandita (Split in two) is the third book in the series and was banned by the West Bengal government. But the ban was lifted by the Calcutta High Court.
Nirbasan was scheduled to be released at an auditorium on the premises of the Book Fair grounds during the day, but the organisers, Publishers and Booksellers Guild, cancelled the event at the eleventh-hour.
On police advice
“[The] Kolkata police asked [the] Kolkata Book Fair committee to cancel my book release programme,” Ms. Nasreen tweeted at 3 p.m.
“We had booked the auditorium, but the organisers told us that it would not be available. Initially, they told us that there were no chairs in the auditorium. When we said we did not mind standing, they told us that that minority groups were protesting and had approached the city police over the release of the book. To prevent any disturbance…, we were asked to cancel the programme,” said Shibani Mukherji of the People's Book Society, publisher of the series.
Bengali author Nabaran Bhattacharya, who released the book, condemned the “political opportunism” of some groups and questioned the “change” West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had promised to bring about in the State. “We are living in times when no political force is standing by writers. I request readers to stand by writers in times like this.”
Readers did respond to the controversy, with a hundred copies having been sold out in the first hour itself.
A senior police officer said the police had received complaints from the Milli Ittehad Parishad, but the decision to hold the event rested with the Publishers and Booksellers Guild. “Adequate security arrangements were there at the venue.”
The Guild said it decided to cancel the event in the public interest and to preserve communal harmony on the premises of the Book Fair grounds.
The Guild said it had received a phone call in the morning, and the caller said the event would vitiate the secular atmosphere of the fair.